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October-November 2014

What's Next for Home Missions?


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How are local churches responding to immigrants, refugees, and international students?


The Nations Among Us

by Jeff Turnbough


Sitting at the Missio Nexus Conference in Chicago in September 2012 with 500 other North American evangelical mission leaders, I listened to Operation World statistician Patrick Johnstone share a startling statement:

“The good news: the Evangelical Church in the world is growing at phenomenal rates. The bad news: the Evangelical Church in the USA is declining.

Only churches among immigrant populations in the USA are growing. The high numbers of immigrants to North America hint at the strategic implications of bringing the gospel to them, and then in turn, helping them take it to their lands of origin” (See The Future of Global Christianity: History, Trends and Possibilities, by Patrick Johnstone).

This year (2014), international missions leaders in North America sponsored a nationwide conversation that asked how local churches are responding to the Great Commission opportunity to reach immigrants in our communities. Together, leaders of Free Will Baptist International Missions and Home Missions attended this conference. Because we see the importance of reaching internationals in the United States, the boards and leadership of Home and International Missions are seeking ways to collaborate. It is our desire and prayer for God to use Free Will Baptists to reach the least-reached, wherever they live.

The United States was founded by immigrants and grew because of immigrants. Its open-door policy, historically, has been a global attraction, providing a dynamic base that makes the U.S. one of the most diverse nations in the world. The first U.S. Continental Congress in 1782 proposed a motto on the Great Seal of the United States to mark this quality: E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one.”

Historically, the immigration high came in 1900, when the foreign-born constituted nearly 20% of the population. Today, about 13% of the U.S. population is foreign-born. Since the start of the recession in 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants has actually dropped.


In absolute numbers, however, the U.S. still receives more immigrants than any nation on the planet, according to International Migration 2013, published by the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. This phenomenon has become a matter of great political debate. Matthew Soerens, a World Relief specialist in immigration, asserts that immigration raises three major concerns for many American citizens:

Economics. How does this affect my family, my pocketbook, and me?

Culture. Internationals are different than “us.” Will they fit in or change our culture?

Legal Status. Those who enter the USA unlawfully, or those who have overstayed their legal limit, are breaking the law.


Addressing Economic Concerns

Ninety-six percent of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal said illegal immigration had “been beneficial to the economy” on the whole.

  • Immigrants bring some fiscal costs, but they bring more economic benefits (American Enterprise Institute, 2013).

  • Three of four undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes (Social Security Administration, 2005).

  • Immigrants contribute as much as $15 billion per year to Social Security (Social Security Administration, 2013).

  • The IRS provides special Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (I-10) for undocumented immigrants to file income tax returns.


Addressing Cultural Concerns

Compared to U.S. citizens overall, Latino immigrants:

  • Are more likely to attend church on a weekly basis (Pew Research Center).

  • Are more likely to be pro-life (Pew Research Center).

  • Generally work hard: 96% of undocumented males are employed (Urban Institute).

  • Commit crimes and are incarcerated at lower rates than native-born citizens (Public Policy Institute of California, 2008).


Addressing Legal Status (Biblical Truths)

  • Romans 13:1: All people must submit to the law and authorities.

  • 1 Timothy 5:8: We all should provide for our families, and that is increasingly difficult in some nations. America still offers the promise of opportunity if you are willing to work hard.


Simple Facts

  • Of approximately 40 million immigrants in the U.S., about 11.5 million (29%) are present illegally (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2011).

  • Federal immigration law states that unlawful presence in the country is a civil offense and therefore, is not a crime. It is incorrect to call undocumented immigrants “criminals,” unless we also apply this label to all who commit other civil offenses (parking fines, speeding tickets, etc.).

  • About 40% of undocumented immigrants entered the country lawfully, but overstayed their visas (Pew Research Center, 2006).

  • Immigrants come to the USA from every country in the world



Many believers choose to view immigration as strictly a political issue, and allow their political views to inform their perspective. We must remember that the Bible should be the primary lens through which we judge all issues.

Scripture is clear concerning God’s perspective of the immigrant. The word translated stranger in the Bible can also be translated immigrant. The concept is exactly the same. “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him” (Leviticus 19:33). The Old Testament refers to strangers (immigrants) 92 times and overwhelmingly, God instructs His people to love, welcome, and care for the immigrant. The writer of Hebrews reminds us to “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

While national political parties openly state how important the “non-white vote” is in American politics, believers know we can’t complete God’s kingdom work without a redeemed people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. It seems we should be doing everything we can to reach both legal and illegal immigrants with the love of Christ. And, by the way, you will break absolutely no laws sharing God’s love and good news with undocumented immigrants.

In theory, we place much value on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Christ commanded us to love all people and to make disciples of all nations, or people groups. The reality in 2014 is that the peoples of the world live in close proximity to us. And many of today’s immigrants come from the world’s unreached people groups, the same people the church is trying desperately to reach with the gospel in their nations of origin. In His sovereignty, God is bringing the nations to live next door (see Acts 17:26-27).

The crucial question for local churches is: how are we responding to the Great Commission opportunity that comes with immigrants in our communities.

  • Only 10% of evangelical churches in the U.S. are ministering to immigrants (Faith Communities Today, 2010).

  • Sixty percent of immigrants in the U.S. come from a different religious tradition, and most do not know any Christians (Center for the Study of Global Christianity, 2013).

  • Millions of our neighbors are missing the opportunity for a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we cannot ignore their need to receive compassionate love (meeting felt needs) and effective communication of the gospel (eternal need). What is your perspective about the immigrant people close to you?


Church Growth

We must seriously consider another matter. Churches in America are declining in numbers. Sadly, this includes many Free Will Baptist congregations made up of older, Caucasian, middle-class Americans. If the majority of people in the United States are of other ethnicities, Great Commission churches should reflect that change.

In 2014, society is typically more racially and ethnically diverse than the Church. If we are truly taking the Great Commandment and Great Commission seriously, our congregations should gradually reflect the diversity of the community around us. This multicultural mix defines our effectiveness as salt and light in the places we live. Does your church ethnic makeup mirror your community?

I have been a Free Will Baptist my whole life. I do not want to stand outside and criticize. I want to help. As a Free Will Baptist, I desire to be part of God’s kingdom people, salt and light in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Therefore, I want to embrace immigrants. I want to be part of a people who choose to love them, reach out to meet their needs, and who, ultimately, earn the right to speak with them about eternal, spiritual matters.


What can we can do to remedy the situation?

Refugees. Two years ago, a Nepalese refugee showed up at the International Missions office in Antioch, Tennessee. He knew about Free Will Baptists because a Free Will Baptist in India traveled across the border into Nepal to minister to people trapped in a refugee camp. Later, the United Nations relocated these Nepalese refugees to Nashville, down the street from our offices. They started a church and requested help in finding a place to meet. Over 100 Nepalese believers were meeting down the street from me. What an opportunity to serve brothers in Christ!

Refugees, through no fault of their own, are pushed from their homes and nations because of political conflicts, war, famine, and natural disasters. Some find their way to the U.S., and the church has an opportunity—and a moral obligation—to reach out to them.

International Students. Last year, a friend in Missouri found a group of Saudi students studying engineering in his small mid-western town. These students are here specifically as learners. They expect to encounter a different culture, different ways of thinking, and even a dominant religion different from their own.

Students on university campuses are a significant group of immigrants. International students have unique needs. In most cases, they are here temporarily, so the best strategy is to think of meeting their needs, making friendships, and, hopefully, sharing the Good News. The most effective way to introduce the Good News into gospel-resistant places may be through a student who follows Christ, receives discipleship training, and returns to his home country to share his new faith.

Immigrants. People continue to migrate to the U.S. to find a better life, wanting to settle here permanently. In general, this group tends to have a set of immediate needs. Churches can help. Several Free Will Baptist churches are already doing this. Many immigrants arrive with very little. They need a place to live, climate-appropriate clothing, food, orientation to our society, or maybe just a friend. Will some immigrants take advantage of this kind of love? Yes. But ultimately, we do this for God, not them.

A Korean friend shared that when his family arrived with a rather large wave of immigrants, most were not Christians. They came with only the clothes on their backs. Christians offered immediate help. Today, he said, many of those immigrants are Christians and faithful members of a local church.

The Great Commandment calls for us to love God and others. The Great Commission calls for us to manifest that love by effectively communicating the Good News with all peoples. J.D. Payne says, “There is something missionally malignant when we spend thousands of dollars to reach the unreached people around the world, but we avoid and neglect the same people who live close to us.”

Individual Christians and local churches have a growing and imperative opportunity to show God’s love by meeting the unique needs of immigrants and possibly winning the opportunity to share the Good News with some of the least reached people groups in the world today—right here—in the United States of America.

Let’s pray that God will mold, shape, and change us to be used by Him to reach the nations that live in close proximity to us. Let’s start today!

About the Writer: Dr. Jeff Turnbough is director of field operations for Free Will Baptist International Missions:


One Church Responds: Northwest Community Church Model, Chicago, Illinois

David Potete, Gowdy Cannon, and the Northwest Community Church strategically offer the following ministries to impact “the strangers” among them:

  1. Citizenship classes. Northwest partners with World Relief to provide the legal means to do this. Classes meet year round, three times a week.

  2. ESL classes. English for adults is by far the biggest need of people in this neighborhood. People desperately want to learn English. We provide classes during the regular school year and a wide range of options...mornings, afternoons, and Saturday.

  3. Homework help for school-age children. The church offers free tutoring, because parents do not know English well and/or are too poorly educated to help their kids.

  4. Bilingual Sunday service. Northwest does not separate based on language because the Bible teaches that the church is one. Also, they believe Jesus died to tear down walls of hostility between people groups. Practically, it lets people worship in their heart language, but also helps people learn the language and culture of another group at the same time. Spanish speakers don't just learn English in this model, English speakers learn Spanish. Any English member of Northwest can tell you that oremos means "let's pray".



©2014 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists