Migration and Evangelism

Two of the guiding Great Commission passages, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19-20) and “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8), can, if we are not careful, limit mission. Both suggest that we evangelize by “going” to distant places and reaching other ethnic communities. And that is true, we do. Scripture commands it and church history verifies its effectiveness.

How do churches, which by and large don’t even reach the
people most like them, reach the people least like them?

But Acts 2 displays another very powerful means of evangelization, namely, reaching many cultures in and through the local church. At Pentecost, the Spirit rushes upon the believers and they immediately begin to preach the gospel in numerous languages. Why? Because the listeners are from, as Luke has it, “every nation under heaven” (2:5). He later lists a minimum of fifteen distinct people groups gathered to hear about the “wonders of God” (2:9-11). Much can be drawn from this passage; however, my emphasis is that the first recorded gospel message was to peoples of many cultures already in Jerusalem. Peter didn’t “go” anywhere to preach to the world, for the world had “come” to him. The world was his parish and it was resident in his neighborhood.

I have tasted this wonder in my own preaching life. Just a month ago, I declared Christ in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. Lexington is not known for its diversity, being part of the American South. But one church, birthed a year ago, is a literal replay of Acts 2. The Church of All Nations had about 150 people that morning, and the congregants were from more than ten nations in Asia, Africa, South America, and North America. I was one of about eight “whites.” The co-pastors come from India and Nigeria.

How could a one-year-old church reach that many diverse peoples in one year? The pastors simply went to the University of Kentucky in Lexington, met the leaders in the international students department, and through them built redemptive friendships with immigrant students and refugees who have migrated to Kentucky. Lexington is primarily a mono-cultural city, or so most believers would think. But reality suggests this is not so. Education, economics, the need for sanctuary from oppression, and the accessibility of affordable global transport are changing the world. People are migrating from one nation to another unlike any time in recorded history.

The implications of this are immense. How do churches, which by and large don’t even reach the people most like them, reach the people least like them? That is the topic of this issue of Lausanne World Pulse. Thanks to Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, Claudia Währisch-Oblau, John Morehead, Jehu Hanciles, and others for helping us understand what we can do better.

Dr. Lon Allison is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He also serves as director for the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.