Written by a Global Frontier Missions Atlanta staff member.
As a college student over 20 years ago, I remember entering discussions about the validity of cross-cultural ministry in the United States versus missions abroad. There were debates ranging from the need and finances to strategy and more. Fast forward 20 years. I would have never predicted that 13 of the 18 years my family has served in missions would be among immigrants in the United States, being forever transformed by people I now consider dear friends.
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Almost always, the experience that is noted about our ministry is the 5 years we spent overseas rather than the 13 years of living among the Asian and African diaspora in the U.S.
Instead of remaining in one location, people around the globe migrate and immigrate for a wide variety of reasons (economic, political, academic, religious, etc). Globalization, advancements in technology, and ease of travel are just a few factors that have accelerated this. As a result, the United States and Canada are listed among the top countries that house large numbers of unreached people groups. People from countries that are shielded off, closed to foreigners taking the Gospel there, are moving to our neighborhoods!
I have gone days, even weeks without speaking English in some of the places that I have lived in the United States. This could be said of many of my colleagues. My son’s two best friends right now are kids that know only a few words in English. When they are playing outside, he warns them that a car is coming by shouting out the word “car” either in Nepali or Tigrinya. My son remains the only Caucasian kid in our entire apartment complex of nearly 1,000 people. Almost every single place to shop in our small town of Clarkston, Georgia, is operated by people who were born outside of the U.S.
I have lived in cities in the Philippines and Nepal where ex-pats created a monocultural experience for themselves. This is not the norm for many, but some spend their entire missions careers operating in English, living among people from their host country, and having limited engagement with nationals. Just as living overseas does not ensure that you will be working in a cross-cultural context, staying within your own borders does not ensure that you will only work with those like you.
I get that drowning oneself in cross-cultural relationships in the United States like my family has is probably an extreme example. So too is the example of ex-pat and missionary compounds. The bottom line is that the comparison game is foolishness.
There is the issue of resourcing – where do we send people? Where do we send money? But this is not an either-or answer. “Both and” must be our answer, and I wonder… at what point we as the body of Christ will eventually slay this dichotomy and get on with the mission of Jesus?
Jesus stood with the disciples and told them to go into all the world and making more disciples. He instructed them to go to every people group. He promised in Acts 1 that His followers would receive power and be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
God designs and orders the times and places where people will live so that they will reach out for Him and find Him (Acts 17). The United States, abroad, and on an airplane in between those two places – the mission of God is the same.
May we obey Scripture, immerse ourselves in the people groups around us, and see all nations gathered around the throne worshipping Jesus.
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10b)
It will not matter on that day whether that voice comes from a Nepali from Atlanta or Kathmandu, an Afghan from Syracuse, London, or Kabul. Somalis from both Mogadishu and Minneapolis will be around that throne.
Let us get on with it already. From the East to the West, let us put our hands in the pile together preaching the Good News of the Kingdom.