[I wish I had a photo, like the one above, of the students I’ve tutored over the last 13 years or so. Mostly I helped them with English–refugee kids, international students going to American schools, and a few exchange students who come for a year or less of cultural experience. I am thoroughly devoted to them. Recently, I began work as a coordinator for exchange students with a well-respected organization. This isn’t a job for me; this is my ministry. I believe it should be a mission to which every Christian should be committed and involved to some degree. If after you read the following, you agree, I would be happy to assist or direct you to become more involved, say, as a host parent, a tutor, or supporter for a school for immigrants. Please read on…]
What is a missionary? Is it only someone sent to a faraway place to tell people about Jesus? This is the familiar model, but it is not the model taught by Jesus himself. Many older believers memorized, if only from hearing it so often, “Go ye into all the world…,” but the structure of the Greek is better translated, “Wherever you go in all the world, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all the things I (Jesus) have taught you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Just before his ascension into heaven, he added, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). This is not a mandate for believers to go far from home; this is a mandate to be ambassadors of Christ (II Corinthians 5:20) wherever we happen to be. I used to play a song written by a YMCA director about his own experience. In it, he explained that he came to Christ because of “an old lady who lived down the alley… and she loved me.” I don’t think it was ever popular, but the message is so important. Each of us has the opportunity—indeed an order from Jesus himself!—to make disciples, be a witness, and act as his ambassador. Where you live is your Jerusalem. Your state or province is your Judea. “The uttermost parts of the earth” are a part of the mission, just not the entire mission, whether you are called to go there or remain behind to support those who do. What about “Samaria?” It was a territory of outcasts right in the middle of everything. It, too, is part of Jesus’ command. God has a special love for outcasts, strangers, aliens, and the downtrodden (in fact, it is exactly what he calls his own people). So who are the people of our “Samaria?” They are the minorities, refugees, immigrants, and international students and visitors who live among us, and they are an enormous missionary opportunity. I think of them as “our mission field, right here in our own back yard!” Furthermore, I am persuaded that our efforts to love them and share Jesus Christ with them is a holy obligation by virtue of both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Jesus warns us not to ignore them . While many in our own culture readily accept a worldview without absolutes, filled with self-involved pleasure, many of those who come from other cultures are open to God, especially if we love them, encourage them, and minister to their needs. Immigration has become a controversial issue and, indeed, often has been. It is sad that our fears of those who look, dress, and speak differently often make them an unwelcome intrusion into our communities, despite the fact that we all descend from those who were immigrants. At times, both past and present, we have been afraid of those whom we regarded as possible enemies, often assuring their alienation by our mistreatment of them. International students have gone home hating America because they received no welcome or friendship while they were here, if not outright hostility! Immigrant groups have been forced into poor ghettos, not only because of their own tendency to stay with their people and culture, but also because we failed to welcome them into our neighborhoods. Current trendy notions of diversity encourage them to remain separate by not promoting or assisting them to learn English, while a more Biblical concept of individuality within community would enrich us all. What an amazing opportunity for God’s People!What a glorious privilege! I’m blessed to know of some who are making great efforts to reach out, but there is so much more we have the chance, indeed the obligation, to do. Here are a few examples:
- One church I know adopted a refugee family, helped them renovate a home, and worked to address whatever needs the family had. I believe part of their effort was through Habitat for Humanity, but that isn’t an absolute necessity. We’ve all heard stories of the struggles of immigrants when they first came to the United States, but churches, even families, could turn a potential struggle into a blessing.
- Several churches in my community have set up programs to assist those learning English. One has regular classes with volunteer tutors; another has set up an after school program to assist refugee students from a near-by high school. The latter church has a growing international flavor including a pastor originally from Africa.
- I commend those churches who’ve set up national or regional programs for refugees, but I want to encourage local bodies to be more directly involved. My own vision is a school for refugees and internationals where they might learn English before enrolling in another school where English will not be taught (not even in schools with large groups of students without English)! Besides classes for intensive instruction in English, I would like to set up an extensive network of lay tutors—men and women who simply take time to read with students while also becoming their friends and mentors.
- As an ESL tutor, I have a special love for “unaccompanied minors,” teenagers who’ve come to the United States without immediate family. Theirs is an especially lonely road, and I have enjoyed getting involved with a few of them. I have also tutored international students, mostly Koreans, who come here to learn English and later to attend an American university. Generally, they are neither poor nor orphaned, but they are far from home and family, facing the same difficult challenge of mastering English. After becoming so committed to the refugee kids, I was surprised to discover a comparable love for these. Even exchange students, who come from other countries for just a short experience of attending an American school, have become precious to me.
- Exchange students represent a different kind of opportunity, in that they will generally return to their own country. Since many are from prosperous families, and since most are required to have excellent English to access the program, their primary need is loving host homes. I have heard so many stories about the wonderful experiences of families and of fellow students who have enjoyed their time with exchange students, usually including sadness that the time went by so quickly. I have several former students back in their own countries—Spain, Germany, Columbia, and Korea—and I miss each one of them. I also hope that something of my influence as a loving Christian friend has stayed with them. Now, I am just finishing my first year as a host father, with boys from Brazil, Korea, and China. What a fantastic way to show those from other countries what Americans are really like! Keep in mind, too, that many of these exceptional students will become leaders in their own national communities (If you’re interested in learning more about hosting an exchange student, just comment below, and I’ll get you the information or check for yourself. One of the ways I support my work is finding host families).
- Both unaccompanied minors and international and exchange students need homes—foster homes for the former, host homes for the latter. Some of the finest people I have known were parents to such young people, and their love and care changed the lives of their “children.” I’ve heard nothing more sweet than a young man or woman calling their American hosts, mom or dad. In time, some of them become “grandma” and “grandpa.” Opening your home to another family’s child is never simple or easy, but the good that you may do and the blessings you may receive are inestimable!
- Teaching, tutoring, fostering, or helping in other ways can easily grow into more. On one occasion, I stopped to visit a student newly in his own apartment, and he had all sorts of questions about checkbooks and buying used cars. Another asked me, though I’d only seen him once or twice before, if I’d talk with him; he lived in a foster home with a mom and two foster sisters, and he wanted a man to give him advice. I’ve had amazing conversations with students who had clearly come to see me as more than “just a tutor.” My newest student has a mentor who is guiding him in his plan to become a contract lawyer, some day. I also know of one student who stood before the crowd as his graduation and shared how his host parents led him to Jesus Christ; he returned to graduate from the Christian school where he began as an exchange student and now is finishing his third year of college.
- I’ve left immigration policy for last. I think our system is broken and approaching what I would call evil. I fear it is intended to bring or allow people to become a lower class work force. While I accept and admire a policy that welcomes a certain number of refugees from war torn and impoverished nations, I fear we do little to enable those refugees to thrive after they get here, and too many remain stuck in low paying jobs or dependent on welfare. Our immigration “lottery” is multicultural nonsense; we should screen prospective immigrants and pick the best who will come and enrich our nation. Those who enter or remain illegally should be quickly processed and returned to their home country with an invitation to seek legal immigration (unless they truly need sanctuary); we should not tie them up legally for months and months and then still leave them in legal limbo. Better, we should secure our borders to make illegal entry as difficult as possible and punish employers who give them jobs without verifying their right to work.
Allowing our nation to be overwhelmed with immigrants, legal or not, is foolish. Even the most compassionate person must recognize that too many immigrants will break the system that means to help them. Our freedom and prosperity depend on maintaining our heritage, a process that requires immigrants become a part of us, not remain separate, unwelcomed, and unable to communicate with us. Those who do come, including illegal aliens, need not just to learn English but to become thoroughly acquainted with our American way of life. Those who have experienced corrupt police need to know that generally ours are decent and helpful. Those who come from places of oppression and war need to experience liberty and peace. Those who have never had a say in their own government need to understand how our system works…or should. Even those who do not remain need to experience the best of what the United States is and, even better, what the love of Jesus Christ is all about.
Does this sound like work? It should. Despite abundant rewards and long-term benefits, much about this involves cost, effort, and a willingness to change. To be honest, I believe American Christians need this; we have become complacent and comfortable, while our culture slowly drifts away from us, often with very little response. We have lost our sense of mission, and we have learned to rely on our prosperous economy and generous incomes. As an unattractive future looms before us, we think to wrest control back from opposing powers. It ain’t gonna happen! God is not going to bless us with comfort which enables us to marinate in disobedience and apathy. Whatever He providentially plans for our future, prophetically, a United States with a bland, civil Christianity will not be part of it. Heaven will not be a continuation of the U.S.A., at least not the one we’re seeing today! A vital nation where Christianity thrives and exerts significant influence, however, may yet survive. If so, politics will not get us there, although I urge believers to oppose what is evil and support what is good, without sitting on the sidelines complaining. The faith and freedom that were the genius of our beginning and still linger in many ways are worth revitalizing, if possible. Reaching out to those who come and seek the American dream should find every little bit we can help them discover…in us! They should also discover the love of Jesus Christ and the love of believers for him and for each other, a love that extends to their neighbors, even those who seem strange and and unfamiliar. We will not merely bless them; in the end, we will receive blessing in full measure.
Years ago, I met a pastor who spent uncounted hours doing outreach to internationals on the Michigan State University Campus. He encouraged churches to befriend some of those students, particularly by giving them a place to spend the holidays, rather than have them isolated and alone while American families celebrated. I thought it was sad how few took up his challenge. I come from a rural community where seeing someone from another country is a rare occurrence, but most larger cities, especially college and university towns see many. Today, my youngest brother is a deputy sheriff in that same rural county, and he has spoken about the migrant workers and Latinos there now. He sees them at their worst, and we know that criminal activity such as drug gangs put communities at risk. However, as I mentioned earlier, regardless of the situation, these people are the mission field here in our own back yard. Their need for Christ is greater than our need for comfort or safety, and despising or neglecting them will not lead to good for them or us. If ours is a Christian home, then it must be one of welcome and hospitality, one where the love of Jesus Christ touches every visitor and guest, and one that extends that love to the lonely stranger. Pray and seek God’s direction on how to become witnesses to Christ and his love and grace to your Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.