In the teeming Salt Lake City airport, a young woman serves ice cream to her
customers. Her name badge identifies her as Ekaterina. She is Romanian, a
newcomer to the United States. Ekaterina came to America as an exchange
student, but after those studies endedshe stayed on.
Ekaterina joined thousands of immigrants from other countries who arrive
each year in North America seeking political refuge, jobs, education or simply
a chance for a new life. With good fortune and hard work, they may find all of
thatand much more. If on mission
Christians recognize and seize the opportunity before them, the newcomers will
find Christ here, too.
The mission field we live in
Finding a Romanianor a Mexican, Haitian or Turk, for that matterat a local ice
cream counter is not a novel experience these days. The foreign-born population
has been increasing steadily since 1970 because of immigration. And with this
influx of people comes opportunities to evangelize people groups from all over
the world right on our own block.
Were just beginning to realize how great an evangelistic opportunity there
is with these people, says Van Sanders, recruitment enlistment for Church
Planting, North American Mission Board (NAMB). Van tracks the people groups who
cluster together in certain areas of North America, the majority of whom
gravitate toward metropolitan areas.
Sanders has pinpointed a population of Yemeni Arabs in Dearborn, Michigan.
More than 150,000 Iranians live in Los Angeles. And Chicago ranks second only
to Warsaw as a home for Poles.
Countries of origin: Iran,
Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan,
Turkey, Cyprus and more.
Major religion: Islam and little
else (97 percent Muslim).
Cultural values: Religion permeates
the Middle Eastern countries and shapes the culture accordingly. Middle
Easterners are family oriented, with the men taking a strong role as head of
the family and women functioning in traditional homemaker roles. Because Middle
Easterners value hospitality, they are quick to open their doors to visitors,
even an enemy.
What brings them here: Many years
ago educational opportunities and economic reasons primarily brought Middle
Easterners here, but recent immigrants are more likely to come seeking
political asylum and in the hopes of evangelizing North Americanot for Christ
but for Mohammad. Some also come to join other family members who already have
moved here or simply to seek the American dream.
Strategy of evangelism: Middle
Easterners open-door policy might get you admittance into their homes, but they
have strong defenses against Christianity or any other religion besides Islam.
Personal stories of how Christ is real in your life work effectively with
Middle Easterners, because these reduce opportunities for argument. If a
discussion of theology ensues, it helps to know what a Muslim believesand to be
sure of what you believe so you can defend your faith.
A note of caution: Middle
Easterners place high value on original writings and may regard with skepticism
all modern translations of scriptures. Be ready to counter that argument with a
defense that God supernaturally protects His Word. Dont ignore the Koran, the
Islam Bible, either; it has many references to Jesus Christ. And be careful of
terms that might confuse or be ignored by the Middle Easterner. For example, a
God who forgives is more definitive than the term a loving God. In general, try
to avoid debate over differences in religions. Because the gospel is
confrontational, and conflict cannot be avoided entirely, stay focused on
the true heart of the matterJesus Christ. Be aware that there is great
diversity within this community and do not perpetuate stereotypes that may have
existed in the past.
The numbers of people groups, when tabulated, are astonishing and are
projected to change the demographics of America. More than 85 million people in
the United States make up 200 people groups other than Anglo, and by 2050
approximately 47 percent of the United States population is projected to be
The Hispanic population is growing at six times the rate of the United
States as a whole, according to Bob Sena, manager of the Hispanic unit for
church planting at NAMB. The United States has the third largest Hispanic
population in the world, comprising a plethora of evangelistic opportunities
for North American Christians to be on
mission without leaving home.
While we should never lose our world perspective, Bob points out, why have
an over there perspective when theyre right here? Likewise, Canada plays host
to 227,000 immigrants each year, making ethnic communities a new opportunity
for church planting and evangelism efforts. French Canadians are the largest
unreached people group in North Americasix million with 0.5 percent evangelical
The vision before us
NAMB, of course, has already developed a vision for sharing Christ with such
people groups in North America, seeing them as a new frontier in evangelism. We
would like to start a church planting movement among each of these people
groups where theyre clustered, Van notes. These new churches will network with
the International Mission Board to establish ties with churches overseas. The
plan is for these newcomers to be missionaries back to their own people.
Countries of origin: While
Mexico is the country of origin for the largest numbers of Hispanic immigrants,
22 other Spanish-speaking countries contribute to our population, such as Cuba,
Guatemala, El Salvador and Colombia.
Major religion: Roman
Cultural values: Family or la
familia supercedes church and political associations. Masculinity, or being
hombre, is still important among some Hispanics, and the father is regarded as
the head of the family as well as the provider. Most Hispanics take great pride
in their culture and maintain a strong sense of nationalism even after
immigration. Therefore, respect for their native language and culture is very
important to them.
What brings them here: Many
Hispanics are well educated but some still come from poverty, so they are
seeking a better life for them and their families. Others come to reconnect
with families who have already moved here. And, like other immigrants, many
come to escape political persecution or a dangerous political environment; to
pursue an advanced educational environment or chance for further studies; or to
seek the American dream. Whether they come north to a fertile job market as
professionals or laborers, they plunge into work and make sacrifices to get
ahead economically, sometimes losing sight of the spiritual side of life.
Strategy of evangelism: Focus on
the family. Invite not just one member to church or Bible study but the whole
family including extended members, such as cousins. Help celebrate family
occasions like birthdays or anniversaries. Make an evangelistic appeal to the
father first as the influential head of the family.
A note of caution: While Hispanics
value education, many have not had the benefits of advanced educational
opportunities, so be careful when selecting the reading level of materials used
in Bible study or church. Studies that are simple, basic, Bible-based and
relate to Jesus, Mary, God and the cross work well. Realize that while many
Hispanics have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ, He is an important
part of their religious heritage. Keep in mind that some Hispanics are in a
state of hiding because of legal status and may be, therefore, suspicious and
untrusting of a few people. Be aware that there is great diversity within this
community and do not perpetuate stereotypes that may have existed in the
First Baptist of Franklin, Tennessee, has experienced this kind of evolving
and reciprocal relationship with immigrants with excellent results, says Jim
Harvey, associate pastor.
The church began sponsoring refugee immigrants from the Ukraine several
years ago by promising them housing, employment and other amenities. The first
to arrive was Mikhail Mashnitsky, a pastor in the Ukraine. Mashnitsky, whose
parents were persecuted Christians in the Ukraine, received immediate aid from
First Baptist, Franklin. As the church sponsored more Ukrainians, the
immigrants formed the nucleus for Slavic Baptist Church, which now meets in
First Baptist facilities and attracts other Russian-speaking people.
The effort is snowballing. Mashnitsky, a leader of the Slavic church, now
helps to sponsor other immigrants, and First Baptist supports two missionary
couples, who have taken up residence in the Ukraine. First Baptist also
regularly sends part- nership mission teams there, especially for work in the
On one of those jaunts, the teenage daughter of the churchs senior
pastor, Rick White, met and formed a sisterly bond with an orphaned Ukraine
child. Today the 10-year-old girl is an adopted member of the White family.
Countries of origin:
Twenty-seven countries are generally identified as Eastern European, including
the Ukraine, Russia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia, the Czech Republic,
Poland, Romania and more.
Major religions: Eastern European
religious influences are a mixed bag, including Catholicism, Islam, Eastern
Orthodox, Lutheran and Calvinist. As influential as their religions on culture
has been the absence of itatheism.
Cultural values: Because of their
countrys governmental and political background, many are accustomed to life
under a great deal of authority, but they also are suspicious of some leaders.
Eastern Europeans are very family oriented and interested in providing a more
comfortable lifestyle for them.
What brings them here: Most Eastern
Europeans come here looking for freedom, not only from oppression but from the
chaos created by their countrys inability to deal with the freedoms they
suddenly have gained. They want economic prosperity and a chance to create a
better future for their children. They also seek educational opportunities and
a chance to re-join family and friends who immigrated ahead of them.
Strategy of evangelism: Keep in
mind that a history of communism has created a spiritual vacuum in many Eastern
Europeans that we in North America can fill with the gospel. Now that their
system of government has failed them, appeal to the disillusioned Eastern
Europeans desire for freedom. But present Christ, rather than government or
politics, as the only way to achieve true freedom. Because family is important
to them, sharing the gospel in the family setting can be conducive to
witnessing. Offer to pray for family or personal needs.
A note of caution: Because of their
experience with authority, Eastern Europeans may have trouble understanding the
role of the local church and Christian leaders in North America. Resist being
too authoritative or telling them what to do, but lead them to define for
themselves who and what they are in Christ. Conversely, because some Eastern
Europeans are often wrongly classified as Russian/ Slavic, be ready to approach
them with an understanding of the cultural distinctives of their specific
people group. Be aware that there is great diversity within this community and
do not perpetuate stereotypes that may have existed in the past.
Once they learned about the need, another couple in First Baptist, Franklin,
also adopted three siblings from the Ukraine orphanage. So the reciprocity has
become more than just starting missions, Jim says. Its affecting our church as
a family of believers. It has become more than about just starting
The world next door
Meanwhile, churches and on mission
Christians who trek overseas in search of evangelistic opportunities need look
no farther than their neighbor next door. For long after an international
mission trip is over, interest in a particular people group overseas may be
transferred to a growing population of the same people group right here in
North America. By being aware that were rubbing elbows with people from all
over the world, on mission
Christians can take advantage ofand createopportunities to witness
(continued on page 26) (continued from page 24) to some of the worlds hardest
to reach people groups.
That happened at King Street Baptist Church in Cocoa, Florida, when the
church discovered a people group right in their own parking lot. Members
arriving early for services noticed people using the parking lot as a bus stop.
Further contacts revealed that these were Hispanic housekeepers waiting for
The church organized a class in conversational English and found a
Spanish-speaking missionary. Soon a Spanish church was born.
Likewise, Louis Spears, a pastor in Mesa, Arizona, met and witnessed to a
group of Gypsies wintering in a mobile home park. He later baptized 11 of them.
Gypsies (a sometimes hard to define people group of Eastern European and Indian
descent) number some 750,000 in the United States and dont have an organized
Southern Baptist church in North America.
Countries of origin: Korea,
Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Philippines and others.
Major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism
Cultural values: Asian cultures
honor their elderly. Therefore, the older you are, the more respect you garner
among Asians. Teachers also are highly respected by most Asians, who value
education, and exercise great influence over their students.
What brings them here: Highly
educated professionals with specialties or corporate businessmen are granted
admittance to North America because of their contributions to our society.
Usually wealthy or well paid, sometimes famous in their homelands, they
immigrate based upon professional and/or technical skill or business acumen.
Like other immigrants from all over the world, they also may come to escape
political pressures, to seek educational and job opportunities or to join
family and friends already here.
Strategy of evangelism: A senior
adult, high school teacher or college professor might command extra attention
to the gospel, because Asians have so much respect for the elderly and
teachers. Inviting an Asian into your home is important, because in Asian
neighborhoods residents visit freely in each others homes, occasionally even
walking into a neighbors house without forewarning, which could be considered
rude by American standards. Often highly literate, Asians also may respond
favorably to an in-depth, home Bible study. Follow up a spiritual discussion by
inviting them to your church. Better yet, steer them to a congregation of their
people group where they can develop friendships with other Christians of their
A note of caution: If an Asian
doesnt volunteer details of his spiritual background, dont ask. Do your
homework and research their religions from outside sources like books and
magazines. Asking too many questions about their religious background can make
an Asian uncomfortable or defensive. Instead, be prepared to share your story
of how the Lord has been at work in your life. But be skeptical of verbal
affirmation of your experience. Too-easy agreement rarely signifies an actual
change of heart. Be aware that there is great diversity within this community
and do not perpetuate stereotypes that may have existed in the past.
Unfortunately, we may be ill-equipped for the challenge of evangelizing the
throngs of ethnic groups appearing on our doorsteps. North America is the only
continent where Christianity is not growing, according to NAMB statistics, and
the numbers of people groups factor into that. The non-Christians of all
backgrounds total 200 million in the United States and 24 million in Canada. In
short, we enter the mission field every time we walk out our doors.
My part in the pictureOn mission Christians are poised
to share Christ with our ethnic neighbors. We realize that the Great Commission
focuses on making disciples of all people groups, Van Sanders notes.
But sharing Christ with someone of another ethnicity can be different from
talking about Him to one of your own. A 60-second chat at a bus stop invoking a
high-powered evangelistic pitch probably wont result in a conversion in these
cases, Bob Sena says.
Instead, those who observe effective cross-cultural evangelism identify
friendship as a critical factor. Once the relationship is firmly established,
youll have many opportunities to show them who Jesus is, says Van.
Bob concedes that most effective evangelistic efforts are made within the
people group. We believe the gospel can be best understood in the culture of
Van encourages Anglo on mission
Christians to be barrier busters, helping these ethnic churches to form and to
reach out. Unless we cross cultural barriers that are right here, no ones going
to do it. Were the catalyst.
Immigrants new to the United States and Canada have experienced all the
stresses of the most major kind of move, and they are particularly ripe for the
gospel, says Bob. Theyre in a transitional posturesensitive to changes and
opportunities and perhaps open to the gospel.
And friendship, offered at their point of need, becomes the barrier breaker,
Bob adds. Then we can take them to another friendnamed Jesus.
Kima Jude is a writer and
photographer living in Montgomery, Alabama.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC