Contributed by Marcia and Duane Binkley
Our work since 2006 has been to connect Baptist churches in the U.S. with refugees from Burma being resettled throughout America by the U.S. government. Knowing the situation of the Karen in Thai refugee camps, we marvel at their ability to adapt to a U.S. lifestyle, language and culture. We have also been pleased to see so many U.S. churches with no prior cross-cultural experience extend Christian hospitality and acceptance to these newest Americans. With 90,000 from Burma already in the U.S., over 250 new churches and congregations have been started. The largest Baptist church-planting program in America today is the U.S. government’s refugee resettlement program!
While learning of refugee resettlement in the U.S., our eyes have been opened to the many other people and language groups living in America. Others in Christian circles are noticing as well and a fledgling movement is being started that some call Diaspora Missions. The idea is that by reaching the international communities living in America, our local churches will grow and the world could be reached without leaving the country.
Virtually every major city in America and many smaller towns and cities are now home to populations speaking languages and belonging to cultures from everywhere on the globe. The U.S. census estimates “over 300” languages are spoken in homes in the U.S.A., and Global Research of the Southern Baptist’s International Mission Board lists 541 “unreached people groups” living in America. However, many of us, and many of the churches we attend, don’t recognize the international nature of America today. When contact is made with people speaking something other than English, we see them as separate. Some churches may invite a non-English speaking group to use “their” building, but often there is a feeling of “us” and “them”. For still others, the response has been to wait until newcomers learn English and have assimilated. Only after they become one of “us” will they be welcomed.
A quick survey of the Bible indicates God wants us to take a different approach. When Moses came down from the mountain with the stone tablets with his face still shining from being in the presence of God, one of the first things he said to the people of Israel was, “And you are to love those who are aliens” (Deut. 10:19). Throughout the Old Testament that command is repeated and we’re told the same rules apply to strangers, foreigners, and aliens that apply to us.
In the New Testament, Jesus’ cross-cultural encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well illustrates his love for those considered different. Then, in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came, there were at least 15 language groups represented. In Acts 11, Peter was at first criticized for taking the Gospel to non-Jews until he explained his dream. When it was apparent everyone could receive the Holy Spirit, Peter said, “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think I could oppose God?” (Acts11:17) Peter seems to say when we don’t welcome the stranger, alien and foreigner, we oppose God. Ouch!
Recently, on a plane ride I sat next to an East European who came to the U.S. as a refugee several years ago. He has done well materially and has a high-paying job. After explaining that I was working with refugees from Burma and trying to connect churches with them, he looked hurt and asked, “Why did no church try to connect with us?”
I pass on his question for us to consider. As individual Christians, churches, organizations, and denominations, why aren’t we connecting more with the foreigner, stranger, and alien living near to us? Often, the main thing newcomers want is acceptance and a chance to be the people God made them to be. Our Lord accepts us as we are so, in turn, his church should be the first place newcomers to America should find acceptance. In the words of Peter, “Who are we to oppose God?”
(View a gallery of photos from multicultural church gatherings!)