In the latest When Heaven and Earth Collide podcast interview, Ed Stetzer and I talk about the changing ethnic landscape of America with the presence of immigrants and refugees and how the church can respond to what is happening demographically – but more importantly, respond to what God is doing in all of this and to the opportunities that are before us. We talk about the mission of the church and even a little about how the church can respond to our current political situation. Ed is the former president of Lifeway Research and the brand new Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. I interviewed Ed at the Evangelical Immigration Table booth at the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis in June.
The podcast clocks in at just a little over 13 minutes, so this one is a bit shorter, but it is still full of great insight.
Some highlights from Ed:
We have to acknowledge that we believe in the providence of God. If people are here, then God has allowed them to come here. Our call is to share the gospel with all kinds of peoples – ethne – from around the world
There is more ethnic diversity in the United States than in any country in the world. More ethnolinguistic people groups inside the borders of the U.S. than in any nation in the world.
God has given us a chance to reach nations who have come here. Southern Baptists are in rapid decline, the Assemblies of God are growing. What is the difference? One is reaching immigrants and the other largely is not.
God has allowed there to be people here who need Jesus. We can debate and argue and be frustrated with the politics, but the response of the church is to go to people with the gospel.
What can the church do specifically?
When you offer ESL classes, lend your facility to other groups, become partners with immigrant groups, start a new church and share your facility – Everyone will be happy with that – or they should be.
Begin with ESL classes in the basement of the church. People who would not normally engage will engage.
If a church can engage with refugees and immigrants, it will change the mindset of the church toward them – we must show and share the love of Jesus with these people.
What can the church say to our nation?
First, you have to correct some things that are wrong, like when some say that Syrian refugees are terrorists and Mexicans are rapists and murderers. Those are false statements and we should correct them. The Mexican immigrant in your community is more likely to be a pastor than he is to be a criminal.
If the Evangelical church were just white people, Evangelicalism would have been in decline for decades. Immigrant Christians from around the world are strengthening the church in America in powerful ways.
We might have to develop some pathways to citizenship for people to solve this problem. Immigrants are not the problem. People are afraid. Americans are really kind people except when we are afraid. What I am most afraid of, however, is missing out on what God is doing.
This was a really great conversation and I hope that it will help us think through immigrant and refugee ministry from more of a missiological perspective than from a place of fear or from a place of political controversy.
Also, the When Heaven and Earth Collide podcast was featured in the North Carolina Biblical Recorder, which is the state paper for Southern Baptists there! The article gives a preview of upcoming podcasts. Check it out and make sure the you subscribe to future podcasts by going to iTunes in the sidebar!
For more information about immigrant and refugee ministry and advocacy, make sure that you check out the Evangelical Immigration Table and follow me on Twitter at @AlanLCross.