Ethnic Christians have easier access to own people groupscomment (0)
June 21, 2012
Churches composed primarily of first-generation immigrants to the United States often face obstacles — linguistic, financial and cultural — in terms of fitting into an Anglo-dominated society. But they may possess a strategic advantage in fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission.
“God has put people next door to us who can reach back home with the gospel in ways we cannot,” said Tom Billings, executive director of Union Baptist Association, serving the Houston, Texas, area.
“There is no one who can reach them like their own people,” said Buddy Brents, a North American Mission Board church planter in Mobile working through Mobile Baptist Association.
Expatriates have connections to their homelands and share a common culture, language and background that give them a head start in building relationships and sharing the gospel, some pastors of non-Anglo congregations agreed.
Phi Vo, pastor and founder of New Life Vietnamese Baptist Church, Mobile, said, “It’s just something about hearing and speaking the mother tongue of a person. They feel like it is my people reaching out to me. It’s special. I’m not saying if you are not Vietnamese don’t reach out to the Vietnamese, but it sure makes a difference.”
Twice a year, Vo travels to Cambodia and Vietnam to help train pastors and leaders to share the gospel.
Sanjay Purushotham, pastor of Asian Indian Baptist Fellowship, Carrollton, Texas, noted, “We don’t have the same barriers to cross. It’s easier to reach out to people.”
The Carrollton church supports three missionary pastors serving distinct ethnic groups in different parts of India. Each pastor served three to five years at Asian Indian Baptist Fellowship while studying at Dallas Baptist University.
Asian Indian Baptist Fellowship also supports the Kapaar Kachoung Orphanage and educational ministry in Manipur, India. Six staff members at the orphanage care for 40 children who lost their parents due to tribal, ethnic and religious conflicts or to diseases such as AIDS. Strong ties to a homeland and a sense of stewardship motivate some first-generation American Christians to share the gospel with people in their country of origin.
“I am a beneficiary of the American missionary movement,” said Ernest Howard Dagohoy, pastor of First Philippine Baptist Church, Houston.
His parents were converted to Christianity through the efforts of American Baptist missionaries, and he was named in their honor, he said.
Dagohoy noted many of his church members share his desire to “give back” by ministering in the country where they were born and where many still have family.
“We have a sense we have not just been sent here (to the United States) to seek greener pastures, but we have been sent here to be missionaries. It’s payback time for us,” he said.
John Nguyen agreed. Nguyen, pastor of Vietnamese Baptist Church, Garland, Texas, became a Christian in South Vietnam thanks to the witness of missionaries there.
He later reconnected with some of the same missionaries who discipled him in Vietnam during the two months he spent at a Fort Chaffee, Ark., refugee camp after he fled his homeland, and they helped him resettle in the United States.
“One thing I always tell people is that you don’t have to go on an airplane to reach the world,” Brents said. “The Lord is sending the world to us. … The goal is to win someone so they can win their own people. The international community is already climbing mountains. They have so many barriers to overcome such as learning how to live, shopping, working an ATM machine, calling 911 (and) going to the hospital. … The person that is going to help them the most is a servant of the Lord who knows their language and their culture.”
One Mobile area church, Hope of the Nations, is reaching the 66 people groups in the area that are too small in number to start stand-alone congregations, according to Brents.
“Three Sundays out of the month they meet in cell churches, and one Sunday out of the month they meet together for a celebration service,” he said.
Nguyen, president of the National Vietnamese Baptist Fellowship and the Vietnamese Baptist Fellowship of Texas, has led his congregation to become involved in missions not only locally and in Vietnam, but also in other cultures.
The church supports missions work in Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Taiwan, and every two years church members participate in a missions trip. Last year, some church members served in Europe.
“We care about Vietnam because it is where we came from. But our concern for people outside the United States is not just limited to Vietnam. It’s all over the world,” Nguyen said.
Dagohoy voiced a similar sentiment. His congregation has sent small groups to Honduras and Brazil as part of a missions project spearheaded by a Christian radio station in Houston.
Every two years the church sponsors a major missions trip to the Philippines. Last summer about 40 members of First Philippine Baptist — one-third of the congregation — spent a week building houses in Manila and participating in a pastors’ conference, treating 200 patients at a free medical clinic and feeding more than 100 impoverished children in Biga, Cavite province.
Hope of the Nations is also sending its members on missions trips to their own countries and around the world, according to Brents. “One couple from the Vietnamese church was appointed international missionaries to Cambodia, which is in the same region as Vietnam.”
(ABP, Sondra Washington contributed)