My hometown consists of less than four thousand people. Growing up, our community events, schools, sports teams and church all seemed to share a common demographic with little to no variation. The perceived lack of diversity, I assume, is probably not much different than that of your own cities. Yet, not all perceptions are reliable, and my perception was terribly mistaken. While it’s true that the hard statistics aren’t comparable to larger metropolitan regions, even my hometown is a home to the nations, and I missed it time and time again.
Great Commission-minded believers — which many of us would claim to be — often posit, “The nations have come to us!” If that is the case, and I agree it is, I overlooked that reality for far too long. How could I have neglected the beauty of God expressed in the diversity of humanity right before my eyes?
The reality is that I neglected the Chinese family running their business. I neglected the migrant workers five minutes from my home. To my shame, I even neglected the Hispanic congregation my church shared a building with. I missed serving, loving, and encouraging them. I missed being loved and encouraged by them. I missed a reflection of the eternal throne room of Christ as I buried my eyes in temporal convenience.
Just maybe, I succumbed to believing the stereotype that my hometown didn’t have the nations —that there were no foreigners to love and no cross-cultural relationships to build because the very notion of “cultural diversity” in small-town Appalachia was supposedly laughable. I excused myself from my cross-cultural responsibility based on a blinded mind and a perpetuated ignorance.
the impact of internationals
My wife and I now live in a slightly more populated area that is home to one of our state’s major universities. That university focuses a large portion of recruiting time and effort overseas, bringing internationals to our city and our church in amounts very much foreign to us. We are privileged to regularly interact with students and families from India, Malaysia, Nigeria, and China. We have seen the grace and beauty of the Lord in these relationships. We have been refreshed and spurred on by the impact of internationals in our lives. But this was somewhat new to me. I had encountered international believers before, yet I had never been moved by the Lord in those relationships in the ways I’m experiencing now. Why such a discrepancy?
Based on my own experience, I fear that believers and congregations in similar demographic situations to that of my hometown fall prey to the same deception. The nations in our communities are neglected because our view of the Lord’s global mission falls catastrophically short of its true magnitude. God’s law called Israel to identify and care for the foreigner among them (see Leviticus 19:34). They were commanded to be aware enough to see and care for the solitary outsider among millions. I failed serving them in my town of thousands.
believing the lie
Honestly, I think we fail to see them because we are socially asleep. Either by deception or by choice, we accept the lie that diversity is everywhere but here. We choose to overlook the nations among us because otherwise, we’d have to face the accountability of God’s Word. Our willingness to allow a waking discomfort and inconvenience in our daily routine is reserved for our time spent specifically “on mission,” safely set aside during our time spent in familiarity. Our patience becomes short, our demands increase, and we retreat from difficult situations. Could it be that our standard of “acceptable” inconvenience correlates directly to how much we truly understand what Jesus has done for us? If we are mindful of this specific truth of the gospel, our lives should be regularly inconvenienced for the sake of serving others through the love of Christ at home and abroad.
There are 272 million people on the move today, comprising the largest migration of people in the history of the world. The Lord put the nations in my city. He’s put them in yours. Are you and your church seeking to find and serve them?
To evaluate your church’s contextual awareness, the following questions may be helpful:
Do you acknowledge your standing as an outsider to the Kingdom of Christ who has now been welcomed through Christ? (Eph. 2:19)
How does your congregation perpetually dwell on God’s global mission?
Can you identify the nations in your community?
When was the last time you missionally served the outsider (foreign or domestic) among you? (Lev. 19:34, Deut. 10:19, Heb. 13:1-2)
Does your church have the training to engage internationals well?
Do you have a concrete plan for pursuing internationals?
Does anything in your church body actively discourage outsiders from being included and welcomed into the body? Is it even possible for a foreigner to be an active part of your church?
The final question above is quite pivotal. We cannot expect internationals and outsiders to entertain our message of inclusion into grace if our practices don’t functionally allow it. Everything we do as a church flows from what we actually believe. Therefore, if our churches fail at caring for the outsider, we might not hold right beliefs about how missional our God is and has been through the pursuit of his people.
Finally, friends, if your allegiance lies with those who tend to push internationals into hiding from your culture and community, your allegiance is not with the Christ that “broke down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). Any culture of prejudice dishonors God, specifically among his bride. The life of the church and its members must flow from the missional heart of Christ. Christ came to us. He sought us. He took us in. The challenge, brothers and sisters, is to reflect the Christ that pursued us.
The nations share your home. Don’t miss them.