November 18, 2017

The Melting Pot of Mission Fields

Developing a Foreign Missions Mindset in United States Ministry

Tim Richmond

Our Default Is God’s Design

A uniformed police officer stood outside of Dan Hyden’s home in Ivanovka, Russia, in February of 2003. Six other men came in from the Siberian cold to question the group of believers that had met to worship. Pastor Hyden was told to meet the following week with Russian officials. At that meeting Captain Mashtakov told Dan the church could no longer meet in their home and he could no longer preach. The church complied until a few weeks later. Dan was summoned again. This time he was given ten days to leave the country.

The Hydens were forced to leave a fledgling church and ordered not to return for at least five years. Why would God allow this? They had just begun adjusting to the Russian culture and language. Were their years of preparation and language study for nothing? It may have seemed so, but often our default is actually God’s design. The Lord opened an opportunity in a new country, and within just a few short months they were ministering in a city with over 500,000 Russian-speakers. Within a year they saw the Lord bring together a core group of twenty-to-thirty Russian speaking people. Where? Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

Watching the Lord use the Hyden family this way at my home church in Brooklyn made me rethink the way we treat the mission field among us. We should be doing this all over the United States! Although the Hydens cannot reach the Russians in the Russian Federation, they can disciple Russian-speaking people in our own borders and send them back to their own home to make more disciples.

Why Should I Reach the Nations?

The Great Commission commands us to “teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The men Jesus gave this command to were astounded by the breadth of this mission. Make disciples of all nations! How? The answer to that question came when the Lord gathered thousands of men and women from all over the world to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. Then He gave His disciples the gift of foreign languages so that they could disciple them; the thousands who became disciples went throughout the world making more followers of Jesus.

Why did God command them to reach the nations? It was for His glory. People of the nations who have placed their trust in the Lord glorify God for His mercy (Rom. 15:8, 9). His glory is also echoed in the heavens by the angels who are amazed at the wisdom of God in building the Church from all nations. The Church is like a masterpiece of many different colors and shapes of people from all walks of life and cultures (Eph. 3:8–10). Jesus will also be glorified for His mercy to the nations throughout all eternity. When we examine the presence of God in Heaven we hear the same chorus resounding God’s praises for His multifaceted mercy (Rev. 5:9, 10). Are you passionate about the glory of God? If so, you will be passionate about making disciples of the nations.

Where Can I Reach the Nations?

So where do I go to find the nations? Well, a good place to start is your back yard. Ease of transportation and communication has been shrinking the world over the past thirty years. Within that time we have seen an unprecedented increase in immigration. Has there been an unprecedented increase in our efforts to reach them? There are now over 35 million people in the United States who were born in a foreign country. That is twelve percent of our nation’s population! In order to reach them when they were born you would have to have been a foreign missionary. Thirty five million people—that is a larger population than most countries in the world today! We have a nation-sized foreign born population to reach for the glory of God.

Do you want to reach Mexicans? Go to Mexico City. Do you want to reach Japanese? Go to Tokyo. Do you want to reach the nations? Go to the cities of America. Three of the five cities of the world with the largest foreign-born population are in the US or Canada (New York City, Toronto, and Los Angeles). Although Tokyo is more populous than NYC, the foreign-born population of NYC is larger than the entire country of Japan’s foreign-born population. The same is true of Mexico City. It has a greater population than NYC. However, NYC’s foreign-born population is four times larger than the foreign-born population of the entire country of Mexico! The foreign-born population of some cities like Miami, Florida, or Santa Ana, California, has outgrown the US population of those cities. To reach these cities we must approach them as a foreign mission field. The nations are pouring into our country more than into any other country at any other time in history. How do we reach them? How Do I Reach the Nations?

1. Be Willing: First, be willing to expend the same effort to reach a foreign- born person in your back yard as in his own country. What does it take to disciple Igor, who lives in the Ukraine? A missionary family would take a survey trip to target a specific area. They would then spend years on deputation raising the support to move to the Ukraine. Perhaps they would use the first term to learn the culture and language. After spending a year on furlough in the States they would return to Ukraine and start a church. Is that worth it? Absolutely! But what happens when Igor gets on a plane and flies to Atlanta, Los Angeles, or NYC? Do we expend the same effort eight hours later? We should, but we do not. Now it is Igor’s responsibility to learn the language and culture. He has to spend the years studying and adjusting. We should be targeting Igor within our borders just as if he were on the mission field. Why not treat the foreign-born population of the United States as the foreign mission field? Are you willing to expend that much effort?

2. Be Aware: Second, be aware of the specific mission fields of your area. One way to find a detailed breakdown of the foreign born population in your city is to type your Zip Code on the home page of the US Census website.[1] From here you can view a map pinpointing the areas in your community with the greatest foreign-born population as well as a diagram detailing their ethnic and language background.

You should also be aware of some of the cultural distinctives of the people you are trying to reach. If I were a missionary on deputation to Mexico you would expect that I would know something of their major religion, history, culture, and foods. Why should it be different if I am ministering to them in their new home in the US ?

3. Be Proactive: Now that you know a little more about the “foreign” mission field in your community, be active in reaching out to that culture. Many Fundamental churches have done an excellent job in reaching out to different people groups in their community by starting a church in a foreign language. However, you do not have to start a separate church to begin to reach that community. Perhaps you should start by ordering tracts that are printed in Spanish or Russian. Here are a few ideas that churches have used to reach the foreign-born population of their communities:

  • Foreign Language Bible Study: Perhaps you already have a trustworthy person in your church who could lead a Bible study in a foreign language. As the Bible study grows, you may want to begin a Sunday school class in this language as well.
  • Teaching English as a Second Language Class: This is a great way to reach the foreign-born population. If you do not have the certification or resources to start a large program, consider offering language study time where people in the community can meet with people in your church to practice speaking English.
  • “Racial Profiling” Evangelism: There are many ways to develop a specific outreach targeting a language or people group. At youth outings you could have “Viva Mexico” night and beat piñatas or “A Tribute to Italy” and sling spaghetti. You may want to keep the spaghetti slinging out of your Sunday evening service, but don’t let that stop you from organizing some dinner or church activity that shows the people from that culture that you are interested in them. Contact a foreign missionary who is targeting the same people group and ask him how he reached out to the culture on the foreign field.

We should not sit around while the millions of foreign born Americans stand deceived by their own religions. Inconvenience is not a consideration as we reach out to the mission fields of the world in our borders. To obey Jesus’ command and glorify our Father, we must make disciples in this melting pot called the United States of America.

Tim Richmond is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Forest Hills, NY.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2007. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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