Jason Ormiston, Church Planting Coordinator
I repeated this phrase over and over again in an effort to understand what it was like to learn a foreign language for the first time. It was awkward, weird, and uncomfortable. Spadnúť is Slovak for “fall down.” Ed and Dorothy Woods from Continental Baptist Missions came to the Greenville area to help our body of believers learn how to reach out to immigrants using English as a Second Language. Their teaching was dynamic and compelling. For years they have participated in ESL classes on college campuses and ESL training in churches across the United States.
I had the privilege of co-laboring with the Woods back in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while starting All Nations Baptist Church. The Lord used them to help us develop an exciting ministry to families of immigrants and international students connected to the University of Minnesota.
A few years later, the Lord led me to Greenville, South Carolina, to join the Bible faculty at Bob Jones University and begin training the next generation of student leaders for Great Commission living. I was convinced that ESL was one of the tools I wanted to pass along to my students and carry over in my local church ministry. I also saw the need in the greater Greenville area to connect the body of Christ to the growing number of immigrants from China, Brazil, and Mexico.
I knew from my own Bible reading that God cares for all peoples… especially the stranger, foreigner, and alien (immigrant). Moses instructed God’s people to show compassion to immigrants. They were to recall what it was like to be an immigrant in Egypt (Exodus 23:9). They were instructed to care for the displaced (Leviticus 19:33-34) and even make sure to leave food behind during the harvest to help meet their needs (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).
Paul encouraged God’s people to welcome immigrants and remember that the Gospel broke down the middle wall of partition between the Jews and the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22). And of course, Jesus commissioned his disciples to make disciples of ALL NATIONS.
As a side note, I encourage you to take a moment to mark the 18 times you find the phrase “ALL NATIONS” mentioned in the New Testament: Matthew 24:9, 14; 25:32; 28:19; Mark 11:17; Luke 12:29-30; 21:24; 24:47; Acts 2:5; 10:35; 14:16; 15:16-17; 17:26; Romans 1:5; Galatians 3:8; 2 Timothy 4:17; Revelation 12:5; 15:4.
In the midst of my enthusiasm to build redemptive relationships across ethnic barriers, a sincere student in one of my classes at BJU asked me how I reconciled the tension between reaching out to immigrants through ESL and the knowledge that some may be in the United States illegally.
In other words, how can believers faithfully proclaim the gospel (Acts 1:8) while obediently submitting to the government (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-15)? Does the gospel transcend government restriction (Acts 5:29)?
I took his question to heart. After a time of prayer and reflection, I found the answer in the book of Philemon.
This brief book in the New Testament contains a story of how God used the Apostle Paul to reach out to a runaway slave named Onesimus. Apparently, Paul found Onesimus wandering the streets of Rome as an immigrant in hope of a new beginning. The Lord intervened in the heart of Onesimus by using the witness of Paul to draw him to saving faith (Philemon 10). Onesimus understood that he was a sinner in need of a Savior. The book of Philemon is Paul’s appeal to Philemon to receive his slave as a brother in Christ and partner in the kingdom (Philemon 16).
If we follow the pattern of the Apostle Paul we will take advantage of every opportunity to win immigrants to Christ by using ESL, athletic outreach, or any other means of natural connection. Once these image-bearers profess faith in Christ, we should begin the process of encouraging them to reconcile all strained relationships… including their relationship with the government.
The United States of America is quickly becoming a multi-ethnic melting pot. The church must prepare to meet the challenges associated with making disciples from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
Instead of engaging in a political discussion about the value of preserving the English language in our school systems, the need to tighten border security, or the tensions surrounding illegal immigration, believers should pause to give God praise for the tremendous privilege of taking the gospel around the world by simply crossing the street in front of their house.
Participating in the Great Commission has never been more accessible in the continental United States!
May God help us reach out to the growing number of immigrants in our cities by sharing the gospel faithfully with people from all nations.
May we never forget that apart from the gospel, we too were without a home, without hope, and without help (I Peter 2:9-14).
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.