by Ronald C. Smeenge
They are among the 1.7 million Americans, plus other English-speaking people, who live in foreign countries.
John Doaks is a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and yet a member of a very distinct minority group. Stranger yet, Rodrigo Gutierez, Leopold Korseniowski and George Jones and Afro-American, all belong to the same minority. They are among the 1.7 million Americans, plus other English-speaking people, who live in foreign countries.1 They comprise but a fraction of a percent of the population of their adopted countries.
These Americans are in business, economics, technical aid, the diplomatic corps, the professions, advisory roles and the military. An estimated 290,000 retirees are living outside the U.S. on Social Security benefits, mainly in Canada, Mexico and Italy.
This American community living abroad is on the average made up of more highly educated and younger persons than Americans living at home.2 They are an invigorating, resourceful combination of people. They are sent overseas because a corporation, agency or government felt they had a contribution to make.
Other foreigners are also a part of this emerging community. European and Asian expatriates sometimes equal in number the U. S. citizens abroad.3 As English is a second language for them, they relate well to Western culture and social life.
Members of this minority community seek each other. Language is not the only common denominator. Together they face the "ordeal of change."4 For the first time some endure discrimination and harassment.
They have all been up-rooted from a home town, friends and family where belonging has been part of their emotional security. They go through culture shock, disillusionment, frequent depression and loneliness.
The secure props of a previous life-style have been removed. The strength of the familiar is gone. The initial excitement of being assigned to an exotic foreign post soon dissipates. Miles of tropical beaches are not the paradise of the travel poster. The squalor of the deprived, the miserable living conditions of the majority of the world’s people, the pathetic look of a poor child in tags begging from the "rich foreigner" all have an unsettling influence. Value systems are challenged. In living in the pressure-cooker of alien culture, and in learning about the other side of the world, these Americans have come to learn also more about themselves.
This community of people is open to the gospel – even more so than back home. There is an increase in their responsiveness because there is an increase in their awareness of need. In that they have had to endure some change, they are open to even more change. They are learners again. And this is where the credibility o£ the gospel has an opportunity to come to their attention.
The apostle Paul saw the need of reaching diverse people in unique circumstances. He said he would go anywhere and be anything to accommodate the needs of people so that they would be won to Christ. He was ready to "get alongside of any man."5 This is where a minister must begin, if he is to reach the diverse community of English-speaking people who live in non-English countries.
Who is reaching the English-speaking minority? There are sixty-five congregations affiliated to some degree with the Overseas Division of National Council o£ Churches.6 The Christian and Missionary Alliance maintains four overseas congregations. There are no statistics from other groups. The rising consciousness of the evangelical is, however, beginning to be felt abroad. New fellowship of Christians are emerging around the world as a result of aggressive evangelistic efforts. There are some interdenominational congregations that are developing effective, farreaching ministries. Some denominations have assigned personnel from their mission staffs in a particular country to cover an English service. Too often these have only been an adjunct of their primary mission goal.
The field is ripe for a more concerted effort by evangelicals. This ministry may not demand learning a new language, but it suggests the need o£ a generous amount of the apostle Paul’s adaptability.
How can a very proper Presbyterian from the East, a Bible church fundamentalist from Wheaton, Ill., and Lutheran from Missouri worship together with a Southern Baptist and a smattering of Methodists, Episcopalians and a Pentecostal from Brazil? In spite of the walls denominations have too often built, a unity of the Spirit can emerge. If the stress is on doctrinal distinctives, often there are not enough persons of identical persuasion to have a congregation.
This proves to be an asset rather than a liability. The inter-relationships of Ephesians 4 can be experienced. The gifts and ministries of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 can be more clearly brought into focus. Add to this already delightful blend of people and gifts another segment comprised of nationals, who, through westernization have come to appreciate English and a broader base for fellowship than local congregations offer, and you have an international, interdenominational and interracial congregation.
I am now pastoring in Haiti, having served previously two churches in Puerto Rico. We have thirty-three church backgrounds under one roof.
Services are not the extension of anyone’s seminary. No one is bothering to check out spiritual pedigrees before fellowship can happen. We don’t demand new members all agree on some matters o£ eschatology. We accept the deity of Christ and the authority of the Word, which implies the necessity of salvation and the second coming of Christ.
We practice the unity of all believers and seek to be the salt, light and yeast in our communities. We’re so busy working with doctrines where we do agree we don’t have time to polarize on our "positions."
Look at our harvest field! They are people of influence – gifted leaders and motivators. Paul went to people like that at the centers of his world. It was part of his strategy because these people would in turn influence countless others. Members of our congregation do this as they criss-cross the globe from one city to another.
An attorney from Miami said he felt his home church had planted some seeds, but he never had time to see those seeds grow until he landed overseas where this congregation began to nurture his spiritual life. A business man said he had never had a pastor call on him. I had dropped in one night unexpectedly and found him facing the deepest personal crisis of his life. He opened his home and life to me in a unique way.
A young medical student on vacation came to church with friends because there was no other place to go on Sunday. He found the Christian message believable, intelligible and worthy o£ more serious study. He spent his month’s vacation devouring books on Christian evidences and attending. He spent his month’s vacation devouring books on Christian evidences and attending several home Bible study groups. He had come a pagan; he left a committed Christian. These are not uncommon experiences.
Many families term that their experiences in an overseas church brought them together for the first time. Many have found their skills useful in third world countries, and, in cooperation with the English church and national churches, have gone to work on social and economic problems. The pooling of efforts and expertise of Christians meeting in key cities overseas can have world-wide effectiveness in evangelism and development.
Some suggestions to mission personnel considering the launching of English-speaking ministries among Americans:
1. Though missionaries s may initiate the fellowship, lay leadership from the community should be sought. Even outside pastoral help may become more effective than an established missionary. He may be better equipped to relate to the American or western community. The missionary may not be free to function in leadership roles, but can certainly have a part as advisor and/or teacher. Just creating a prayerful spiritual climate is a tremendous ministry.
2. Advertise the church services in hotels, restaurants, corporation bulletin boards, embassies and supermarkets. Foreign elements may seem scattered or lost in a masses, but they do surface at some of these key areas.
3. Meetings themselves can be held in hotels. We’ve used also used a restaurant, a concert hall and schools. It is perhaps best to stay off of mission compounds. There is often an initial wariness of the professional religious personality on the part of non-Christian business leaders.
4. Never let a church service for expatriates be the extension of your mission-staff prayer circle. You may frighten that economic advisor right out of his Guayabara by your theological semantics. Keep it low key.
5. Co-operate with organizations like Christian Women’s Club, Christian Businessmen’s Club or International Christian Leadership. They usually have resource persons visiting. Our services or study goups have been stimulated by some of these key leadership people. Work also with servicemen’s centers and chaplains in the military. Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators and Inter-Varsity are constantly enlarging overseas ministries. Your ministries can compliment each other.
6. Give strong consideration to keeping the format interdenominational. There is so much to a contributed from a variety of traditions. Of course we also recommend the use of non-denominational Sunday school materials.
7. Try Christian concerts. Many artists are delighted to travel abroad. They’ll never have a more appreciative audience. Special interest seminars so attract divergent communities. Faimily life conferences, hobby and craft workshops, personal witnessing seminars and a variety of Christian life and d Bible study opportunities will always draw interested participants. The English church can be a veritable meeting place for these unique minority groups who speak English. Don’t overlook resource people like professors on Sabbaticals or retired church leaders.
8. Surprisingly, you’ll find expatriates increasingly intereste in your missionary endeavors. Most have never been exposed to Christian missions,their philosophy and activity. Some will volunteer to assist in practical areas.
Diplomats may be more cautious of meeting you than you are in meeting them. The ice is worth breaking. One ambassador literally came to open the doors of his office for mission work and frequently lends his chauffer and vehicle for mission guests. He became the official greeter at the English church. (We have members of three embassies attending services and a fourth promising to come. They are spiritually hungry people and often are caught up in social cycles that are unfilfilling of their basic needs.
9. Telephone ministries are extremely helpful. Foreigners face personal crises without finding adequate resources for help. Advertise a phone number and indicate that people in trouble can call night or day. You will find rich witness opportunities. It can be an entire ministry in itself.
10. National church leaders are not always sympathetic to a congregation of foreigners meeting by themselves. They would have wanted them in their own churches. They can, however, be made to understand that all people – including their own – seek a homogeneous unit in which to worship. They can perhaps also see that a strong congregation of foreigners can well be of great assistance to a local national church in other practical ways.
The author invites response from readers about this area of ministry. International Fellowships of Christians is now being formed to pool resources and aid in the establishment of new international congregations. When IRS approved, IFC can be of significant assistance in channeling funds through a U. S. office. A newsletter linking overseas evangelicals is planned as a forum for communicating ideas and relaying information on the movement of people and corporations in the international circuit. A directory, essential to all of this, is now being compiled. We will appreciate your assistance. Ron Smeenge, c/o Missionary Flights Int., Box 1 EGGS, alert Palm Beach, Florida 33405 U.S.A.
1. U.S. Citizens Residing in Foreign Countries (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of State, 1976), p. 4.
2. United Stases Department of Commerce News (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of the Census, 1973).
5. 1 Cor. 9:19-23 (William Barclay commentary).
6. International Congregations and Lay Ministries (New York: National Council of Churches).
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