In 2014, the United States received a record 75 million international visitors; and this number is expected to grow in the coming years. Some of these internationals come as students or visiting scholars. Some come as diplomats or business people. Some come as refugees looking for a new start in a new country.
What does the Bible say about our international neighbors? We know from scripture that they are not here by accident. Acts 17:26-27 says that God made “from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”
In response to the arrival of so many internationals, churches and ministries, including OMF, have reached out with the gospel of Jesus Christ—in word and deed—to welcome these who are new to our shores. The basis of such ministry has biblical roots revealing God’s heart for the nations. What follows is a summary of the biblical basis of diaspora and welcoming ministry.
Biblical Foundations for Welcoming Ministry
- God’s plan of redemption for every ethne (people group). One reason that diaspora ministry is biblical is because global mission is biblical. In Genesis 12, God promises Abraham that, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). This prophecy points us to Christ, Lord of lords and King of kings, before whom “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess” as Lord one day. Jesus commanded his followers to take the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The fruition of this command is seen in the beautiful and glorious picture portrayed in Revelation 7:9-10:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
One day, a great, multi-ethnic throng of believers will surround the throne of God in worship. Today, however, thousands of people groups remain unreached by the gospel. Amazingly, though, in God’s sovereignty, he has brought some of these people who have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ into our neighborhoods and cities. That is not an accident; it is a God-given opportunity for us to obey the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), “declare his glory among the nations” (Ps. 96:3) and share the gospel with those who have not heard (Rom. 10:14-15). While the church needs to continue to send missionaries to distant outposts to tell those who have never heard about Christ, we also can minister to unreached people groups right here in the U.S.
- God’s command to share the Good News. Paul urges the church at Colossae to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” and to let their speech “always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5-6). In Romans, he rhetorically asks the church how unbelievers will come to faith without someone telling them the gospel (Rom. 10:14). Peter reminds his readers to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Christians are to be gospel-sharers, telling everyone the good news of God’s love and grace toward sinners, including internationals around us (especially them, because they may have never heard!).
- God’s people should be hospitable. A common trait marking God’s people throughout scripture is hospitality, towards those within the church as well as towards unbelievers. For example, in Romans, Paul states that believers should “seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). In Titus and 1 Timothy, Paul lists hospitality as a characteristic of church leaders (Titus 1:7-8, 1 Tim. 3:2). Such hospitality may involve sharing meals, providing shelter and/or supplies, introducing people to their new surroundings or just being a listening ear. However it may look, scripture paints a picture of Christ-followers opening their homes and their arms to welcome people with the love of Jesus.
- God’s heart for “foreigners.” As stated above, hospitality is not limited to those who are new in town (or country), but also includes welcoming friends, family members and fellow believers. Even so, the Bible also includes specific commands about how to treat the “strangers” and “sojourners” among us. See God’s repeated admonishments to the Israelites in the Old Testament:
Exodus 23:9: “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:19: Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Perhaps Jesus most clearly states God’s heart on the matter in a famous passage about the “least of these” in the Gospel of Matthew:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me …. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:34-40, emphasis added)
Not all internationals who live near us are poor, destitute and in need of life’s necessities, but they all do come as strangers in need of a friendly face to welcome them. God’s people should be that face.
As one writer has put it, “Few American Christians will go to live in the 10/40 window countries, yet the majority of these Americans live within a few minutes of a student from the 10/40 window.”
God loves people. All people. People from “every tribe, tongue and nation” (Rev. 7:9-10). The Bible is a story of mission and redemption, of God’s rescue (through the life, death and resurrection of his Son) of fallen people from every people group he created. God’s people, the church, are to take this message to the ends of the earth. In God’s sovereignty, many from the “ends of the earth” have moved into our neighborhoods. We can be the face, hands and heart of Jesus leading them into relationship with their heavenly Father.
Tom Phillips, Bob Norsworthy, and Terry Whalin, The World at Your Door (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 1997), 33.
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