August 8, 2016

I Have the World in my Backyard

As I see athletes from all over the world gathering in Rio for the Olympics, I am reminded of the visitors from abroad that live not far away from me. Many come to my region from around the globe for employment or a university education.

Some internationals are from places none of us will ever be able to visit. I ask myself what I am doing with this opportunity to mirror Christ and His love to those I meet.

Some of my church's members recognize this migration as a chance to minister. For example, they held English as a second language (ESL) classes at the church. Many of their Asian, European, Middle Eastern and Latin American students were associated with a nearby university.  Now, our church is changing directions slightly and becoming friendship partners with international graduate students via International Christian Fellowship (ICF) at the same school.

In the past, individuals in the church were paired with students from other countries, through a process similar to ICF's. Activities included inviting them to a home cooked meal, teaching the adults to drive or taking them to an international food store. My husband and I were friends with a Korean couple as part of that effort. One main avenue of testimony was to share our lives with the two of them. We also tried to show them, by example, what a Christian lifestyle looks like because internationals might equate the words and actions of actors on American TV with what Christians do.

In another type of outreach, one church member developed relationships with some internationals who visited his produce stand. After he got to know them better, he gave them God's word in their own language when they expressed interest.

A training class that I took for international ministry stressed showing Christian love, but it did not recommend encouraging our friends to depend on American Christian friends for everything. Instead, it advocated praying for opportunities to point others to Christ; he is the only one who can meet the deepest needs of people from any nation.

Having a heart for internationals is worthwhile, but it requires a shift in thinking for some of us. I, for one, grew up in a very homogeneous culture, eating only Middle American food, seeing no other skin colors beside white and believing there was no reason to live anywhere else in the world. However, through the small steps I have taken to reach out to other cultures in the name of Christ, I have been blessed.

I am thankful for itinerant missionaries who went out of their way to make occasional visits to my small home church. Although I was a child at the time, I could see that they had a genuine faith. Motivated by a love for God and an understanding of the plight of man, the missionaries had a vision for a world that needs the Gospel. These men and women gave me an excellent starting place to leave my comfort zone and get out into the "world" in my backyard.


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