(Thanks to guest author Alice Klement for this post. –KK)
“Go into all the world” becomes “Go to the world in your community”
Jesus commanded his followers to go into all the world to teach, baptize, and make disciples. In my opinion, though, we haven’t exactly been filling planes with eager folks going into all the world to share the Gospel.
But I’ve seen an amazing thing in my corner of the world, and I’ll bet it’s happening where you live, too. God is giving us another chance! He’s bringing all the world to America. I noticed this when my little grocery was suddenly filled with people from different cultures, whose conversations I didn’t understand. I soon discovered that there is a refugee resettlement area between my home and my church. In addition, my church is located on the edge of the large University of Texas Health Science Center which brings in a wealth of international students every year.
I felt a responsibility for all these people. God had placed them literally in our backyard. Who was going to reach out to them in His name, if my church didn’t?
God also opened doors, sometimes dramatically. One day Bo, a student at the medical center, walked into the church office and asked for someone to teach him about God. Well, that was a call to action, if there ever was one!
As a result of much prayer, my congregation developed English as a Second Language ministry for refugees. Then we began taking breakfast to the international students living at an apartment complex near the church every Saturday. In both of these ministries, our goal is to build friendships so that we will have opportunity to share the Gospel.
Every situation is different. But here’s what my congregation learned along the way about sharing the gospel to all the world in our community.
- Pray. We say this all the time, don’t we? But when you go into cultures that are based on no religion or on different religions, you don’t want to go without prayer. We are not wrestling with flesh and blood. I have a Tuesday morning prayer group whose mission is to pray for the ministries of the congregation. We began to ask our Lord to help us get outside the walls of the church.
- Gather a ministry team. This action-oriented team commits to leading the congregation in outreach. They learn about opportunities and educate the congregation. The team is the first to step out, but they will bring people along with them.
- The goal is for the entire congregation to see itself as responsible for its community. That will take prayer, PR, and personal invitations.
Our philosophy of ministry to internationals:
- The goal is to build strong friendships; friendships that will last a lifetime; friendships that will endure even if our international friend never sets foot in our church.
- We begin by hearing the international’s story. This will take several visits.
- We are careful not to judge or to indicate that our new friend is wrong.
- We are careful not to criticize our government, or for that matter to indicate that it’s the best in the world.
- We have much to learn. We listen.
- Little by little, we will share who we are, and, of course, that includes our faith. But all faith-sharing is done with gentleness and respect. We have a lifetime to share. There is no need for pressure.
We have found that the great majority of internationals want to have American friends. Sadly, 80% of international students never get into an American home while they are here. We’ve also found internationals to be very open to learning about what it means to be a follower of Christ. This doesn’t mean they are ready to convert, but it does mean that they are open to talk about Jesus.
Sometimes we are privileged to share the Gospel with someone who is ready to receive it. After a year with us, Bo moved to San Francisco. We referred him to a Chinese Lutheran Church there and they picked up right where we left off. The Spirit didn’t miss a beat. Bo writes often about how God is guiding him and how he goes to worship every Sunday. We are praying for the day when he writes that God guided him to be baptized!
Alice Klement is Director of Equipping Ministry at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas. You are welcome to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org; 210.614.3742 ext. 204