By James Misner
Christians everywhere and at any point in time should be concerned with two agendas: First, are we reaching the lost? Second, are we deepening our discipleship?
With the dramatic restriction of refugee admissions to the United States over the past year—the result of public-policy changes supported by most white evangelical Christians—I fear that we may have lost the greatest opportunity in a generation to advance the cause of Christ, forfeiting a unique avenue both for evangelism and for personal discipleship because we have embraced our culture’s idolatry of safety.
Reaching the Lost
Ever since Ralph Winter’s presentation at the first Lausanne Congress in 1974, the global church has rightfully been galvanized by a vision to reach unreached people groups with the gospel. We have mobilized tens of thousands, raised and spent billions, and deployed professional missionaries to the four corners of the world. Though these efforts have borne much fruit and must continue, we’ve too often neglected the opportunity to reach the lost within our own country.
Most people don’t realize that the United States is home to the world’s third-largest number of unreached groups, after only India and China. Many from these unreached groups have arrived in recent years as refugees—individuals recognized by our government to have fled their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution. They arrive in desperate need of practical support, friendship, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At World Relief, we have been partnering with local churches to welcome such refugees for roughly four decades, facilitating relationships between church-based volunteers and newly arrived refugees. While we do not pressure anyone to convert and provide the same compassionate services regardless of a refugee’s interest in the Christian faith—they’re worthy of dignity simply because they’re made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27) and are neighbors to love (Luke 10:27)—when a Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu refugee is welcomed and genuinely befriended by a team of Christians, it’s rare that they don’t eventually ask why. Those church-based volunteers then have the opportunity to share the “reason for the hope” they have (1 Pet. 3:15).
For American Christians, to join the “unreached-people-group movement” should not be limited to “pray, give, and go.” It can also be expressed through friendship and hospitality in apartment complexes and cul-de-sacs around the country, both by full-time gospel ministers and also by laypeople who dedicate a few hours per week to interacting with their refugee neighbors.
God calls his church to do hard things. He has not just saved us from damnation; he has saved us for the hard ministry of being his ambassadors in the world (2 Cor. 5:20). Every time we give up our own preferences and identity to champion his cause, we grow closer to Christ. Working with refugees is not easy, and it’s not simple. But when we dive into the uncomfortable work of being with people who are so different from us—giving up time, comfort, and preference—we learn to live and love as Jesus did, which draws us closer to our Savior who did the same for us.
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