Awhile back I had a personal post entitled “International student ministry…is a ministry!”. My spouse and I have worked with international students living in the United States since 1997. Yet, we have always felt like lone rangers with little support or encouragement from fellow Christians or the church. It wasn’t until recently that I actually fully realized that we were doing ministry! That might sound silly. But when what you do is rarely acknowledged, I guess you can overlook it for what it is.
In my post, I also said that working with internationals is: an under-valued and under-promoted ministry option by the church. Yet, in saying that, I also feared it would appear I was promoting one ministry as “better” than others – and criticizing those not involved in it. We all have different gifts to use for God’s kingdom, and I definitely didn’t want that to be what came across.
Recently I saw this news article on the Christianity Today site: The Craziest Statistic You’ll Read About North American Missions, an astonishing number of non-Christians in the U.S. and Canada don’t know any Christians. Here’s why.
The statistics and analysis in this article got to the core of what I was trying, in my own roundabout way, to say. Here are a few of the points I took from the article, along with some thoughts of my own:
Missiologist Todd M. Johnson and his team found that 20 percent of non-Christians in North America do not “personally know” any Christians. Yet, it is really much worse than that. That number includes atheists and agnostics, many of whom are former Christians themselves and more likely to have close Christian contacts. Without that group, 60 percent of the non-Christian population has no relationships with Christians!
Essentially, our country is filled with international people and we are ignoring them. Many churches promote short-term mission trips to other countries (and there is a place for mission trips!) – yet we seem to be completely overlooking the mission field that is right here in our backyard and in our own country!
The US has unique freedoms and opportunities to connect across cultural and religious lines. As the article states:
The United States is a very strategic place for people to interact…It’s ironic in a place with all the freedoms to interact that people don’t do it…
Another research associate Gina Bellofatto refers to the apparent apathy among Christians about befriending non-Christians, especially if it means reaching across neighborhoods and towns into more ethnic enclaves.
I don’t know how many more million Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews need to come to this country before it becomes a priority…
Johnson further states that America is suffering from a serious deficit of hospitality. Yes, I agree! Johnson’s family has found that relatively small gestures, such as inviting international students into their home for Thanksgiving, can provide a better basis for meaningful interaction than huge mission campaigns.
Ouch. They are saying it. Not me.
While the article seems focused on immigrants to the US, there are also many international people temporarily living here with student or work visas. Many are from countries closed to the Gospel (like Saudi Arabia) – yet here they are in our midst! And we ignore them.
I have the tendency to make my posts too long, so in a part 2, I will share some specific ways to get involved with internationals – especially students. Thanks for listening.