Missions – The Current Situation in America

This is the second part of a seminar given at the Mission to the World (MTW) West Coast Missions Conference 2015 in San Diego, California. Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of the series.

Current Situation

Since we are already fifteen years into the 21st century, we need to look critically at our world and ask how we ought to respond as the church. Internally, we need to realize how missions terminology has affected us. We have tended to make a distinction between those who go and those who send. It has created a divide so that those who send do not view themselves as active participants, which is very unfortunate.

We typically make distinctions between those who are sent and those who send, but one of the unintended consequences of this approach is that those who are the senders see their role as praying, giving, and visiting. They too are called to take the fullness of the gospel, and the hope of Jesus Christ, into all areas of life including their neighborhoods, schools, and work places. This command is not just those who go abroad or those who serve the foreign-born community in the US. It is a call for all.

An interesting emphasis that we have placed in our English translation of the Great Commission found in Matthew is the emphasis on “go” as an imperative. It is better translated “having gone,” “as you go,” or “as you are going” as a participle in the command. We are all called to this because it is “as we are going.” There is absolutely a call for people to respond and take the gospel to the world, but it is vital that we all see that the command is for everyone wherever God has placed us.

Another emphasis of the missions enterprise in the past century that has significantly impacted the way we view missions is the difference between world/home and global/local. But the movement of people worldwide will significantly impact how we think about missions. The 21st century is already being labeled as the century of migration. People are on the move like never before in the history of the world.

A few facts:

  • 5 million people move into cities every month – with over 3% of the world living outside of their country of birth.
  • Over 50% of the world lives in cities today with that number moving to 75% by mid-century.
  • 5% of the population in the United States is immigrant.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, the United States gained 8 million international migrants.
  • Our Asian and Latino population will double in the next thirty years.
  • The United States also has close to 900,000 international students with 28.7% of them Chinese. Since 2007, Chinese students have increased by 16.5% annually.

As a result of various forms of migration to the United States, we now have an estimated 361 Unreached People Groups represented in our borders – behind only India and China for the most worldwide. This is an astounding number – the world is coming to us as we are going to the world.

J.D. Payne wonderfully states, “God is the divine maestro, orchestrating the movement of people.” Acts 17:26 states that God has “determined allotted periods and boundaries of their [all people] dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” We need to be asking how the movement of people affects our missions thinking and strategy. The question the Good Samaritan famously asked of “Who is my neighbor?” changes with globalization and migration. We need to welcome the stranger among us.

Danny Carroll often points to how migration has been at the center of the human and biblical experience. Abraham was the first immigrant and he lied upon entry to his new land. Joseph assimilated into Egypt. Ruth is not welcome in her new land and is remembered by her accent and her labor. Daniel and his friends are taken into exile and forced to serve the country that destroyed their homeland.

If God loves the stranger and wants us to welcome the stranger, we need to enter into their stories. We need to lend a listening ear, a helping hand, and a safe place. Global migration offers us a unique opportunity to involve the entire church in missions – by encouraging relational ministry and outreach to the global community among us. We have a global-local opportunity that will significantly increase in the coming decades as the United States is on pace to become a majority-minority country by the year 2040.

So how do we do this? We must return to the basics.

 

Jeff Kyle first went to China in the summer of 2004 and has been working with the China Partnership since graduating from Covenant College in 2006. He is passionate about US churches developing a global-local missions strategy. Jeff and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, live in New York City.