By Bill Belew
Jesus was an immigrant child. His original home is not where he grew up. That fact can move us to reach and serve the children of immigrants all around us.
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He was thrilled when I invited myself to watch his swearing in. None of his Persian (Iranian) family members or friends were able to make it. There were more than 1,500 new citizens from 140 to 150 different countries being sworn in that day.
As the names of the countries were called in alphabetical order, the new U.S. citizens from each of those countries stood up. When “China” was called out, a full one-third of the room rose to their feet, accompanied by loud chuckles from those watching. Several countries later, a worker called out, “India,” and one-half of the room jumped to their feet! Nobody saw that coming.
I live in Sunnyvale, California, the very heart of Silicon Valley. Caucasians are barely one-third of the population. Asians make up about two out of five people. Hispanics are one in five. This mix is not unusual for California.
I attend a men’s Bible study on Thursday mornings. One of the fellows in our small group commented, “My Croatian wife doesn’t want our blonde-haired, blue-eyed children to marry outside our ethnicity. I told her I have given myself over to our children marrying somebody from Asia.” He’s probably right.
My wife is “made in China.” She attends a Chinese church where she can worship in her “heart” language. My daughter wants to attend Sunday school with her white Caucasian BFF. My daughter doesn’t know what the word ethnic means.
I used to attend English services at the church my wife attends. However, whenever I joined, the average age of the room jumped by 4 to 5 years. I was literally 3 (and often 4) times older than some of the others in the room.
English services at ethnic churches are for the “2.0s.” I’ll explain that. Chinese (and immigrants from other countries) who come to the U.S. as adults to go to school and get a job are called “1.0s.” Young children who come with these immigrants are called “1.5s.” Children who are born in the U.S. of immigrant parents are called “2.0s” or ABCs (American-Born Chinese). Similarly, there are ABJs (Japanese), ABKs (Koreans), ABIs (Indians), and so on.
I spent nearly 20 years living and working in Japan. It’s easy enough to imagine myself still in Japan, even though I live just outside of San Jose (yes, I know the way). Families here put a huge emphasis on education, with the goal of worldly success measured in terms of status, income, and possessions. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a person driving a BMW, Mercedes, or Tesla, or riding in a Google self-driving car.
Is the Church Reaching the Immigrant?
What is the church doing to reach the children of these immigrants? What can the church do?
The writer of Revelation says the blood of the Lamb purchased for God “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). What does that tell us about how to reach and serve the immigrant children in our schools and neighborhoods?
I attended a combined English/Chinese worship service on Veterans Day weekend at the church where my wife worships. I am a veteran, so the holiday weekend didn’t escape my notice. At no point before, during, or after the worship service, however, was the holiday mentioned. The worship service was just another Sunday. I wasn’t offended, but I found the experience instructive.
Churches made up of immigrants here in the U.S. are not American churches. They are (insert country) churches filled with people who usually (but not always) dress in Western clothes, go to Western jobs, and live in a Western economy, but down deep are very much the people of the country where they grew up. You might be surprised at what is served for lunch! There is an Iranian Christian church about one mile east of my house. I have supply preached for several Korean congregations. Try as they might to be accepting of “foreigners,” they are not. Got that? I am “made in U.S.A.,” but I am a “foreigner” in many churches here in the U.S.
“I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s children” (Psalm 69:8).
Reaching Out to Children of Immigrants
Where do the children of immigrants fit in? How does the church accommodate them?
The short answer is: the church does not accommodate them.
The church wants to be a blend of all tribes and languages, and the church should be that blend. In practice, however, the church fails.
The opportunity is available for the church to become a blend of every tongue, if only the church will put its hand to the plow.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, on any given weekend barely 6 percent of the population can be found in a place of worship: church, synagogue, temple, or mosque. The rest are at a local farmer’s market.
What a great opportunity for the church! The world sends the very best it has to offer (in worldly terms) to study at Stanford and UC Berkeley and to work at Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the like. The church has an unparalleled opportunity to minister to the sharpest citizens of every country, and to send them back to their families with a real taste of Heaven on earth. If only the church answered the call.
Serve the Children of Immigrants
The children born and raised in the States by parents who come from a country other than the U.S. already see and experience the world differently. They have online “friends” from literally every corner of the globe. When the children of immigrants are taught that with God there are no distinctions, they know in their bones what that means because it is how they see themselves.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
There is opportunity here for the church to serve citizens of the world who can reach the world. But will the church do that?
The Time Is Now
Isaiah prophesied of a time “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).
That time is now. The kingdom of God is upon us. As Isaiah promised, a little child did lead them. And it’s time for all the little children of the world to know who that little child was/is and what he wanted his church to be like, and to make it happen.
Let’s teach the children of immigrants about that little child who also was an immigrant. This world was not his home. Let’s teach them well. Let’s show them how. And they, too, will lead the next generation.
Bill Belew is a content marketer and missionary to Silicon Valley, California. Contact him at http://forum.billbelew.com.