How can Christians live out Jesus' love-calling to love our neighbors as ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Luke 10:27)? With modern immigration, we now have enormous opportunity to intentionally and effectively engage with foreigners and refugees in our cities and towns. But where do we start?
Jesse and Emily Bond, who work with YWAM Chicago, a satallite of YWAM Tyler, have connected with immigrants in the greater Chicago area for years. They compiled the following tips to help Christians embrace this growing mission field on our doorstep...
Tip #1. Gather information ~ Conduct reconnaissance!
Is there a specific people group moving into your state/ town/ neighborhood? Consider: God sent them here for a reason ... He might want YOU to befriend them! Become a hungry consumer of knowledge about this people group. Ask around, use Google, pick up information wherever you can. (Caution: FaceBook arguments rarely offer accurate empirical information!) If possible, find a "cultural informant" (willing, knowledgeable native of the culture you’re investigating) whom you can ask hundreds of questions. A relationship like this will be gold!
Some basics to learn: Who are these people? Where are they from? What recent and historical events have shaped their region of the world? Check your assumptions - not all people who look alike (to us) are from the same place, and not all "places" are small enough to generalize. For example, India is a nation of nearly 1.4 billion people with dozens of regions, hundreds of language groups, and thousands of cultures... collect specific data. Surrender any arrogant presumptions or willful ignorance. Don’t assume a Hispanic person is from Mexico. If they are, don’t assume they came here illegally. Find out which Mexican state they're from, how they got here, where their family lives, and what they want to accomplish with their life. Humble yourself: "Ask! Seek! Knock!" (Matt. 7:7). Become a sincere learner and compassionate listener.
Tip #2. Go where people are!
Maybe you will never visit the homeland of your new neighbors, but God in His gracious wisdom has brought them here. Don't ignore His efforts or scorn His gift ... open it!
Take a small step beyond your comfortable routines. Is there a coffee shop, grocery store or park which your immigrants frequent? Go there. Watch them. Eavesdrop. Who greets first—the person arriving, or the one already there? Who initiates conversation—the younger party or the older? Even without understanding their language, you can learn a lot by listening and observing body language.
Ray Comfort (world-renowned evangelist) recently shared his shock at discovering his neighbors’ son was named Lucifer. Ray got down on his knees, crying, “Lord, what’s wrong with this generation?! They are so lost! What does it take to reach this generation?!” He heard the Spirit respond, “Go over and meet them.” His initial reaction was, “Lord, I think you might be missing the spirit of my prayer…”; but he finally obeyed and went to meet the neighbors. Afterwards he confessed, “This is how to reach a generation: ‘Go over and meet them!’”
Tip #3. Pray for opportunities.
Ask God boldly and frequently for an open door to interact in positive, personal ways with someone from this people group. Trust Him to position you to bless them and confess your love for Jesus before the nations (Ps. 96:10).
Jesse once prayed for years for “open doors” and “ministry fruit”, with the preconceived notion of leading Bible studies in a church setting. But God was preparing an unexpected answer to these prayers! A new friend from another culture approached him expressing desire to grow in knowledge of the Truth, and Jesse was powerfully convicted by Jesus' words, “…lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). He writes; "God was asking me to be part of the harvest in this man’s life! What could I say, “No thanks, I’m busy”?!
Tip #4. Expect opposition!
Our society is in bondage to strongholds of individualism and material prosperity. Breaking out of your comfortable cell of complacency automatically makes you a target for enemy attacks... You might suddenly feel ill just at the time you'd resolved to go and meet your new neighbors. You could experience mechanical failures, medical setbacks or bouts of intense temptation. People might insult you; other Christians might doubt your motives and try to dissuade you. The enemy will try to make you fear the worst and wear you down enough to believe your efforts are not worth the time or cost. But aren't you glad Christ didn't succumb to these temptations when He faced the cross (Heb. 12:2)? It will cost, but like Jesus you can scorn the shame and pain for the Master’s joy set before you in heaven.
Jesse and Emily recall experiencing fierce attacks against their marriage while actively engaging in cross-cultural discipleship with new believers; "There were always disagreements and hurt feelings cropping up between us, even as we drove to share about the glorious King! It took the spiritual perception and courage of some sweet friends to point out to us that this kind of warfare is to be expected when you set your life in alignment with God’s mission to reach the lost. Once we acknowledged the spiritual attack against us, its 'teeth' fell out".
Tip #5. Rejoice!
Once you break through the barriers and actually get out there, you will begin to realize why Satan tried so hard to hold you back. God has prepared divine appointments of eternal significance for you! As you step out in faith, calling on Him, He empowers you to be His living, breathing Body on earth. It's exhilarating! This may be one of the most delightful tasks you ever undertake as a servant of the Great King. No wonder He wants to share this pleasure with us! A good father willingly shares his greatest joy with his children.
Jesse testifies; "Some of our richest times of relationship came through the cross-cultural encounters we shared as we followed God on His continuing quest to seek out and redeem people from every people, language, tribe and tongue. I recently laughed until I cried with some Muslim friends over YouTube videos of an Egyptian woman trying and failing to speak English intelligibly for a news report - an experience all of us could relate to since we have struggled to learn another language as adults. I also have a friend who owns a grocery store. He’s a devout man... a Muslim who challenges me to live my faith more sincerely, humbly and simply. He’s a friend, I enjoy talking about life with him, and I’m excited to see where God takes this relationship!"
Come back Monday to see the final five tips or subscribe to this blog.
The Bonds have tons of insight we can all glean encouragment from. Loving our neighbors doesn't need to be complicated. With God empowering us with His love, we have all we need to be His hands and feet to the world around us. Learn More about YWAM Chicago
In April, YWAM Tyler will be holding a discipleship training school specifically geared for cross-cultural interaction. The MDTS, Multicultural Discipleship Training School, is a great way to dive deep into God's love for all nations. By getting to know God more, you'll be further equipped to make Him known to your neighbors.