Reaching the Nations from Across the Street
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
SERVICE OPENS DOORS
It was a frigid day in December when our family met Amina*. A group from our church was assisting in a toy give-away to area refugees through the Salvation Army. Amina and her family had escaped a war-torn country in eastern Africa and had been resettled in the southern US. Her family had been in our country only four months, and they knew little English. But they showed much appreciation for the small bag of toys and a couple of bags of rice they were given. Smiles go a long way to bridge people of different languages.
Thankfully the contact did not end there. Our small group from church had kept Amina’s address and went back to take clothes, blankets, and food a few weeks later. Even with her limited English, she indicated she wanted to learn more of the language. So not long after that, a lady from our small group called and asked Amina if we could come visit and begin teaching her English. The next day, two other ladies, one gentleman, and I drove up to the housing projects to begin our first lesson.
Amina’s willingness to open her home and offer us tea and traditional sweets from her own nation showed how thankful she was to have us visit. Her apartment is small and sparse compared to middle class Americans, but she was gracious to open up her life to us and give out of her meager provisions.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE AN EXPERT
The lessons started with simple vocabulary accompanied by pictures. Hand motions, facial expressions, and Google Translate all helped get the point across! As time has passed, Amina is learning to speak in sentences, though broken and with much effort. Through the months that we have met, she has invited some of her Arab speaking friends, and it is a blessing getting to know them and hearing their English improve.
We do not only work on English lessons when we visit, however. The ladies always cook a three or four course meal! It is authentic cuisine from their home countries, which has opened up this southern girl’s palette quite a bit! They are so generous and even though we have told the women they do not need to cook for us, they continue to welcome us gladly.
Sometimes the women bring their children and I bring mine, giving them chances to play. Not only does this help the refugee children to learn English, but it gives my preschool age children the chance to see that God made all people and that He loves them, no matter their culture, language, dress, or food.
SHARING THE GREATEST GIFT
Our visits have also led to spiritual conversations. Amina has begun asking about God and has shown interest in coming to church. We are continuing to pray for the ladies we have met, as well as their families. We care about them and long to see them come to salvation in Christ. These friendships have broadened our world and opened our eyes to how many precious souls God has brought to our area.
It is not a mistake that we have such an influx of refugees and other immigrants in the U.S. We must view this opportunity with a Biblical lens. As the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Danny Akin, proclaimed, “The refugees’ crisis that we now have in America is indeed a Great Commission moment unlike anything our nation has ever experienced. In God’s amazing providence, more people are migrating today around the world than in any other time in history and we must seize the moment because it is a missiological opportunity that will not stay open forever. And God’s promise has always been that the nations would glorify Him for His mercy and they would find hope in Christ.”
There are over 43 million immigrants in the U.S., which is about 14% of the total population. They have settled in every state, from rural areas to sprawling urban centers. Surely there are immigrant families who live near you. God has called us to see these men, women, and children, not as a threat, but as people made in His image who need Jesus as their Savior.
5 STEPS TO REACHING REFUGEES
So how can you turn a desire to reach immigrants and refugees into practical steps?
1. Look around you. When you go to the grocery store, your work place, or your child’s school, are there immigrants in your everyday path? Smile, say “hello”, and try to be as helpful as you can.
2. Take the next step. Ask your new friend to have coffee, or dinner at your home, or ask if you can come visit some time.
3. Contact your local church association or state convention to see what immigrant ministries they have going on. Get involved in what God is already doing!
4. Begin an English class or food bank at your church. Make connections with the people who come and invest in their lives. Serve! When they know you care, they will be more willing to listen to the Gospel.
5. Pray! God desires that people worship Him “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9). Ask Him to draw people to Himself, and He will.
Let us not miss this Gospel opportunity that God has laid before us. It is in His sovereignty that He has brought us to such a time as this.
*Name has been changed.
Julie Simmons is an educator and mother hailing from Greensboro, NC. She completed her BA in Elementary Education at Campbell University and is a member of King’s Cross Church. Julie loves to hang out with her kids, to read, to workout, and to do ministry amongst refugee populations. She is married to Kevin, who is on staff with Pillar.