I grew up in a mostly White California town, speaking only English. I never considered learning Spanish to talk with migrant workers. I never visited the Buddhist temple on the edge of town or had even a passing thought that Buddhists were my mission field.
But God had His surprises waiting. I ended up spending 16 years in Southeast Asia, sharing the gospel in Khmer and Thai. I am extremely thankful that I discovered a world that had not yet met Jesus. There is no joy like sharing with those who have never heard. Now that I have returned to North America, my eyes are open to the mission field next door.
Have you felt the tug of Jesus’ great commission? There are about 3 billion unreached people in almost 7,300 distinctly different people groups who don’t have a vibrant, multiplying Christian witness among them.1 How is that final sign of Jesus’ soon return ever going to be accomplished (Matt. 24:14)?
God has His strategy. In the early church He brought “devout men from every nation” (Acts 2:5, NASB)2 to Jerusalem, then poured out His Spirit, and the gospel was preached to each. In these last days He is doing it again in cities all over the world. God has brought refugees, immigrants, and international students “to our very doors and thrust them, as it were, into our arms, that they might learn the truth, and be qualified to do a work we could not do in getting the light before men of other tongues.” Migration is definitely “a divinely appointed means of rapidly extending the third angel’s message into all the nations of earth.”3
For example, people from at least 20 of the 100 most unreached people groups in the world have moved to live in the United States.4 When I worked for the Center for East Asian Religions in Thailand, I often prayed for the tiny country of Bhutan, near India. Almost no Christians live in this mountainous country that isolated itself for years. It is expensive to visit and dangerous to share the gospel there.
One day I flew to the United States for meetings at the General Conference building near Washington, D.C. I stopped by Target to pick up some treats to take back to my family. To my surprise, I saw a large man with a shaved head and an orange robe. I had to find out where he was from. I was delighted to hear him say, “Bhutan!” Later I found out his was not an isolated case. As of December 2012, 63,400 refugees from Bhutan have been resettled in the United States; 5,296 in Canada; 3,837 in Australia; and 724 in Denmark.5
The mission field has come to us. A problem remains, though. We think a missionary is somebody who goes to Africa or China, and that somebody is certainly not us! Who are these missionaries, anyway?
I saw the answer back in Thailand at a crowded evangelistic meeting. There was an English-speaking preacher with a Chinese-Thai translator cooperating with the Indian landlord and some Filipino volunteers. What caught my eye most was the huge smile on the face of a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was the love of Jesus in him that had bound six cultures together to plant a church among Thai Buddhists.
That special multicultural event gave me a taste of God’s Pentecost missionary plan: Spirit-filled everybody from everywhere reaching everyone until the coming of Jesus.
Everybody means you and me, every disciple of Christ, not just the pastor or the overseas missionary. From everywhere means missionaries from Kenya, Mexico, and China, not just North America. Reaching everyone means watching with missionary eyes for Bhutanese refugees, Saudi international students, Cambodian migrant workers, and anyone else who crosses your path—right next door! Spirit-filled is the only way this can happen, because our hearts are selfish, and we like to be with our own people. Until the coming of Jesus--because this is why Christ’s return waits.
Just as in Jerusalem on Pentecost, God has now brought people from almost every nation to our big cities around the world. It is His plan that the Holy Spirit will move through us in such a way that each of these ethnic groups will understand the gospel in their unique context. That is part of the “tongues of fire” we must be asking for when we pray for revival.
I never realized quite how good our good news is until I started sharing it cross-culturally. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is uniquely placed with a very special message for people of other religions. When the gospel transforms us, our doctrines are lived from the heart, and people see in us their highest values. Muslims are pleasantly surprised when they learn that our surrender to the one true God includes not eating pork or drinking alcohol. Jews see us valuing “their” Sabbath, celebrating family and our amazing Creator God. Spiritually minded, vegetarian Hindus respect our wholistic message that ties physical, mental, and spiritual health into an integrated package. Buddhists find a close connection between their emphasis on right living in view of the impermanence of all things and our call to holy living in light of the end of the world.
Beyond our similarities with world religions, the everlasting gospel is perfectly matched to what the other religions do not have. My 6-year-old son and I were making friends with a Buddhist monk on a train ride in Thailand. His head was shaved, and he wore the simple orange robe, showing his dedication to the many precepts of his religion. He asked me, “How can Christians just sin, sin, and keep on sinning, boasting in the fact that they are forgiven?” His view of a supposedly Christian, but decadent, immoral West, had him confused.
I told him the story of Jesus’ sacrifice and compassion at the cross. I shared that Jesus died because He took our selfishness onto Him, so He could both forgive and free us from sin, which causes us suffering. My son told him about God’s power to change his own naughty heart into a clean one. I watched the monk’s face light up with interest as he caught a view that the purity and freedom he was working so hard to obtain could be possible through the gift of God. How excitedly we can share this amazing gospel!
Are you eager to do more than you have done? Here are some simple things I have found effective for reaching the world next door.
I like to watch for cross-cultural opportunities wherever I go, praying for divine appointments like the one Philip had with the Ethiopian in Acts 8. “What language were you speaking to your friend?” I ask the Indian gas station attendant. Then I follow it with “So how do you say ‘thank you’ in Punjabi?” Or I might ask the Cambodian doughtnut maker who has an obvious accent, “How long have you lived in America?” “What do you miss about your country?” Conversations about their culture and values are bridges to friendship. Then I keep watching and praying to know their needs and find opportunities to share something that points to our great God.
Newly arrived refugees have great needs and a huge adjustment to their new country. A church in San Diego, California, provides day-old donated food to various families from Bhutan. A school in Rockford, Illinois, sacrifices to provide Christian schooling to refugee children from Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A couple in Wisconsin allows many Hmong families to grow gardens on their property. You also can help in such tangible ways.
It’s amazing to think that many of the world’s future leaders are studying at the universities in our own towns and cities. The king of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamed bin Isa Al Khalifa, went to college in Kansas. Annette Lu, vice president of Taiwan, studied in Illinois and Massachusetts. Just think what you might do for the world by befriending an international student! It can be as simple as volunteering at a university to practice English with a student for an hour a week. Ron and Cathy Bush went a big step further and hosted a Japanese exchange student in their home for a school year. He became a Christian and now serves as a pastor in California.
Recently I met a literature evangelist who said, “I felt so bad when the Vietnamese woman shook her head indicating she couldn’t read my books. I wanted something to give her in her own language. I just had to walk away.” To fix that problem, we’ve collected Seventh-day Adventist pamphlets, sermons, videos, Bible studies, and more in many languages. Now it’s as easy as the click of a smartphone or your computer.6 Think how their eyes will light up when you hand them a downloaded pamphlet in their own tongue or sit and watch the “Jesus Movie” in their language with them.
You may not feel confident to talk with someone of another religion. Perhaps you are afraid you will make a mistake, embarrassing yourself and God’s cause. Don’t worry! God can do it through you. You can learn and grow in confidence by asking them questions about what their religion teaches and what values matter to them. Beyond this, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has six Global Mission centers that are constantly working on developing training manuals and Bible studies especially geared for these different religions.7
I don’t like getting into a debate with anyone, but I do want to share my faith. I have found the best way to do it is by telling stories. I introduce my God by telling stories of how He has protected me, or healed a friend, or set a drug addict free. I deal with deceptions about ghosts and reincarnation by telling the great controversy story of Satan’s attack on God in a way that highlights in the lies—and the truths—of these subjects.
Some things are best experienced. I find I can best share the Sabbath with non-Christians by inviting them to join my family for an afternoon exploring nature and learning moral lessons. This leads to talking about the Designer and Great Teacher behind it all. I also find that people don’t refuse my offer to pray for them. God moves through such experiences.
Many of us are overly busy with our own families, jobs, and churches. How can we possibly add cross-cultural mission work too? The best way is to do these special new activities for internationals with our family and church members. We must redirect our time to the unreached, but we must not do it alone. There is such benefit in this for our families. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my wife and our four children to hold English camps and visit people of other cultures. Together we hosted an ethnic church plant in our home. The involvement has helped my children grow and mature. Recently I led a Bible study with a Mien father in California while my daughter and son kept his noisy children happily occupied.
It’s going to be difficult for us to stay focused on finishing this Great Commission. There is so much to distract us. We have to daily connect with our Missionary God who is like a parent.
Think about what He feels right now in relation to all these unreached people. A mother is not going to stop dishing out food until every child has something on the plate. A father is not going to stop running back into his burning house until every child is out. God looks at us who know Him. He sees right beside us those who have never had a chance. They can’t hear because of their language or religious background. They don’t know their Father. He will miss them for eternity if they are not there!
So now He moves on our hearts, changing us, inspiring us, flowing through us to care for those of other cultures.