Overlooking Our Greatest Partners?

 In Telling a Better Story

By Jessica Udall

June 26, 2019

When we talk about loving and welcoming immigrants, there is often the assumption that the loving service is flowing in one direction—from Americans to “strangers.”

But what about strangers who welcome? These faithful brothers and sisters who quietly live out Jesus’s call to philoxenia (hospitality, literally “love for stranger”) are largely unsung heroes. But what if they were the missing piece of the puzzle of truly effective immigrant ministry in the US?

Are American Christians overlooking their greatest partners in immigrant ministry—believing immigrants themselves?

Meet Mehari, an Ethiopian immigrant who began full time ministry while still in Ethiopia. While in Sweden furthering his education, he felt God’s calling to expand his ministry beyond his own community. Before this, he had been exclusively focused on reaching out to other Ethiopian immigrants, but as his crosscultural friendships grew, he realized that his vision was too small.

“There is nothing wrong with reaching out to one’s own community,” explains Mehari, “But what is wrong is to limit God and His calling on us to reach out to all nations.”

Fueled by this new understanding, Mehari applied and was accepted to an MA program in Global Studies (Missions) at Columbia International University in South Carolina. After graduation and still today, Mehari seeks to reach out to the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ through believing immigrants in the United States.

Mehari is clear: “Working with immigrant believers in ministry is crucial because there is a cultural and context proximity among immigrants and because partnership leads to greater effectiveness and sustainability of ministry efforts.”

Mehari has been instrumental in “promoting unity and partnership among local American and diaspora churches through joint mission consultations” which lead to networking and continued ministry partnerships. From these experiences, he has gleaned some principles which can help American believers who are seeking to partner with immigrant brothers and sisters:

  • Remember that partnership is not about making our environment look like we are working with others. It is about having a real relationship that has to do with mutual benefit and learning.
  • Ask: “How can we avoid a dependency (one-way giving) mentality? What can we learn/gain from them?”
  • Ask: “How can we involve immigrant churches in mission with us? How can we give opportunities for immigrants to take the lead?”
  • Remember that when beginning a partnership, a one-time invitation may not be enough. The Western quick achievement mentality should not override the process. A continued posture of openness and continued invitations are often necessary to break down barriers that have existed in the past.

I pray that we will not overlook our greatest partners in God’s mission. Instead, following Mehari’s example, may we link arms with brothers and sisters whom the Lord has brought from around the world, partnering with them to share beautiful good news with our neighbors.

To learn more about Mehari’s ministry or to contact him, click here.

Jessica Udall writes on building intercultural harmony one friendship at a time at Loving the Stranger Blog. She is a professor of Intercultural Studies and the author of Loving the Stranger: Welcoming Immigrants in the Name of Jesus.

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