Christians no longer must leave home to share the Gospel: the world has arrived on our doorstep. While that may be true, many of us are not aware of internationals among us. Others of us have seen a variety of people groups in our communities, but we don’t know how to engage them with the Gospel. Following some basic steps can help the local church fulfill the Great Commission in its neighborhood.
The amount of prayer for a ministry determines the effectiveness of the ministry. Prayer is basic to the effectiveness of any outreach to internationals. In English as a Second Language (ESL) training workshops, we remind volunteers that every task with a spiritual outcome requires spiritual preparation, beginning with prayer.
Consider the chain reaction praying triggers. Prayer for the nations leads believers to love the nations. Love for the nations leads to compassion for those in our midst. Acts of compassion extended to people from other countries leads to Gospel conversations. Gospel conversations change eternity. With eternity in mind, here are some suggestions for praying for the nations living in your setting:
- Ask God to create within your church an awareness of the nationalities around your church.
- Pray for God’s love to create a welcoming spirit in your church that extends to people from very different contexts.
- Ask God to reveal to you and your church the felt needs of people groups in your ministry area.
- Contact language pastors and church planters in your area and ask them for ways you can pray for them and their outreaches; pray daily.
- Pray for leaders to emerge from within your congregation who are driven by God’s love for the nations represented near your church. Pray they will listen to the Holy Spirit and respond to His leading.
- Ask God to reveal strategies for engaging your congregation in conversation about the people groups near you and God’s love for them.
As God answers your prayers, begin praying specifically. Talk to God about those in your church who are being called to minister to internationals. Ask Him to confirm or revise the strategies. Pray daily for the internationals you meet.
Use a variety of tools to discover who has moved into the area served by your church. Observation is the most basic tool. Walk or drive around your neighborhood. Track the number of ethnic restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses. Make a list of those businesses to determine which ethnic groups are most represented. Look at multi-family housing areas to find pockets of refugees, international students, and people groups. Contact the state convention for help in discovering specific people groups who live in multi-family housing in your community. Resources are available to help you track demographics in your target area.
Peoplegroups.info, an International Mission Board website, is another great resource. Use peoplegroups.info to discover the specific people groups within a given area and their religions. A recent search of the site revealed the Somali population in Colorado stands at 2.074, about 2% of the number of Somalis in the United States. On the other hand, the 341 Bengali in Colorado represents .2% of the total Bengali population in the state. Both groups practice Islam, but the Bengali are Sunni Muslims. You can gain specific cultural information about people groups in your target area. Peoplegroups.info also presents an overview of each origin county and prayer points for the people groups.
Consider talking with service providers who know the current needs of the population. Resettlement agencies, school districts, and food banks can help you understand both the demographic and how to serve them. Talk to ethnic pastors around you. Ask them to help you see your community through a different lens. Find out their concerns for their people groups. Discuss ways your church could partner with them in meeting needs. In the metro area, the Send Relief Ministry Center focuses on refugees; they have a wealth of information and value local church involvement in meeting the needs that these refugees encounter.
Even as you are doing the preliminary work of prayer and discovery, you can engage the international community. Choose a restaurant on the list you made earlier. Become a “regular”, eating there at least weekly. Go during off hours so you can talk to the owners or workers without being interrupted. Enjoy getting to know them. One man I know did this and discovered that the young restaurant owner learned how to cook using YouTube videos and learned English by watching television. The two became friends. Think about other ways you can establish relationships with individuals in your community. Invite international students to your home for a meal, especially on holidays. Many international students spend years on college campuses but are never invited to an American’s home for a meal. Look for opportunities to share your faith naturally in these relationships.
Involve the church in ministry. One effective ministry is ESL. English as a Second Language classes meet two basic needs of internationals: the need for acquiring English skills and the need for friendship and belonging. Church-based ESL classes, whether housed in a church or hosted in an apartment complex, also introduce new English speakers to Jesus. ESL ministries foster trusting relationships between the teachers and students. Teachers are often invited to students’ homes in times of sorrow and celebration. They invest in their students, teach them English, invite them to experience American culture with them, and walk with them through citizenship training. Deep bonds form that often last decades. I know ministry volunteers who count some of their former students among their closest friends.
ESL ministries also lead to salvation of students. This summer I met a young woman who came to the United States from Thailand. She was a practicing Buddhist, as was her family’s tradition. She attended ESL classes in Jackson, Mississippi, and heard about Jesus for the first time. She came to understand her need for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. She became a Jesus follower, married a Christian, and became an active member of the church. Now this woman directs the same English as a Second Language ministry in which she came to know Jesus.
ESL ministries can be conducted anywhere that meets the needs of the students. Most are hosted in churches; however, that may not be the most effective place for all students. Consider the refugee women who do not have the language skills necessary to take public transportation to get to classes. Others may be forbidden to go to a Christian church. ESL classes could be held in the community room of an apartment complex housing refugees. Many from other countries work long hours in service industries. Consider approaching restaurant and other business owners with the idea to provide English classes on site for the employees. International students may have basic conversational English skills but need to learn more about American idioms and culture. Conversation corners, a time in which a volunteer sits in a public area on campus and invites internationals to talk, can help these students in areas they see their own need.
Two other ESL opportunities can be found in the ethnic churches previously mentioned. First, if one of the needs identified by the ethnic church leaders is the English acquisition, partner your volunteers with that church to conduct English classes. Consider, too, partnering with the second-generation members of the church to teach English to the first-generation members. This could build relationships between generations as well as between ethnic groups.
Finally, consider a targeted ESL class for ministry leaders. Focus on language the leaders may need to participate in meetings with English-speaking ministry leaders, including the language used in prayer. This could be especially effective if taught by English-speaking pastors building relationships with ethnic pastors near them.
ESL ministries are skill-based and require planning, preparation, and training. The ESL Basic Workshop equips volunteers to organize and begin an ESL ministry—one need not be a teacher to be an effective ESL volunteer. The training covers organizational steps that ensure the ministry has a strong foundation. Specific teaching techniques for teaching someone to speak English are built into the course. Chapters on ESL as Missions and Sharing Your Faith ensure the volunteers know how to share their faith and why it is a mission of the local church. The workshop can be done fully live with 12 hours of teaching time. It is also available in a hybrid format. Participants are allowed a month to do the online portion. They also attend a five-hour live session to practice teaching skills and sharing their testimonies. Both workshop formats are endorsed by Send Relief and the National Literacy Missions Partnership.