As a second-generation immigrant of Guatemalan parents, I’ve always had a “double consciousness.” My parents wanted me to think like a Latino while being able to speak and relate with other English speakers. The experience was confusing and difficult.
As I matured, I realized that my ability to relate to two cultures was a strength.
Second-generation immigrants can strategically bridge ethnic gaps to see more multi-ethnic churches and partnerships developed. Every Christian can develop this same “double-consciousness” when they learn to relate to more than one culture––and they don’t have to go overseas to learn this skill.
There’s something interesting happening when churches spend thousands of dollars to travel to Central America each year but make little to no effort to reach Central American immigrants in their own neighborhood. These are not competing goals. When churches reach immigrants in their community, they help their congregation have a heart for the nations.
Dignity in Individuals
One of the specific ways to obey the Great Commandment is by caring for the sojourner (Deuteronomy 24:17–22). God doesn’t merely give a general and vague command to love your neighbor. He specifies how his people should love neighbors, including loving the immigrant (Leviticus 19:33–34) and providing for their needs (Deuteronomy 24:22). We should remember to love our neighbor as ourselves by obeying specific commands God has given us (Leviticus 19:9–18).
When Christians care for immigrants, they should not only do this as a “cultural learning experience.” We should be careful not to use other cultures for our benefit. Instead, we should view our action as a specific and tangible way to obey the Great Commandment.
Understanding the dignity of all people must come first, or any efforts can turn into projects for self-gain.
By caring for immigrants, we remember the dignity and worth of all people. When we are specific in how we teach other Christians to obey the Great Commandment, we strengthen our belief in the doctrine of the image of God. Understanding the dignity of all people must come first, or any efforts can turn into projects for self-gain.
Learning Before Leaving
Every culture will have different idols, misconceptions about God, and even truths about God that teach Christians how to relate, understand, and share the gospel. This is often what missionaries are taught to do in other contexts.
If you want to develop a double-consciousness, consider putting yourself in situations that force you to learn how to relate to a different culture, like entering the homes and restaurants of immigrants. Receive their hospitality, learn about their family history, listen to their thoughts about religion and experience in your own country, and observe their way of life.
Relational evangelism humbles majority believers.
This kind of relational evangelism humbles majority believers. It teaches us that we are not merely trying to deliver a de-contextualized message that conquers other cultures. We have the opportunity to learn and better understand other people groups so we can love them well––even as we plead for them to come to Christ who died to redeem all nations and people groups.
An Example of an Elder and His Wife in My Church
In my own church, I watched a couple build deep friendships with immigrants in the most diverse neighborhood in Alabama. One time, I walked into a local Mediterranean restaurant with the husband, an elder at my church, and he knew many of the workers by name and spoke to them in their native language. How did my friend learn Arabic so proficiently? Sure, he’d been overseas before, but reaching immigrants in his neighborhood gave him daily experience to practice. He didn’t do this merely for the sake of practice. He did this from warm relationships he built with immigrants around the neighborhood.
My friend helped countless internationals and immigrants move into new spaces in the city and called on other church members to help. Today, he and his wife are serving as long-term missionaries with a team sent from three local churches in our city in an Arabic-speaking country. His example only made me want to serve the nations more, and makes me and my wife eager to move near this diverse neighborhood again.
Growing in Our Love for Our Neighbors and the Nations
Pastor J.T. English once said that “for most Christians the most effective way to participate in the Great Commission is to love your literal neighbors. The fastest way to the nations is through our neighbors.” Perhaps this sounds reductionistic but, have you ever considered how many nations might be around you? People who spend significant time and energy serving among immigrants may develop an aspiration to serve long-term among nations around the world.
God commands us to care for the immigrant. Obeying this command brings about more good than one might think––as is always true with all of God’s commands. With the population growth of immigrants in unlikely places, this may be the most attainable way for churches to reach the nations.