I’m encouraged that more and more people are talking about how the nations are coming to us, so let’s use this opportunity to share Jesus’ love with them. But sometimes it seems that we forget that many immigrants are also our Christian brothers and sisters! Though they already know Jesus, they are still in need of welcome and love and practical help and friendship.
When moving to urban areas, immigrants can generally find heart-language churches to go to with people from their own culture. But those who move to more suburban or rural areas often find themselves without fellowship and needing to go to a Majority-Culture church or not go to church at all. So these suggestions will apply to all Christian immigrants, but particularly those without a heart-language church.
Here are a few ways you can serve immigrants who are Christians
1. Invite them to your church.
Today, I went to an Ethiopian church in the States where I knew no one. I found myself needing to take a deep breath before we walked in the door, to get mentally ready for the language barrier, and to prepare myself for the sore-thumb awkwardness of being the only pale face in the entire congregation.
Now, keep in mind that I married into Ethiopian culture and I’m very familiar with what Ethiopian churches are like. It wasn’t my first time and I was even in my home culture (though the church was a cross-cultural experience). So if even I had some hesitation and nervousness before entering a cross-cultural church situation, imagine how many immigrants feel about just walking into a Majority-Culture (whether white or African American) church!
An invitation helps. Even knowing one person makes a big difference. Meet them at the door or…
2. Drive them.
The ministry of driving is one that is often overlooked but shouldn’t be. Many immigrants struggle with transportation due to not having a car or not knowing their new city well enough to navigate to a new place. And this transportation barrier can be enough to keep someone home, especially if that someone is also suffering from culture shock. Offer to give them a ride. That way you can talk on the drive and prep them for what to expect. Or, if they have no problem with transportation, at least meet them outside and walk in together.
3. Be pew buddies.
Whether you have a new immigrant friend coming to your church for the first time or you have noticed that an immigrant family has recently started attending on their own, be bold and ask them to sit near you. It can be awkward to feel like you don’t know where to sit and you don’t know the people around you. Sitting together leads to conversations before and after and can make all the difference to people feeling at home!
4. Be an introducer.
If you sit near each other, you can introduce your new friend to your other church friends. You can connect them with others with whom they have something in common (i.e. if you know someone who has visited their country or if you know someone in a similar stage of life). You’re being a bridge to your new friend feeling at home not just with you but with the congregation in general, so that if you’re ever not there on a given week, they still have people they know and can easily talk to.
5. Talk about spiritual things.
Depending on your new friend’s situation, they may or may not have many opportunities to talk about spiritual things with people at work or in their neighborhoods. Don’t underestimate the encouragement you can be by asking simple questions like, “What is God teaching you these days?” “How can I pray for you?” or “What are you reading in the Bible?” And don’t underestimate the encouragement and perspective that their answers will give you as well. In my opinion, iron sharpens iron particularly well cross-culturally.
6. Ask them about their previous church.
This is probably not the kind of question they get asked often, and it can be valuable to help them process their experiences. Ask them how your church (where they are attending now) and their old church are similiar as well as how they are different. Ask them if there’s anything they find strange about your new church (Ethiopians often joke that at American churches, the singing finishes pretty much as soon as it starts!). Ask them how they were involved in their previous church–did they teach? Sing? Do children’s ministry? This will give you insight into their giftings and interests.
7. Help them use their gifts.
One of the best ways to feel at home in a church (and to have a sense of well-being in general) is to serve others in some way. But it can be hard to get involved when you are new, and particularly if you’re in a different culture and are not sure the process of signing up to bring food for a potluck or joining the choir or joining a children’s ministry team, etc. Once you know your friend’s gifts and past experience and interests, try to connect them with the appropriate people so they can get involved in service within the church. Also ask them to help you with any church ministry project you might be involved in, whether it’s planning a baby shower or running to Costco to buy eggs for a men’s breakfast or planning an outreach event at an apartment complex with many refugee families.
8. Ask for their wisdom in cross-cultural ministry.
Immigrants are not always a mission field–they are also missionaries. They often have valuable insights and understanding of those from their own culture and those from somewhat similiar cultures which can really help Westerners in serving other immigrants in a way that is well-received and in sharing the love of Jesus in a way that is winsome. If you have a Christian immigrant friend, they can be your greatest ally in understanding and connecting with other immigrants! God has given you a gift by giving you your immigrant friend. Team up for His glory among the nations next door.