Engaging Chinese at North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta
Why did you start getting involved with serving internationals? It came as a personal answer to me for God's direction at that time. I was ready and equipped to do the work for this ministry and backed up by my husband, Neale, and the church where I had been a member for 30 years.
What does your church do to minister to internationals?
North Avenue has had international ministry since the early 1970s. We had a pastor on staff for internationals and an international Sunday school class. We hosted some of the first Chinese scholars who came to Georgia Tech in the early 1980s. We built relationships and conducted Bible studies with them.
For many years we offered an ESL class for internationals. When Chinese students and scholars came to our doorstep in 2000, we offered the classes to them.
North Avenue has cohosted a large welcoming dinner with the Georgia Tech Chinese Friendship Association since 2000. We organize all of the airport pickups and temporary housing. The church also sponsors a Christmas party for the Chinese community. Members of the ESL class perform a Christmas story play as part of their classes. Chinese students and scholars also participate in Bible studies on campus at the Presbyterian Center [now called "Westminster Christian Fellowship"]. We offer numerous parties, trips, and some small or one-on-one mentoring and studies with church members.
We have a regular ESL Sunday school class to prepare them for the worship service. It is designed for people with no church or Christian background. After the service, we offer lunch so that we can discuss what they saw and heard, or anything else they would like to discuss. Bus transportation is provided for scholars and students to come to the church on Wednesdays and Sundays.
How do you get volunteers involved?
The World Missions Conference has been hosted at NAPC every year since 1950. With internationals in our fellowship, missions trips are then made abroad and at home. The Spirit has moved members so that they seek to be involved with the Chinese.
North Avenue attracts people with a calling to ministry. They often seek to seize the tremendous opportunity we have in an urban central location near to the Georgia Tech and Georgia State campuses. We have had two of our team come to us from other churches for the opportunity that we have downtown. They follow their heart's calling to serve internationals. The fruit of the ministry, the testimonies and stories of new believers, baptisms, and long-term involvement are our best “advertisement.”
We are also able to involve a large number of North Avenue families during the welcoming process (when new students arrive in August) and at Thanksgiving. In both cases, we invite NAPC members to host a student for a few days when they arrive because campus housing (and some off-campus housing) isn’t open yet. They provide a ride to campus and breakfast every day. At Thanksgiving, we ask North Avenue families to host 2-3 students in their homes and tell them about the holiday. Between these two opportunities alone, we are able to involve 50-60 North Avenue members each year.
How has serving internationals impacted your church?
Serving internationals at North Avenue has brought diversity of membership, blending of cultures, a global view of God's kingdom on earth, and many members going from our church to other countries.
Since the first African seminary students arrived at North Avenue, we have had more and more diverse peoples. We now have members from more than 30 nations coming together in Christ. Diversity has never been our goal, but it is the fruit of following the Spirit of Christ's love for the nations.
From the coming of the nations to North Avenue, we have received many rich blessings to be involved in the global church. We have had connections and relationships with churches in Honduras, Mexico, China, and Egypt over the past 40 years. We will make our third trip to China this May. We will take a team of 9 people to visit the members who were baptized at North Avenue and have now returned to China.
The Chinese ministry has brought a new dimension of ministry experience to our church members. Now, instead of just sending missionaries to other parts of the world, we see that we ourselves are called to become the "missionaries" at home. We are meeting and reaching out to people who have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel, but are highly educated and headed toward roles of leadership and influence both in China and in the United States. Members see and understand the way that their work will influence the future of China.
As we do the work to make disciples every week, we are teaching and re-preaching the gospel message to ourselves and seeing the reality of the Holy Spirit’s power to do unexpected and wonderful things. So our faith explodes and is more experiential and dynamic as we experience the winds of the Holy Spirit being poured out through us and these people. We are all changed together! Praise the Lord!