More people around the world are on the move today than during any other time in history, according to the United Nations. This reality presents a unique opportunity for Christians in Europe and the United States to share the gospel message with people from unreached and unengaged places.
Through The World Next Door, Pioneers seeks to capitalize on God's movement of people in the world by mobilizing more missionaries to serve unreached people such as refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers.
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We asked Sylvia, a Pioneer who works with refugees in the US, what life is like for the women. “Back in the Middle East, they have a social network,” she responds. “Their sisters, mothers, and friends all live close. Here they are isolated in apartments where they don’t know anyone, just sitting indoors just being depressed! Relationships are huge in addressing that.”
Pretty much everyone struggles with depression, Sylvia explains. “Homesickness is some of it. We know what that’s like from living overseas ourselves. But it’s multiplied way out, when you think about it, for refugees. I mean, when we were overseas we had people praying for us and excited about what we were doing, and felt God wanted us to go, and in the back of our minds, we knew we could always quit and come home. But it was still really hard!”
Her refugee friends have none of those advantages. “They don’t want to come here! They lose family, and a lot of them are mid-career and lose that. They are dealing with a lot of trauma. They are worried about people back there but have no home to go back to. Here it is raining all the time and they are in a little apartment and don’t even know their neighbors.”
As a result, “If I just go and spend a couple of hours with a woman, even with a language barrier… a couple hours drinking tea, that’s the social moment she really needed. Small thing, you think. But it can be really big to someone.”
She also finds that many of her friends are bewildered by a lot of things in America. Just having someone they can ask “What does this mean?” can be a huge comfort. She recommends trying to walk alongside people and asking questions about what’s going on in their life and what they are facing right now. “As they get to know and trust you, make yourself available,” she adds. Even after years in the country, when many may be well settled in and thriving, they still have questions and may need a helping hand or listening ear.
Sylvia’s husband John comes alongside men and others them friendship and help. “Relationships with men may mean helping them buy car and get established,” he says. “Their lives have been upended; you’re helping them land on their feet.”
John has noticed that the men he works with also tend to be more social than American men. “They like to do things in groups, in groups of guys. Some of them like to go fishing. I don’t fish, but I’m trying to connect guys in my church who fish with refugee men who want to fish. I started taking guys bowling. They really like that. In the spring we do a lot of outings with families to show them how beautiful their new home is!”
Some service opportunities are seasonal. “Starting in January I do taxes,” says John. “I probably did 13 people’s taxes this year. Mostly their taxes are pretty simple and they qualify for the free version of the tax software. You just sit next to them and help them understand the questions and file.”
When we consider cross-cultural missions, we typically think of going to a faraway place where people are dramatically different in their traditions and lifestyle. But a small group of Pioneers, like Caleb and Sarah, are doing something slighty different.
“Originally we felt God was calling us to go overseas as any traditional missionary does, and we planned on working in a Muslim context. So we took a vision trip to the area we were considering. When we came home, we were ready to pack our bags and head overseas.”
As Caleb and his wife were preparing, though, their journey took a surprising turn. A leader in their church introduced them to J.D. Payne’s book Strangers Next Door: Immigrant, Migration, and Mission. Caleb and Sarah learned that a few hundred thousand individuals from the unreached people group they wanted to serve among had come to the US. “We had our minds blown,” Caleb admits. They started to wonder if God might have a place for them in reaching Muslims in “diaspora,” those who had been scattered across the world as refugees and immigrants.
Caleb and Sarah began doing research on who might be doing ministry with their focus population, where they were working, and what kind of work they might be doing. They discovered that the city with the largest unreached population also had many evangelical organizations and Christians in local churches who were engaging their new neighbors.
Another city had a smaller population of this unreached group, but also fewer evangelical resources that could reach them. Caleb realized it might be more strategic to serve in the second city. After all, the chances of a member of this group hearing the Gospel or being befriended by someone who could share it with them was quite small. After further research and prayer, says Caleb, he and Sarah saw the need for committed, intentional laborers in the second city and they felt a huge burden to be part of that.
See the second part of Caleb and Sarah's story. Their ministry grew with cups of tea, language learning and starting a business.
Also, get a free copy of J. D. Payne's recent book, Unreached Peoples, Least Reached Places, here.
If your cross-cultural ministry means working with the unreached who have come to your own country, you don’t need to learn their language—or do you? Caleb and Sarah, Pioneers who work with Muslim refugees and immigrants in the US, look at it differently. “We think it is better to share the gospel in the language of the people,” Caleb explains. Caleb is thinking globally. Just a handful of individuals in this group have come to know Christ, and church-planting efforts have yet to succeed in any part of the world where they live. Caleb hopes that by working in the language of the people, evangelism and discipleship efforts have the potential to go further. “We don’t want it to stop in America,” he explains.
Working to learn the language of the people has other advantages for Caleb and Sarah. A relationship-based language-learning strategy gives him and Sarah the opportunity to develop close relationships with a language helper who spends hours in their home every week, much as might be the case overseas. It also motivates Caleb to visit the restaurants and cafes where men from the culture spend much of their time. They work long hours in their jobs, then come after work for tea or a meal, to watch sports and talk about politics and news from home. There Caleb can practice his conversational skills and get help with his language homework, building relationships at the same time.
Spending time in the restaurants and cafes was difficult at first; these are environments no American ever enters, he explains. “I knew I’d be a fish out of water.” Initial efforts were met with coolness or indifference. By not giving up, he eventually found men who welcomed him into their circle, and he became a regular there.
Though many connections began by asking the immigrants and refugees to help him (with learning their language), in time Caleb was able to help meet their needs as well. He began a business that helps provide them with products they miss from their home country but are unable to easily find in America. Many are surprised that he understands and cares about their efforts to maintain ties to their home culture, and it has opened many doors for relationship.
See how Caleb and Sarah caught the vision for cross-cultural ministry here in the U.S. by reading the first part of their story here.
*Names have been changed.
After living in Albania for several years, Andrew and Alecia moved to Greece to make disciples among Albanians who have immigrated there. They recently partnered with local believers to plant an Albanian-speaking fellowship at the foot of Mars Hill in Athens, just steps from where Paul preached the gospel 2,000 years ago.
For more information about what God is doing through the movement of people around the world, visit Pioneers.org/NextDoor.
When God opened Ben’s* heart to the nations and called him into ministry, he naturally assumed he’d be serving as a missionary overseas, preferably in one of the harder places. Instead, he finds himself part of a team that works with international students and refugees in the very city where he grew up.
We asked Ben what advice he might give American Christians who want to build relationships with international students, and particularly Muslim students like those with whom he works.
“My biggest encouragement is to show up,” he simply said. “God has done the heavy lifting in bringing them here from places like Saudi Arabia and Libya and Iran, some of the least-reached places in the world, and these are future leaders in their country. Just show up in their lives.”
Practically, what can we do? “One of the biggest needs or opportunities is to open their homes. I find that this is doable for a lot of Americans—to actually host an international student.”
Most universities around the country have programs that match international students with host families who may take the student in to live with them, host them on holidays, or simply connect with them regularly during their time in the U.S. In addition to university-based programs, ask others in your area about international student ministries which may be based in churches or connected with Christian organizations.
While cross-cultural training is helpful, openness to learn and faithfulness in friendship are the keys. One family serving alongside Ben hosted four Iranians in their home for a Thanksgiving meal. Four years later they are still connecting with these students on a monthly basis. “It’s opened a whole world of Iranians to them. They aren’t ‘in ministry,’ they are just laypeople with a heart for Iran. And now they have a real dynamic ministry with Iranians.”
Many Muslim students see the fear reflected in the media and sometimes in the eyes of Americans, and are scared about what may happen to them. “My phone was blowing up on election night with calls and texts from Saudis wondering, ‘What does this mean? Are we going to have to go home?’” As Ben points out, we in the American church have a unique opportunity, especially now, to open our homes and lives to internationals who live among us. Ben urges us, “Pray that the church would see this as an opportunity to be ambassadors for Christ.”
» Read more about Ben’s story.
* Name has been changed.
“One of my passions is backpacking, rafting, anything outdoors really,” explains Jon*, a Pioneer who serves among unreached people in the US. But do those passions have anything to do with missions? Jon has found they do. Many of the internationals he works with are young men from North Africa and the Middle East. Some of their families are just a few generations removed from desert-dwelling Bedouin nomads. Before oil was discovered in their countries, they lived a very simple lifestyle. Backpacking may not be part of their culture, but they know what it is to go out to the desert, set up tents, and spend a couple of days in the wilderness, away from it all.
“And for the guys, they like adventure. They all come wanting to explore this country and end up sitting in class most of the time. Most don’t have cars, and they are bored!” The hiking and camping trips Jon organizes for international students give them something exciting to do.
These trips also provide handles for volunteers who want to get their feet wet in international student ministry. They have the chance to make new friends. Some end up bonding with the students on the long road trips, forming relationships that develop further from there.
Getting away from homework, routine, and the business of daily life also encourage greater reflection and foster deeper connections than one can find in the city. “Something amazing happens around the campfire,” says Jon. “Almost always the conversations turn to faith.”
* Name has been changed.
“We looked at opportunities to serve in South Asia or the Middle East, but God directed us here, specifically to our home town,” says Ben* and adds with a smile, “It’s the one place I told the Lord I would never go. I never had the vision or creativity to imagine what God would do with the unreached here… to strategically open doors that wouldn’t be open if we were overseas.”
“My story is similar to a lot of folks who are working with diaspora peoples… I had to swallow my pride,” he says. “We’d told everybody God has called us to the Muslim world. I thought I’d be a Rambo missionary and go to the hardest places. It has taken number of years to see the long view. Now I’m grateful that God has kept us here, and for the fruit we are able to see.”
The journey began when Ben, his wife, and their small group from church decided to host a game night at the house for international students. “A Saudi student was among those who showed up. The very next day, he called and asked if he could move in with us to improve his English. The next thing we knew he was living with us! He became like part of our family. And, a few weeks later, he said, ‘My cousin is coming from Medina [Saudi Arabia]. Can he sleep on the couch for a few nights until he finds an apartment?’”
Through their relationships with these two young men, a network of friendships opened to Ben and his family. In the several years since then they have been able to form meaningful connections with hundreds of Muslim international students. They participate in the students' lives, host them for meals and take them on outings. Along the way they live out the gospel in their midst and share scripture with those who respond and want to know more.
Please pray for Pioneers like Ben as they walk through these open doors.
Though Ben serves with Pioneers and has the training and vision for a long-term gospel ministry among students like these, he’s glad to equip and work hand-in-hand with volunteers who may have little such experience. We asked Ben what advice he might give American Christians who want to build relationships with Muslims students and other internationals. Read what Ben had to say here.
* Name has been changed.