by David L. Ripley
Mission opportunites are multiplied by the influx of immigrants.
THE WORLD IS HERE
While passing a newsstand recently, I couldn’t help notice the headline on USA Today: "Census: Languages not foreign at home."1 The article went on to reveal that one out of every seven people in this country now speaks a language other than English at home. This represents a block of almost 32 million people.2
The 1990 census is but one source of information that reveals the growing ethnic diversity within our country. Bilingual education is another. In major cities such as Los Angeles, between 100 and 150 different languages are spoken by the children attending the public schools.3 The United States is indeed becoming a multicultural, multilingual society. As Terry Muck has written, "Everything points to this trend continuing."4
Because of this, a growing mission field is not far from churches in urban America. David Neff made this personal observation of his own situation,
Every afternoon four women walk down Gundersen Drive in front of our offices. Like thousands of others in Chicago¡|s western suburbs, they are going home from work. Unlike most of the area¡|s commuters, they wear chador, dark garments that cover their upper bodies and half their faces. Home for them is a sprawling apartment complex heavily populated by Muslims and Hindus.5
He went on to relate,
All this is within a short walk from the offices of CT, Tyndale House,…the National Association of Evangelicals, Harold Shaw Publishers, Domain Communications, The Evangelical Alliance Mission, the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association, Greater Europe Mission, and Chapel of the Air. In the heart of evangelical mecca (Wheaton, Illinois) live many who pray toward Mecca!6
In the inner cities and suburbs of urban America, it is no longer unusual to meet Muslims and Hindus every day. They live in our neighborhoods, attend our schools, and shop in our stores.
The United States, of course, has long been referred to as a nation of immigrants. This more recent wave of newcomers, however, is very different. First of all, this wave is much larger. The largest influx of immigrants ever to enter this country occurred in the 1980s.7 With an influx of over 700,000 legal immigrants, a city the size of Baltimore is added to our population annually.8
A second difference about these recent immigrants is their ethnic background. In the 1920s, 89 percent of those entering this country were European, bringing with them a heritage that was in some sense "Christian."9 By contrast, in the 1980s, 90 percent were non-European, bringing very different heritages.10 Muslims, for example, now represent 15 percent of all immigrants to this country,11 adding to the 5 million already here.12
At the same time, a sizeable number within this immigrant block come from countries where past missionary efforts have born considerable fruit. In some cases, they come from churches that are strong and vibrant. Because of this, Christians in this country are now challenged to become stewards of a past missionary investment that is moving next door.
Missions recently has seen the development of several innovative strategies. At times, however, the place of the immigrant community in this country is overlooked. A case in point was observed at a recent consultation where strategies were developed to reach "Frontier Peoples." The world was divided into several areas, with a working group assigned to each area. North America was not included, which implied that it was not strategically significant.
We must understand that many of those registered by the Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse can be found in our own cities. Reaching the world by A.D. 2000 can be helped by locating people groups already in this country. Peoples from the 10/40 Window are moving here in significant numbers. Many hidden peoples can be found inour ownneighborhoods. Frontier peoples are now living next door to church members.
These strategies can only be strengthened when consideration is given to our immigrant communities. The Adopt-A-People profiles have done this when they describe a people group as also present in this country. As Ralph Winter has said,"…the unreached peoples of the world are showing up in the United States and are remarkable keys to reaching the populations they leave behind."13
In the context of Chicago, the majority of the immigrants cluster in the inner city where the church is the weakest. These people tend to be semi-skilled (there are exceptions) and are employed as blue collar workers or operate small businesses. Those who settle in the suburbs, where the church is more numerous, tend to be scattered. Of these new suburbanites, Neff has observed, "They are well educated and well paid physicians, educators, accountants, research scientists."14
Like others before them, those locating in the inner city often aspire to move to the suburbs. They want to escape the problems of crime and, at the same time, provide for better opportunities for their children. As a result, there is also an out-migration of ethnic peoples from the inner city into the suburbs. These various immigration patterns bring this new mission field within the reach of most local churches in urban America. As Muck points out, "Almost everyone knows someone who belongs to a non-Christian faith."15
Most of these recent immigrants come here believing this to be a Christian country. Sad to say, but fewer than 10 percent will be invited into an American, let alone a Christian, home. While hospitality is often at the heart of the cultures from which most of these people come, they will seldom experience it from our society.
Because of this, our faith is left to be defined by the media, the public schools, and our society. In this regard, these new residents are shocked by the violence and eroticism they see on television and in the movies. Those settling in the inner city are perplexed by the destructive lifestyles displayed openly on the streets. Coming from countries where religion and state are linked, they can¡|t understand why a ¡§Christian¡¨ government allows these practices to continue.
They also come expecting to find a financial paradise, only to be overwhelmed by an economic struggle for survival. The parents often need to take several jobs. Being away from home, the mother is exposed to the Western idea of female equality. Marital conflicts are often the result, since many come from societies where the husband is dominant.
Without the support of an extended family, the children can be left on their own for long periods of time. As a result, they are overly influenced by the public schools and their American peers. The children then express this by a lack of respect for parental authority, especially as it relates to the father.
The combination of these factors can produce considerable stress within the family. This is more than culture shock. This is a reaction to an environment which does violence to their value system and family solidarity. Because of this, there often is delinquency among the children and abuse on the part of the parents, especially the father. Even when families escape these problems, all too often they fall prey to materialism.
NEW FELT NEEDS
Experiences like these open the typical immigrant to a new set of felt needs. Feelings of loneliness, despair, and fear are very common. In addition, they usually experience these emotions without the traditional coping mechanism of an extended family. Like Americans, these internationals have sorrows and joys, fears and dreams, victories and failures. What they need are Christians who will meet them at their point of need, friends who would demonstrate in practical ways thelove and reality of Jesus Christ.
Having felt needs, however, does not imply that they are open to Christian answers. Although they often are not faithful in their religious duties, they will still take offense if people speak ill of their faith. Nevertheless, these new neighbors usually are open to hospitality. While they may not be open to visiting our churches, they would be open to visiting our homes, and they would be honored to have us visit them.
THE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE
Several voices within the Christian community have been raised concerning this world at our doorstep. Christianity Today, for example, described the way "unparalleled immigration is redefining missions strategy while bringing new millions within earshot of the gospel."16
Regarding the international student population, Mark Rentz reminded us that the way "we treat foreign students on our campuses can have lasting consequences for our country."17 Organizations such as International Students Inc., InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and Navigators have responded by reaching out to the many foreign visitors on our college campuses. ACMI18 has provided support for those seeking to reach internationals, especially those within the student population.
For over a decade, ACMC19 has encouraged churches to become involved in this domestic mission field. Denominations such as the Southern Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Baptist General Conference, and the Evangelical Free Church have well-developed ethnic ministries in this country.
Mission agencies also have responded to this opportunity. The Evangelical Alliance Mission, for example, devoted a whole issue to this mission field on our doorstep.20 In 1989, SIM put the United States on the same status as its traditional mission fields abroad. Other agencies such as CAM International, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, Africa Inland Mission, InterServe, and International Missions, Inc. are also involved in doing cross-cultural ministry in this country.
At the same time, it must be stated that the overall response to this strategic opportunity has been disappointing. On this subject, Muck has stated,
…for most American Christians this trend just does not create an impression. Scholars and demographers talk about it incessantly. But for the average man on the street, it is at most a curious fact. In a recent survey, Christianity Today magazine asked a cross section of its readership to name the ten toughest questions facing American Christianity. The challenge of the world religions did not even register.21
David Howard has pointed out that missions today should be defined in terms of people rather than geography.22 Instead, as Muck has observed, "our mission strategy assumes the world religions are found overseas, not at home."23
The result of this neglect has been to create new groups of hidden peoples. These immigrants are largely hidden from the ministry of the average church and the life and witness of most Christians. Sad to say, but many peoples that were classified as "reached" in their homeland will become hidden after arriving in this country.
Why do Christians in general tend to overlook this mission field on their doorstep, a field that would provide a strategic boost to ministries abroad? Muck points out one reason,
We have lived comfortably with the assumption that our nation was predominantly and semiofficially Christian. No longer. The United States will certainly not be so Christian a country as it has been.24
In addition, the recent news about the immigrants in this country has become increasingly negative. To the average Christian, it may seem that we are being overrun by a growing wave of illegal immigrants, as witnessed by the recent grounding of a boatload of Chinese outside New York harbor. Others might think their health is being jeopardized by the court-ordered admission ofHIV-infected Haitians. Somecould even be angry after being threatened by Muslims because our government jailed an Egyptian cleric of Islam, an illegal alien. There is already an immigration backlash in this land of liberty.25 It is up to Christians to show a better way.
Fear of the unknown is still another factor. To work with ethnic peoples is to take a step out of our comfort zone. This is a very difficult step to take for Christians who are monocultural and monolingual. They intuitively know that challenges regarding food, dress, and lifestyle could happen. Even more threatening are the challenges that will come regarding one¡|s faith and convictions.
Another reason has to do with the church itself. As Frank Tillapaugh has stated, "city pastors are being asked to lead institutions that are in urban settings but dominated by rural values."26 Churches like this are structured to maintain the status quo and minister to themselves. Their mindset is not one of equipping their people for their own work of the ministry, a ministry which focuses on the world outside.
Churches and individual Christians, however, aren¡|t the only ones having difficulty with this domestic mission field. Mission agencies, especially those with a long history, are also being challenged. All agencies have many unfilled positions overseas, resulting in some very basic questions. Will a ministry here diffuse the historic focus and reduce the agency¡|s effectiveness? Will this cause new candidates to take the easy way out and stay in this country? Each agency needs to answer these questions for itself, but it must be said that only pioneer stock need apply for a ministry to the inner cities of urban America.
All of these factors have muted the mission opportunity that is on our doorstep. Nevertheless, there are some basic steps that can be taken which can address this problem and promote the cause of missions both here and abroad.
In responding to this world at our doorstep, I suggest that at least four key items should be examined. These items involve theology, methods, data base management, and partnerships.
Given the state of our own society, the theological assumptions of the past cannot be taken for granted. They must be reaffirmed. Theology, it is believed, must again become the cornerstone of missiology. While insight derived from the humanities and other disciplines are very helpful, they simply are not God’s truth in the same sense as Scripture.
A major theological challenge today involves the exclusionary claims of Jesus Christ. This is not a welcome message in our pluralistic society, where such claims are increasingly depicted as narrow-minded and mean- spirited. Neff stated this well when he said,
Sociologists of religion tell us the most important issue for American Christians in the nineties will be coming to terms with our traditional teachings about the uniqueness of Christianity. Both our commitment to mission and our willingness to assert the lostness of "the heathen" will be sorely tested when they are no longer far away but have become our friends and our neighbors.27
We must be ready to stand on the clear statements of Scripture regarding the eternal destiny of those outside Jesus Christ.
Another area requiring consideration is methods. With the collapse of communism, we are entering into a new world order, although no one is quite certain what this means. We indeed are in an era of change. While we must be firmly committed to our message, our methods must relate to the world as we find it.
In this process of reevaluation, it will help if Christians once again go back to the basics. In the book of Acts, for example, two primary missionary methods are recorded. In chapter 13, Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the church at Antioch.
Another equally valid model, however, can be noted in Acts 2. Here we have peoples from several countries comingtogether at a common location. In thefirst model, we see God sending his message to the lost. In the second model, we see the Lord bringing the lost to the message.
Both of these methods are still valid for us today. Churches, however, that insist on defining missions in terms of geography are limiting themselves and the strategic leverage they could have. A balance between these two methods can both reinforce and expand their worldwide influence.
The third area involves data base management. If the church is responsible to reach this world on its doorstep (and it is), it must be informed. Among the things it needs to know are: Who are my ethnic neighbors? Where do they live? Who is already ministering to them? and What works?
In such an effort, is it a proper exercise of stewardship for each church, school, agency, and individual to discover and manage this information alone? It would be exciting to see such a data base shared through a pooling of efforts.
Mission Portland provides an excellent example of data base management on a local level.28 Following the 1992 Graham Crusade in this city, an ongoing ministry was established. Groups such as Multnomah School of the Bible, Navigators (with other parachurch organizations), and local churches came together to continue a broad-based ministry. A key element within this effort was the creation of a data base management system.
The fourth area involves partnership. While a shared data base provides one component for partnering, there remains a need for broader expressions of cooperation. The immensity of this task in a major city makes it difficult for any one church or agency to have a noticeable impact. A partnership that brings together the resources of several churches, schools, and mission agencies could overcome this limitation.
Under such an arrangement, a three-stage approach could be envisioned when entering a city, with the first being the creation of a centralized data base. During the second stage, local churches could be prepared for ministry. In the final stage, teams recruited by several mission agencies could join local churches in a coordinated outreach.
Partnerships can also extend beyond the borders of our own country. One illustration of this is the new partnership between SIM and ECWA (Evangelical Churches of West Africa).29 Under this arrangement, ECWA will send missionaries to the United States to team with SIM personnel assigned to urban America. While here, ECWA personnel will have a multi-ethnic ministry that includes Africans, other ethnic groups, and African-Americans.
Some of the Nigerians discipled out of this ministry will then be encouraged to return to their roots to work with ECWA and SIM on short-term assignments. A further step is also possible when SIM, ECWA, and the ethnic believers here develop joint ministries aimed at specific unreached peoples, especially those within the 10/40 Window.
There are signs that partnership is a growing interest within the mission community. In addition to Mission Portland, other umbrella groups such as MANNA Project30 and AMEN31 have formed. The Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Ill., recently sponsored a forum on partnership.32 Christians within several ethnic communities have expressed a desire to move more aggressively into cross-cultural mission and are open to working with others.33 Destiny ’92 held in Atlanta (July 27-August 1) was an expression of this desire within the African-American churches.34
To promote partnership efforts that focus on this world on our doorstep, it seems that some type of ongoing forum is needed. Rather than establishing a new organization for this purpose, we might consider working through the current associations that are in place. Those which come to mind are the IFMA, EFMA, ACMC, ACMI and the Billy Graham Center on the Wheaton College campus.
Such a forum would provide a context for discussing the theological issues, developingappropriate methods, establishing ashared data base, and putting together the desired patterns of partnership. While the details are best worked out by field personnel, decision makers are first encouraged to come together in some initial step to launch such an effort.
In Romans 12:13, it states that Christians should "practice hospitality." As expressed in the text, Christians are to be alert to strangers in their midst and respond in brotherly love. This should be a characteristic of God¡|s people in any culture, in any era, and in any circumstance. The presence of the mission field in our country provides churches, schools, and agencies with a natural context for revealing the caring nature of our God to these strangers in our midst. And in doing so, we can develop those programs which strengthen both our newer strategies and our traditional efforts around the world.
In order to move this ministry forward I recommend that a national consultation on ethnic ministry be scheduled soon. This meeting would attempt to answer at least two questions. How can current strategies better reflect this domestic mission field in their programs? And, what new strategies would help expand ministries to these ethnic communities? Out of this perhaps some type of forum would be established to move this ministry forward so its full potential can be realized.
1. USA Today, April 28, 1993, p. 1A.
3. Ralph Winter, "Reaching the Moving Target," Christianity Today, July 12, 1985, p. 18.
4. Terry Muck, Alien Gods on American Turf, (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1990), p. 14.
5. David Neff, "Inside CT: Chadors in the Evangelical Mecca," Christianity Today, July 12, 1985, p. 1.
7. Tomm Mathews with Anne Underwood and Clara Bingham, "America’s changing Face," Newsweek, September 10, 1990, p. 47.
8. Immigration data obtained from the Demographic Statistics Branch, Statistics Division, Immigration and Naturalization Service, 425 Eye Street, N.W., Washington, DC.
9. "America¡|s Changing Face," p. 47.
11. Samuel Shahid, "Issues in Missions, Islam," Class notes, Wheaton Graduate School, Wheaton, Ill., Jan. 7-11, 1993.
12. "Profiling Muslims in the USA," USA Today, Feb. 23, 1993. Source: American Muslim Council.
13. Statement from Ralph Winter, general director, U.S. Center for World Mission.
14. "Inside CT: Chadors in the Evangelical Mecca," p. 1.
15. Alien Gods on American Turf, p. 14.
16. Don Bjork, "Foreign Missions: Next Door and Down the Street," Christianity Today, July 12, 1985, p. 17.
17. Mark D. Rentz, "Diplomats in Our Backyard," Newsweek, Feb. 16, 1987, p.10.
18. ACMI, Johnny Tatum, director, Association of Christian Ministries to Internationals, 7 Switchbud Place, C192-209, The Woodlands, Tex. 77380.
19. ACMC, Bill Waldrop, executive director, Advancing Churches in Missions Commitment, P. O. Box ACMC, Wheaton, Ill. 60189.
20. Wherever, Spring, 1993. The Evangelical Alliance Mission, P. O. Box 969, Wheaton, Ill. 60189.
21. Alien Gods on American Turf, p. 20.
22. David Howard, "People Not Places," Christianity Today, July 12, 1985, p. 19.
23. Alien Gods on American Turf, p. 20.
24. Ibid., p. 29.
25. USA Today, July 14, 1993, pp. 1-2A, 6A.
26. Frank R. Tillapaugh, The Church Unleashed (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1982), p. 42.
27. "Inside CT: Chadors in the Evangelical Mecca," p. 1.
28. Mission Portland, 8435 N.E. Glisan St., Portland, Ore. 97220.
29. The Evangelical Church of West Africa has more than 3,000 congregations and over 2 million attendees. The denomination grew out of the missionary work of SIM in Nigeria, which began in 1893.
30. MANNA, Archie Hensley, executive director, Mission Agencies Network for North America, P. O. Box 71772, Madison Heights, Mich. 48071.
31. AMEN, Moses Jesusdas, chairman, Association of Missions for Ethnic Ministry, 2528 W. LaPalma Ave., Anaheim, Calif., 92801.
32. James H. Kraakevik and Dotsey Welliver, Partners in the Gospel (Wheaton, Ill.: Billy Graham Center, 1992).
33. COMHINA ’93, September 20-24, 1993, Congreso Misionero Hispano, P. O. Box 593754, Orlando, Fla. 32895.
Korean World Missions ¡|92, July 27-August 1, 1992, John Ko, 531 Roosevelt Rd. #201, Wheaton, Ill. 60187.
Arabs in Mission Consultation, June 10-13, 1993. James Kraakevik, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton, Ill. 60187.
34. Destiny, Elward D. Ellis, director, 2227 Godby Rd. #216, Atlanta, Ga. 30349.
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