You don’t need a passport to be a missionary, anymore—just a plate. Put some cookies on it, and take it across the street to the family who may be wearing clothes reflecting a different culture and speak English with an accent, if at all.
The Great Commission hasn’t changed, it’s just gotten easier for those willing to recognize some blind spots and take some risks.
“It’s a whole new era” for following Jesus’ command to go into all the world, says Ted Vail, associate director of Foursquare Missions International (FMI). “The world is moving,” he adds—and many are moving right next door.
Although missions has always been a part of Foursquare’s make-up, some leaders feel it has become rather disconnected in many American churches. Congregations may send checks or short-term teams to support work “over there,” but such efforts are somehow removed from life here at home.
But with millions of immigrants and refugees worldwide, many who used to be what Acts 1:8 defines as inhabitants of the “uttermost ends of the earth” are now your “Jerusalem” neighbors.
“You can’t be a missionary to Somalia, it’s far too dangerous,” says Ted, “so God in His mercy for Somalis has brought them here to the U.S. How tragic it would be if the church misses an opportunity for mission right here under our noses.”
That requires an openness to change, such as at Beaverton Foursquare Church in Beaverton, Ore., long respected as a fruitful and growing fellowship with a commitment to overseas ministry. But Senior Pastor Randy Remington was taken aback a few years ago when he read an article in the local newspaper describing his city as the most ethnically diverse in the state.
“I was shocked, because our church looked like a loaf of Wonder Bread,” he says. “That began to grieve me. We were going all over the world, but we were missing the mission on our own doorstep.” The church needed to “walk across the street, as well as go across the ocean,” he realized.
So began a process of change. Today services at Beaverton Foursquare are translated into Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Nepalese Hindi, with other languages to be added soon, to meet the needs of new arrivals. There is a special Sunday morning fellowship time for internationals, and most of the recent baptisms have been among non-white immigrant families.
Central to breaking out of the church’s middle-class Anglo bubble was reaching out to a nearby school with children from almost 60 different ethnic backgrounds. Church members began to help with practical needs at the school, through which they “met the community,” says Mark Nicklas, the church’s pastor of missions and outreach.
That led to welcoming parents to the church, providing services such as an English conversation evening, and starting small groups for different ethnic groups. In time, that has prompted a shift in the church’s global missions involvement, too.
“It reflects more the people who are here,” Mark says, noting how the church has become involved with ministry efforts in other countries through immigrant church members with relatives or contacts back in their home nations.
Lest observers think such changes are easier for big churches like Beaverton, Randy says not so.
“It all begins with an attitude in the leadership of the church,” he asserts. “You can have a world vision and be only 40 people. If you aren’t loving the people next door, you don’t really have a compelling reason to love somebody in Haiti.”
Valdir Facioni may be Randy’s case in point. The 58-year-old Brazilian pastors Igreja Do Evangelho Quadrangular (Brockton Portuguese Foursquare Church), a small congregation in Brockton, Mass., where he has connected with members of a local community from the West African island nation of Cape Verde.
The pastor’s introduction to the newcomers was unorthodox. Looking for a way to reach out, he felt God telling him to make a sign that read “God bless you” in Portuguese, and stand with it by the side of the street. After striking up conversations, he began to invite some of the passersby to his home.
“I prepared dinner and invited them to meet with me and my family,” Valdir says, his son interpreting to English for him. “I showed them how important they were to me, and I asked them to be my friends, and I explained that I was an immigrant just like them.”
Valdir arrived in the U.S. in 2009 with his wife, Sueli, who serves as the church’s co-pastor, and two sons, after winning a green card in the national lottery in Brazil.
“I had always loved the United States, and believed that God had something for me to do in this country,” he says.
Eight or so Cape Verdeans are now part of his 120-strong church, but that hasn’t come without a cost. He left a 1,000-plus-member church in Recife, where he was a city council member and Foursquare state president, with a luxury apartment and personal driver.
“I left everything behind to come here,” says Pastor Valdir. “It has not been easy, but I am happy for the decision I made.”
Leaders will need to make intentional changes, as did Randy Remington and Valdir Facioni, if their churches are to effectively embrace the new opportunities, says Ted Vail. That may mean facing uncomfortable issues, such as prevalent attitudes about immigrants. Some who “watch a little too much media for their own good” could see immigrants “as a threat rather than an opportunity,” Ted notes.
The reality is, however, that somewhere between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 Foursquare churches in the U.S. already is distinctly ethnic, Ted adds. “People are beginning to see that missions is everywhere … we need to be equipping our people to make cookies and walk across the street, to give them to people who wear turbans.”
His challenge is echoed by Sam, Foursquare’s area missionary to MENACA (Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia), whose name is withheld for security reasons. Though focused on efforts there, he spotlights the opportunities in the U.S.
“It’s estimated that there are probably between 500,000 and 750,000 international students in the U.S. at any one time, and an incredible number of those come from unreached nations,” Sam notes. “About 80 percent of them never set foot inside an American home while they are here. One very practical suggestion is for churches to use Thanksgiving and Christmas as times to open their homes to these visitors.”