Sowing Seeds Among the Sojourner — Part Two
Did you miss part one? Be sure to check it out here!
So you may (or may not) be convinced of the Biblical motivations for reaching out to internationals. But there’s no denying that befriending people that seem so very different from ourselves can feel awkward and uncomfortable. Here are some ideas to get you started:
In our individualistic, private culture we don’t do hospitality too well. We might invite our families or close friends to our home. But when Paul tells us in Romans to “seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13) he uses a word that means “lover of strangers.” I’ll be the first one to raise my hand and confess that I feel strange inviting strangers to my house! But much of the world has a cultural value of hospitality. Your international neighbors may not be as surprised as you might think when you invite them over for a meal compared to your American neighbor you’ve lived next to for years. Be sure to ask about dietary restrictions, understand they might be “late” according to American standards, and know they might stay a little longer than you planned.
Find a Felt Need
It’s likely the international sitting across the cubicle from you has a community of friends from their home culture right here in central Illinois. Therefore, you might believe you have nothing to offer them, but that’s probably not true. Find a need they have and try to meet it! If your international friend is welcoming a new baby, this is a great time to serve them and show you care. Our friends that I mentioned in the introduction had a baby while they lived in Peoria. So we organized meals for them and sought help from friends who we knew would jump at the opportunity. The body of Christ came around a few strangers and demonstrated the love of Christ! Some friends and I got together to throw a baby shower for the mom, and we also worked together to provide child care for their older children while they were in the hospital.
Other felt needs:
• Offer to teach them how to drive if they are in need of a license or provide needed transportation.
• Offer to be a “conversation partner” if they need assistance in speaking English. (This is typically a greater desire among East Asians, but a lesser desire among South Asians, Africans, and Europeans.)
• Invite them to an event or to your home to celebrate a holiday.
• If they like sports, invite them to a sporting event and explain how the game is played and its significance in American culture.
• If they have friends or family visiting from out of town, offer to host them in your home if you’re able.
Know your Audience
Get to know your friend and their culture. Seek to understand their country of origin and their worldview. This will better help you to understand your friend and will likely grow your compassion toward them. Learn about holidays, festivals, religions, customs, family dynamics, communication styles, etc. And when you have questions, come to your friend with a teachable spirit, not trying to question their culture or worldview, but present yourself as a learner. You might find that your friend turns and begins to ask you similar questions.
Finally, what can you expect when you begin to reach out to the sojourners God has strategically placed around you? Many things could be said here, but I want to leave you with two things that are important to remember when ministering to internationals:
1. It can take a very long time to develop a meaningful relationship with an international friend who truly trusts you. If you desire your friend to really listen to you when you share the Gospel with them, they must trust you. They have to be assured in their own mind that you will love them regardless of their acceptance or rejection of Jesus and his atoning work on the cross. This takes time, probably more time than you expect. They might be leery of your hospitality toward them because they haven’t experienced it from many Americans. They might assume you’re trying to get something from them. Be bold in your witness for the Lord, but be on guard about making them feel like you’re trying to convert them.
2. You might be disappointed with the harvest. There’s a reason this article is titled “Sowing Seeds among the Sojourner” and not “Reaping a Harvest among the Sojourner!” There are many barriers to break down in order for our international friends to repent and turn to Jesus. Many of them will risk losing the love and support of their entire family. Their conversion could bring great shame on their family and risk harm being done to them even if they’ve chosen to reject their converted family member. Be sensitive to that. If your friend is considering following Jesus, acknowledge and walk through with them the earthly loss they will likely experience. Ultimately, we must be faithful to the important task God has called us to and trust Him for the results.
The author of this article has chosen to remain anonymous in order to protect and maintain the trust she has with her international friends.