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Partnering with Christian Immigrants

The Lausanne Global Analysis said that the future of mission is from everyone to everywhere. The movement of peoples around the world means that both people we minister to and with are increasingly from around the world.

What does it look like to foster healthy relationships with brothers and sisters from other countries and languages? Some are new Americans, new Australians, new Kenyans or new Mexicans or whatever your country is, while others are undocumented immigrants living in the shadows, asylum seekers with pending status, and some are immigrants on visas joining your country temporarily for work or study. There are opportunities to be used by God to welcome, share the gospel and live out Christ’s kingdom as well as to be taught by Christians from around the world who will bring a passion for Christ to renew our countries and churches. From large to small cities to rural communities around the country there are Christians gathering and planting churches amongst their own language speakers. How can we partner particularly with new immigrant Christians in ways that glorify Jesus and reflect a healthy church culture?

The apostle Paul writes to us in Philippians 2 about Jesus who is God and yet took the form of a servant to dwell among us.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

We are going to talk through this passage as we think about what partnerships modeled after Christ our servant king look like:

Take the role of a servant.
It is easy to approach cross cultural ministry as an expert or as a hero, particularly if you are from my country, the United States. We produce a culture of confidence and competence (I fear even when we do not know what we are doing.) But Jesus is our model. If the God of the universe lowered himself to live among us, his creation, what does it look like for us as the host culture in the US or Germany or the UK to take on a posture of humility as we do ministry with newcomers? What does it look like to lower yourself as the host culture and take your cues on partnership from your immigrant brothers and sisters in the faith?

This looks like:
Don’t make decisions as a Western/or host country/church/ministry on what immigrant churches need. Meet together and see how your churches can mutually bless one another. Ask what does your church need from new immigrants? Are you willing to receive as well as give? Three struggles I have watched immigrant leaders experience:

Immigrants as storytellers but not as equal partners – a Nepali pastor was invited to share his testimony in church after church, but as he raised support to do the work of a parachurch ministry, he went almost unfunded despite spending every week with churches eager to hear him speak.

I saw women invited in to share their testimonies of faith at large churches but no one volunteered to help them learn to drive. It was time consuming and not as easy as a one off event to attend.

Once I saw a church make a decision to give 25 refugee families, 25 completed houses worth of donations to fill each room of their house with needed items, except, this decision was made the year the resettlement agency needed money to stay open. 201-18 was a year almost zero refugees were coming, there was a refugee resettlement moratorium and the resettlement agency would have to pay for extra storage to keep all of the items, money they did not have. This decision was made despite partners urging that this was not the greatest need. They needed finances to stay open, and people that would befriend refugee families and help them integrate into their new American life who had already arrived. The resettlement agency closed 9 months later due to lack of funding. This requires listening, asking questions, letting people outside of your congregation shape what the partnership looks like.

Take the posture of a learner instead of expert
Many churches in China don’t allow someone to be an elder until they have gone to prison, “And really suffered.” Iranian Christians have been forced to flee to neighboring Turkey after governmental persecution and shared their faith as they went. Nepali Christians came to faith in refugee camps and planted churches while they lived stateless for 20 years in Nepal, and around the world as they have been resettled in third countries. Honduran pastors have discipled gang members to faith, seen church members murdered, and had their family threatened with violence before they have sought asylum at the US border. Some immigrants are planting their second or third church by the time they come to your city.

Taking the posture of a learner looks like immigrants having a seat at the table of decisions and being able to lead. Are you willing to give up your catchy idea in exchange for the idea of an immigrant Christian who might not speak great English but might have incredible wisdom and years of experience? Is your church or ministry deciding what would be best for this group of immigrants in your neighborhood or the next city over, or are you coming together to make decisions mutually? Learning about their culture also matters in partnership. How do they communicate? Are you both working to understand one another better? Is their culture consensus or hierarchical? Will they default to you as the Westerner?

Do nothing out of your own interests but each of you to the interests of others
You might easily be able to make friends with immigrant churches but more likely there will be barriers of language, or distance – the city and suburbs, cultures that keep to themselves, and cultures that expect much of relationships. How willing are you to make time, a lot of time to get to know and welcome immigrants in your area? To a westerner it will mean expending much more time than we are used to in relationships. (example: Iranian conversation from this weekend about surprise of promise and delivery of “let’s hang out sometime”)
Making friends might mean seeking out immigrant churches to go to or visit, changing your shopping to culturally specific grocery stores – the Middle Eastern market or Indian store, the Asian grocery store. It might mean getting in touch with a local refugee resettlement agency (google that phrase and your city to find the closest one) and looking for opportunities to volunteer, be it practicing English, teaching someone to drive, or picking up a newly arrived refugee family at the airport. It will mean putting yourself out there, but being slow in your expectations at how fast you become friends. Being generous with your time will help build trust in new relationships.

I met with an Hispanic pastor in Ohio who talked about the complicated immigration status of many people in his congregation. Many were undocumented. Some would be afraid to get to know locals because of their immigration status. This church wasn’t a monolith, and had many complexities between differing Spanish speaking countries, but relationship and partnership with this church might mean entering into discipleship complexities you haven’t dreamed. It might mean having to have complicated conversations in your church or wrestling with ideas yourself you haven’t thought of. How does a pastor advise a father in his congregation who has been undocumented for 20 years? Does he turn himself in and be deported, leaving his wife and children for ten years or more, a father who might be the sole provider? Or does he stay and remain outside of the law? How does 1 Timothy 5:8 “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” and Romans 13 “let everyone be subject to governing authorities” work in this instance?  Walking alongside an immigrant community or someone in your congregation with this precarious legal status will stretch you on what it looks like to show the mercy of God. While many want to fix their legal status, in many countries people have no options. They fled the war in Syria into Lebanon before visas could be issued. There is often no way to fix a broken immigration status in the US and no place to get into line for those fleeing something desperate that needs an urgent move. What does it look like to apply Philippians 2:4? “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

There are often barriers to theological education depending where immigrants come from. Ideas and considerations for you: If there is a lack of undergrad or even high school degree, can your church hire someone to join staff with ministry experience but without the right degrees? What kind of theological education could your church offer to those who have not had access to theological training? Will you help bridge barriers for them? In Ohio I met Nepali pastors without advanced education planting churches but who were bivocational, working night shift in a factory and supporting their families. Taking time off to go to seminary which was costly was not an option despite their desire for theological education. What kinds of partnership could happen around theological education and busy schedules for bivocational ministers?

Cross cultural ministry will push you deeper into God’s Word and in dependence on the Holy Spirit than you could imagine. It requires us to leave behind our preferences, our need to be in control, our need to lead, our need for credit. It requires us to take on the role of a servant, like Jesus. It might make us realize our lack, and that God might be sending immigrants to minister to us. There might be more our churches need to learn from immigrant leaders and congregations than we have to teach them or give to them.

Partner as brothers and sisters in God’s kingdom work.
We have a great older brother, Jesus, the perfecter of our faith. We share in the indwelling of a common Spirit. What does it look like to build mutual and reciprocal relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ, across language barriers, class, and culture? When it is mutual and not one way, we reflect our status, under Jesus, the One who has brought us together into relationship with the Father by the blood of his cross.
Pray together – When will you spend time praying together? How will you make this a priority? Encourage your brothers and sisters to pray in their first language, God created all of the languages to be worshipped by and it is wonderful to hear him praised in this way.

Read the Word together
If your church is becoming multi-ethnic has multi-lingual services, consider having the immigrant pastor preach in Mandarin/Farsi/Spanish and someone translate for the majority of the congregation to understand, don’t just have sermons preached in English with a Mandarin corner. Or English with a Spanish corner
Eat together. Jesus spent a lot of time eating with his disciples, people he ministered to, people that ministered to him.

There were 82.4 million displaced people in the world at the end of 2020, over 30 million outside of their home countries. Our globalized world has people traveling from place to place for work and education. The church is from everywhere going to everywhere. Your community of believers in Germany, Lebanon, Australia, Colombia, Canada, the US has an opportunity to be the body of Christ to some of the great disasters of our world, the collapse of Venezuela, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the earthquake of Haiti, the wars and gang violence of Syria and Honduras. Christians around the world have walked with Jesus and stood faithful in persecution. They have worshipped him amidst poverty. They have stood faithful in secular culture. They have integrated their business practices with a Christian ethic and worldview in Europe. They have trained others and multiplied and shared their faith while dwelling in refugee camps in Uganda and Sudan and Nepal. They are moving to cities and towns in your country having led house churches while in China and stood faithful while facing government opposition in Iran. What does it look like to take on the example of Jesus, our suffering servant who stepped out of heaven to reconcile us to himself and to step out of ourselves and our comforts to learn from and minister with the body of Christ from around the world? We share a common bond of the same Holy Spirit. Let us be bonded to one another in the love of Christ. Partnership, learners, servants, Christ is our model but also our Lord. Our nationality is Christ’s Kingdom, let that shape us.

Partnering with Christian Immigrants

Christy

What does it look like to foster healthy relationships with brothers and sisters from other countries and cultures? What actions and attitudes help and what hurts? How can we learn from them and their faith? Christy answers these questions through biblical truth and her ministry experience.

What does it look like to foster healthy relationships with brothers and sisters from other countries and cultures? What actions and attitudes help and what hurts? How can we learn from them and their faith? Christy answers these questions through biblical truth and her ministry experience.

Webinar: "Perseverance, Growth, and Change in ISM Over Four Decades" June 26th at 10:30 Central

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