Your Neighborhood: The New Samaria

by John Baxter, Director of Converge Disapora Ministries
Reach Nations

A few months ago a Pakistani family—a father and mother and a couple daughters—moved into my neighborhood. A few days after they moved in we went over and greeted them, welcomed them to the neighborhood and asked if there was anything we could do for him and the family. We make it a point to go over and greet them regularly. I ask his about his work and how Saieff and the family are adjusting into the neighborhood. There was a food truck event in our neighborhood, so Jan and I made sure we invited Saieff and his family. They were very pleased to be included.

Our goal this month was for Saieff and his family to join us for a family Thanksgiving. We’ve found our new international neighbors are often interested in American holidays. They like to come and experience that. Having our children and grandchildren there is a real asset to making them feel at home. They miss their families. They miss nieces and nephews and cousins. So having a large family and being able to play with the kids is very attractive.

There are over 40 million foreign born immigrants in the U.S., and that number is expected to increase to nearly 80 million by 2065. While the majority of these immigrants arrive from lands with at least a nominal Christian heritage (largely from Hispanic countries), the percentage of those practicing other religions or simply unaffiliated with a religious tradition is increasing. Twenty-five percent of legal U.S. immigrants are from minority religions and another 14 percent are unaffiliated.

So at least 25 percent of your new American neighbors are geographically near but culturally and religiously different, like the Samaritans. Does the Great Commission still apply to these people?

Acts 1:8 expresses the Great Commission geographically and creates the structure of the Book of Acts as it portrays the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and through the eastern Roman Empire to Rome itself. Jerusalem and Judea were the cultural and religious homeland of the early followers of Christ. The ends of the earth were peopled by Gentiles of various ethno-linguistic groups clearly distinct from these Jewish believers. But Samaria was different. It was geographically near, but culturally and religiously distant.

Samaria as a territory was enclosed by the Jewish homelands during the time of Jesus. Like the Jews, they spoke Aramaic. But the Samaritans were ethnically distinct and socially separated from the Jews, and they practiced a variation of the Jewish religion that accepted only the first five books of the Bible. They were not particularly well liked by the Jews, who considered them heretical, illegitimate residents in the Jewish Holy Land.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus intentionally included the Samaritans in mission of the church.

Perhaps we can find important parallels between the Samaritans and the immigrant populations who live among us in the cities of North America (for an overview of U.S. immigration).

Are they a legitimate concern for our churches’ missions endeavors? Fortunately, the vast majority of our Converge churches respond in the affirmative. For most of us the question is, “How?” By definition missions to “Samaria” are cross-cultural, and communicating the gospel cross-culturally can be a potential minefield, even for the well-intentioned.

Here’s the real immigration issue: Have you taken a close look around you to see who’s really there? Have you talked with the employees at the convenience store, donut shop or gas station? Christmas is a great time to invite an immigrant to your home to experience an American Christmas firsthand.

We had a great time on Thanksgiving with the couple we invited into our home. The wife became very interested in our religious views and requested information on how she can attend our local Converge church.

We want to hear about your opportunities for cross-cultural missions in your area, so we can help you engage in effective ministry to the new Samaritans God has brought to your doorstep. Email me at johnb@converge.org.

    Point - Summer 2018

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