About three years ago, my family and I transitioned churches. This is not the first time either my wife or I have had to seek out a new church home. Various moves for school or other life transitions have necessitated such a move for the both of us. That being said, this transition was a bit more unique considering I was also coming off a church staff and stepping into a missions mobilization role with a parachurch ministry. Having been engrained into the DNA of the church I served for 13 years, I became familiar with the ebb and flow of ministry and the unique ministry philosophy and polity of that particular church. Going into a search for a new church family, we stepped back into the role of observers and learners and had to process, prioritize, and ultimately pray through those things that we held in highest regard when determining where the right fit for our family was. While there may be some things we would prefer in a church, we knew the primary thing we wanted was a gospel-believing, gospel-preaching, and gospel-sending type of church. Over the course of this last year, as we have settled into covenant community with our new church family, we spent time understanding who they are, the history of the church, what their particular passions in ministry are, which enabled us to know how best to engage in relationship and ministry service.
We must take the opportunity to love as Christ loved, being hospitable, and recognizing that we are ambassadors for Christ.
So how does this season for our family tie-in with developing missional awareness? Similarly, to the way that our family had to take the posture of learners in looking for a new church home, so too, should we, as Christ-followers, seek to learn from those of other religions in places that may be foreign to us, but familiar to them. However, as we sought out a church in terms of like-mindedness in biblical belief and practice, our desire (as Christians) for learning from those of other religions is to engage in gospel conversations and look for on-ramps for such dialogue. I would contend one of the unique ways that we can do this is through engaging the nations in our own backyard, particularly through world religion site visits, frequenting local ethnic establishments, and engaging international students.
Recent studies show that 3.3 million Muslims lived in America in 2015, with projections to 8 million by 2050.  That is just one particular people group segment. In Arkansas where I live, there are 130 different people groups, with over 80 here in NW Arkansas.  Ed Stetzer writes, “The Christian Church, in order to be faithful, must consider what it looks like to have a gospel witness in a country composted of many faiths. We believe the answers lies in learning to live in a multi-faith world.”  Paul reminds believers in Acts 17:26 that God has determined not only our appointed times and boundary places, but peoples of all the nations of the world. We must take the opportunity to love as Christ loved, being hospitable, and recognizing that we are ambassadors for Christ.
I appreciated Matthew Bennett’s blog on The Upstream Collective’s site, where he communicates the importance of knowing your neighbor of another religious background, by loving them. He focuses specifically on Muslim neighbors, but his principles could be applied to those of any world religion or people group. He begins by stating that we must love them, “First, taking the time to know some of the basics about your Muslim neighbor’s faith allows you to ask informed questions that provoke deep conversations. As you familiarize yourself with what your Muslim neighbor holds most dear, you convey that you care about them.”  Second, he would say that one must not only love, but seek to understand their worldview. Bennett writes, “Demonstrating your love for your Muslim conversation partner is not the only reason that it is vital to study Islam. Your understanding of Islamic theology and the traditional accounts of historical development will shape your knowledge of the fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity.”  Third, he notes the importance of defining terms, so as to bring clarity to the gospel and avoid confusion. He writes, “Assuming a shared foundation can complicate true communication. By developing a sensitivity to where Islam parts ways with Christianity, a Christian can develop reflexes for defining and explaining how these apparently shared concepts and characters feature in the Bible.” 
So, having an awareness that the nations are at arm’s reach to us, and recognizing that Christ’s love compels us to communicate the gospel to them, how can we practically live that out? I stated earlier three ways in the normal rhythms of life to build missional awareness and evangelistic engagement.
World Religion Site Visits:
Look up the nearest world religion site in your town or region. It could be a mosque, Hindu temple, or other site. Usually, these houses of worship have normal operating hours built around their service/ceremony times. Seek out an opportunity to go and be an observer and then engage in further dialogue with those in attendance, or even set up a follow-up meeting. Use such times of observation to learn, take notes, pray for God to save bring salvation, and understand the differences in belief systems. You’ll find you will grow in deeper understanding, love, and appreciation for those of other faith backgrounds, boldness to be able to share, and Lord willing a mutual friendship.
Frequent Ethnic Establishments:
I love ethnic foods and take every chance I can to branch out and try new places. Food is a very natural way to learn about someone’s culture and continue further interaction around family and religious background. Build in a routine of frequenting the same spots, such that you can build an on-ramp into conversations. Get to know the owners, the servers, etc. and befriend them and over time take the opportunity learn from them, but also love them through sharing not only your culture, but the gospel story and your personal testimony.
Engage International Students:
Over 1 million international students are pursuing degrees in United States.  Statistics show, though that roughly 80% will not step foot inside an American home during their time in the States. What a sad statistic. I can testify, though, as to how befriending international students has been a very enriching time for me and my family. I am able to display biblical hospitality, all while befriending them, sharing in culture together, and looking for opportunities to share the hope of Christ. At the same time, I am exposing my kids to the nations even around our dinner table, at a sporting event, or through a holiday or birthday celebration. While not every encounter with an international student ended in them professing Christ, they see and hear the gospel clearly. Most colleges and universities will have an international student office that you can reach out to and see how to get paired with a student.
Learning, loving, and living out your faith is part of being on mission every day. Consider it providential that God has seen fit to place us in the United States, that carries so much diversity in cultures. Embrace the awkward, overcome the obstacles, and expect God to do great things in and through you as you become aware of the opportunities that abound on your doorstep among your neighbors—the nations.
Ryan is also the author of Holding the Rope: How the Local Church Can Care for Its Sent Ones.
 Besheer Mohammed, “A New Estimate of the U.S. Muslim Population,” Pew Research Center, January 6, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/06/a-new-estimate-of-the-u-s-muslim-population.
 “People Groups in Arkansas,” Arkansas Baptist State Convention, https://www.absc.org/ministries/international-people-groups-in-arkansas/.
 Ed Stetzer, “Islam, North America, and the New Multi-Faith World,” in Islam and North America (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2018), 5.
 Matthew Bennett, “Know Thy Neighbor to Love Thy Neighbor: Three Reasons for a Christian to Study Islam,” March 30, 2020, Upstream Collective, https://www.theupstreamcollective.org/post/know-thy-neighbor-to-love-thy-neighbor-three-reasons-for-a-christian-to-study-islam.
 “Student and Exchange Visitor Program,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, https://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/sevisBTN2021.pdf.
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