By Terry Sharp
NASHVILLE (BP) — I have many memories from growing up in East Tennessee. On hot summer days my friends and I would walk to the local grocery store to buy soft serve ice cream cones. As I recall, it was the best ice cream ever. After buying our treats, we’d then walk over to a nearby house with the largest oak tree in town.
There we would sit in the shade eating our ice cream cones as we watched the world pass by. Actually, it was just cars and the people in them that we watched. I know it probably doesn’t sound like much, but it was lots of fun for a boy from a small mountain town.
Before the interstate system was built and traffic bypassed our small town, I remember seeing license plates from all over the country. It was a pretty big deal since most of my friends, including me, had never traveled outside the state of Tennessee. I dreamed of visiting those states one day. Living in a town with hardly any diversity, it’s the only time I can remember seeing people I perceived as different from me.
How times have changed! Today, I look around and I don’t just see people from other states, I see peoples from all over the world. And they’re not just passing through Tennessee, they’re living here. In fact, they’re living all across this great nation.
A study a few years ago titled “Profile of America’s Foreign-Born Population” reported that immigrant population growth in 13 states was more than twice the national average of 28 percent over the previous decade:
South Carolina 88%
North Carolina 67%
South Dakota 65%
(Center for Immigration Studies, 2010)
In case you haven’t noticed, the face of North America is changing. The United States has become a modern crossroads of peoples from throughout the world. When it comes to spreading the Gospel, this is great news. You have the opportunity to touch the world because the world is coming to you.
For years, the International Mission Board and other organizations have encouraged churches and individuals to go overseas to unreached peoples and places to share the Gospel with the billions who have yet to hear. As Great Commission Christians, the call to go is ever important, but there’s more.
Someone needs to go the airports and welcome the planes carrying the nations that God is sending to our cities and communities. We cannot miss the opportunities the Father is doing right in our own communities by bringing the nations to be our neighbors.
As we love and disciple immigrants, refugees, and international students, they will, in turn, share the Gospel where we’ve not been able to go – literally becoming a gateway for spreading the Gospel into their homelands.
Has God already called your church to engage and disciple a particular people group? Those you’re reaching overseas might not just live in their homeland – they could be your neighbor, work colleague, fellow student, or a university student in your community. If they’re there, it just makes good missiological sense to engage the same people group locally that you’re engaging globally.
Don’t just sit and watch the “world” pass by you. The next time you encounter someone you perceive as different, ask yourself, “Why are they here?” It might just be so they can come to know Jesus.
Terry Sharp (@terrysharpimb) is the International Mission Board’s state and association network leader.