In fulfilling Jesus’ command to love their neighbor, Christians have set a historical precedent of leading many social endeavors around the world. Most evangelical individuals, churches and organizations seek to love in deed and word and to minister to the spiritual needs of those they serve, through the proclamation of the gospel.
Jesus was the ultimate example of this as He both fed the 5,000 bread and fish (John 6:1-15) and also offered to satisfy their deeper spiritual need (John 6:35).
Clearly this sacrificial ministry of love is an ongoing requirement for followers of Jesus, yet there is a less obvious side to ministering the gospel to people in need. In our efforts to communicate the truths of the gospel, we cannot simply start by asking, “How can we serve our community?” but must also consider how to empower those we serve, people who also bear the image of God.
Asking, “How can our community serve us?” and “How can we serve alongside our community?” will broaden our perspective and open new doors for more effective gospel communication.
As we explore these questions, particularly with regard to the countless internationals that God has brought to North Carolina, let’s begin with our responsibility to serve.
Forming deeper relationships brings opportunities to communicate the gospel and more likeliness that it will be heard.
How can we serve our community?
North Carolina’s international community’s physical needs are often obvious and urgent. Refugees and migrant workers, for example, typically begin life here in abject poverty with limited English comprehension. Churches can easily serve these communities through ministries such as English as a second language classes, job training, driver’s education, food pantries, clothes distribution, and more.
Going deeper to gospel fruitfulness and transformed lives, however, requires sacrificial commitment from church members. This need could be addressed as church members step up to adopt one person or family from the international community. These adoptions are a long-term relationship committed to helping internationals find material stability and gain an understanding of who they are, along with mutual respect, remembering they are people, not projects.
Forming deeper relationships brings opportunities to communicate the gospel and more likeliness that it will be heard. The key is quality not quantity — if every Christian household had one person or family they walked with, the results would be unprecedented.
In other segments of North Carolina’s international community, the physical needs are not easily apparent. Professionals have moved to our state as a result of the “best and brightest” immigration reform of the 1960s, and thousands others are here as students. Internationals within these segments are often highly educated and affluent. Along with their great material accomplishments, many also represent the top of their home culture’s spiritual hierarchy (i.e. high-caste Hindus).
For such individuals, to admit need could be socially humiliating. That’s why there is a need for Christians to invest in sacrificial, long-term relationships. To this end, my wife and I often ask how we can be praying for our affluent South Asian friends. Usually, they graciously decline, but as we live life-on-life with them, they face their own crises related to family, health and work. During these times of crises, they are receptive both to prayer and to spiritual counsel from the Word of God, which are opportunities for the gospel that would otherwise have been closed.
Finally, as American Christians, we can easily fulfill one need that all internationals in North Carolina share — the need to be welcomed and accepted. Studies show that as many as 75 percent of international college students are never invited into an American’s home during their entire four-year period in the States. We can drastically lower this statistic by befriending internationals where they are — whether students, refugees or immigrants — and boldly and repeatedly inviting them into our homes. This simple display of Christian hospitality would meet one of the greatest needs of internationals in our state.
As we consider the second Great Commandment, let’s ask ourselves, “How would I want to be treated if I were a stranger in a foreign land?” As someone who has spent much of my life living cross-culturally, I know from experience the pain of being different and facing rejection and mockery. Those experiences guide me in addressing the needs of the strangers around me, both the impoverished and the successful. Putting ourselves in the shoes of our international neighbors is a good start to fulfilling Christ’s call to selfless love.