Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of J.D. Payne's new book, Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission (Biblical Books, 2012).
You don’t have to travel to foreign countries to reach people of those nationalities with the Gospel message. Since many people from around the world immigrate to the United States regularly, people from other countries likely live right in your own community – and all you need to do to reach them for Christ is get to know them and build friendships with them.
Your efforts to share the Gospel with immigrants can benefit many more people than just the immigrants you reach personally, since immigrants who come to Christ often share the Gospel with their family members and friends back in the nations from which they emigrated.
Here’s how you can be a global witness in your own neighborhood:
Pray for courage, wisdom, opportunities, and a plan to move forward. Ask God to give you the courage and wisdom you need to overcome fear of the unknown, find immigrants who live near you, and successfully build relationships with them. Pray for opportunities to help immigrants with their needs and inspire them to seek God more. Choose to trust that reaching out to immigrants is worthwhile, because the potential to see their lives transformed by Jesus is greater than any obstacles you may need to overcome in the process. Ask God to help you come up with a strategic plan to intentionally build relationships with immigrants, while being careful to see them people to love rather than as projects through which you hope to accomplish goals. Pray for the ability to love and serve the immigrants you meet no matter what – whether or not you see them come to faith in Jesus. Be willing to learn as you go, make mistakes, and overcome challenges.
Recognize the many connections that exist between God’s purposes and human migration throughout history. Read some of the famous Bible stories of how God has accomplished his mission through people moving from one place to another, from the story in Genesis of Adam and Eve moving out of the Garden of Eden, to the Apostle John’s vision of heaven in Revelation, which came after he was exiled and forced to move. Learn about other ways that history reveals God fulfilling good purposes as people move from one place to another. Keep in mind that people move because they’re seeking something, and God promises that those who seek Him wholeheartedly will find Him.
Get to know local immigrants and their life stories. Talk with the immigrants about themselves and their lives, asking them questions to help you learn about their experiences so far and what matters most to them. Listen carefully to the stories they tell you, and help them see how their individual stories play an important role in the great story of how God is at work in the world. Help them make connections between what they’ve been searching for throughout their immigration process (such as freedom, justice, and well-being) and how Jesus Christ can meet those needs in the deepest, most fulfilling ways.
Reach out to international students. Build friendships with international students at your local schools and universities. Often, students from other nations studying abroad in the United States are lonely and receptive to developing new relationships. International students also love to learn, and that makes them receptive to discovering more about Jesus Christ and why a relationship with Him is the only way to truly connect with God.
Reach out to refugees. Do what you can to help refugees with the many practical needs they face, showing them God’s love in action while they deal with the stresses of their transition to a new nation. Keep in mind that refugees often must heal from going through traumatic experiences such as war, persecution, and hunger. Through the love you show them, they may discover that peace and satisfaction ultimately comes from relationships with Jesus Christ.
Reach. Reach immigrants wherever they currently are in their spiritual journeys. Ask yourself questions like these: “Who do I need on my team to assist in this ministry?”, “What do we know about the people culturally, spiritually, and demographically?”, “Where are they in this community?”, “What are the barriers to reaching them with the Gospel?”, “What are the bridges to connecting with them?”, and “What are the best ways to share the Gospel, start Bible studies, and plant churches with them?”.
Equip. Teach new believers the fundamentals of what it means to be disciples of Jesus, as well as leadership skills. Ask yourself questions like these: “Now that they are believers, what is the best way to teach them the Scriptures?”, “How can we hold them accountable for applying the Scriptures to their lives?”, “Are we casting the vision for them to return to reach their social networks?”, “How can we model spiritual disciplines and local church involvement for them?”, “After teaching them about the local church, do they believe the Spirit is leading them to unite together as a local church?”, “Who might the Lord be raising up to pastor this new church?”, “What are the immediate leadership skills we need to be cultivating the lives of the leaders?”, and “Who might the Lord be preparing to return to their people as missionaries?”.
Partner. Enter into partnerships with the immigrants who are building bridges of faith with other immigrants in the United States, helping them reach others in the ways that best relate to their own cultures. Ask yourself questions like these: “Are we treating the new church as partners in the Gospel ministry?”, “What do all parties believe are the necessary components for a healthy partnership?”, “What should they expect from us, and what should we expect from them?”, “How will we continue the encouraging, training, and coaching after they return to their people?”, “Does the partnership avoid both paternalism and a hands-off approach from us?”, and “Does the partnership encourage the growth and development of the new believers and their church?”.
Send. Help some of the immigrants who are now believers to return to their home nations and reach others for Christ there. Ask yourself questions like these: “How do we assist migrants to return to their peoples across the globe?”, “How do we travel with them to assist them in the planting of churches in other parts of the world?”, “Are we sending long-term missionaries to serve alongside them in church-planting endeavors?”, and “What are our plans for remaining in contact with them for ongoing encouragement, training, and coaching?”
Adapted from Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission, copyright 2012 by J.D. Payne. Published by Biblica Books, a division of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
J.D. Payne (Ph.D., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the pastor of church multiplication for The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. He has pastored churches in Kentucky and Indiana and served as a seminary professor for a decade. The author of several books and articles, Payne also serves as the book review editor for the Great Commission Research Journal. He is a National Missionary with North American Mission Board and holds memberships in the Evangelical Theological Society, Evangelical Missiological Society, and the Great Commission Research Network. He and his wife Sarah and their three children live in Birmingham, Alabama.
Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles. Contact Whitney at: email@example.com to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.
Publication date: November 8, 2012