Nobody saw it coming 40 years ago. Today, the entire world is being changed by it. By what?  Global migration. Global migration means that about two billion people have been or are migrating inside or outside their national borders. Today people from everywhere are moving everywhere else. Chinese, Latinos, Africans, South-Asians, Mid-easterners and Americans are flowing all over the globe. Forty years ago, nobody dreamt that soon anyone, anywhere, could travel anywhere else, if they really wanted to.

Why is this happening? There are many reasons:

The human population has grown from three billion in the early 1960s, to seven-and-a-half billion now. This has put pressure on resources, and transportation availability allows people to move away from war, famine, persecution and instability. These are forces that push people outward.

Due to war and dire poverty, even the lowest wages in Western Europe and the US look attractive to people who have nothing, in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This also is a force that pushes people outward.

In the United States and Western Europe, we have an intense labor shortage. Since WWI, the western birth rate has oscillated. There were baby booms after WWI, WWII and the echo generation of Millennials. After the Crash of 1929, the birth rate dropped until 1945. This smaller “Elvis” generation gave birth to Gen-X, who gave birth to Gen-Z. The huge wave of immigration that started in the late 1980s happened when the small Gen-X generation entered the labor force at the peak of the WWII generation’s retirement. We had a labor shortage. Now, thirty years later, the small Gen Z is joining the labor force, right at the peak of Baby Boomer retirement. Once again, we’ve got a gap and a labor shortage. That vacuum is a pulling force.

Human migrations are nothing new. Every few hundred years, Western Europe saw successive waves of Celts, Germanic tribes, Huns and Slavs—these are the ones known since recorded history. Archeology and DNA tell us that there were many waves earlier. Parallel waves can be recognized in South Asia, China, Africa and Latin America. People have always been on the move. But, today, in much greater numbers, people are moving from everywhere to everywhere else.

MissionShift, our educational program, is neither pro- nor anti-immigration. That would be like being pro- or anti-air. Air is all around us, and it’s a fact of our existence. Immigration is a global phenomenon, as people move into or out of every country on earth.

What Does This Mean for Us? 

So what does this mean for us as North American Christians? Since the change of the immigration law in 1965, we have seen a growing number of legal immigrants and refugees come to be our neighbors. Added to this are the millions of illegal immigrants who come across our borders without permission, plus students and tourists who simply overstay their visas, hoping to fit in. Some estimate we now have about 75 million immigrants and their families living among us. This number will continue to grow.

This isn’t just an urban phenomenon. Wherever there is a job, even a lousy job, an immigrant will come to fill it. Any place there is an egg, turkey, pork or beef processing plant, there will be immigrants. Labor is needed to run beef, hog and crop operations. Many inexpensive small town motels are now operated by members of one tribe/caste from Southwest India. Dairy farms in western Wisconsin couldn’t function without hard-working rural Latinos, who understand cows and are willing to work the long, back-breaking hours. On the other end of the spectrum, our high-tech and medical fields could not operate without hundreds of thousands of brilliant immigrants.

Today, rural towns are seeing children of many colors in their local schools. Small grocery stores with signs in Spanish or Somali dot towns where a generation ago Norwegian was spoken on Main Street. Enterprising farmers are finding a ready market for goat and lamb. These changes are not going to go away. In fact, as transportation gets cheaper and global crises mount, more people will be on the move. This will affect your town, your county and your state. Values will be shifted; organizations will change, as will the food at the local grocery store and café.

These folks are our employees, neighbors, co-workers and someday… maybe the other grandparents of your own grandchildren!

Most immigrants are not actively connected to any church. Most have never heard the gospel. Some come from religious traditions that are actively hostile to or greatly misunderstand Christianity. As these folks come to be our neighbors, now is the time to reach out—not tomorrow.

A Tripartite, Holistic Model

As we look at these tremendous needs, we can also see them as tremendous opportunities for reaching people in the Name of Jesus. We see that this task has three components:

  1. Proclamation of the Gospel is the central task of the Christian Church. The gospel is the message that Jesus Christ took on himself the sins of the world so that humanity can be reunited with God. Only by trusting in Christ are we forgiven our sins and made to be one with God. That is the central purpose of the Church, and faith in Christ is the greatest gift we can give to all people, yet that proclamation does not exist in a vacuum.
  2. Vast Human Needs are a part of every immigrant situation. Jesus told us to share the glass of cold water. The disciples elected deacons so the needs of the widows could be met. Every place there are immigrants, there are needs; each of these needs can be a channel for building relationships and sharing the gospel.
  3. Relationships are the key to each of these, as both the gospel and care are most effectively transmitted when we take the time to build healthy, real, culturally-savvy relationships.

If we make sure to combine all three, we have the holistic model of Jesus, of Paul, of Wesley, Spener, Francke, Hauge and Hudson Taylor, to name a few. The model has been rediscovered repeatedly throughout the history of the Church; it’s then that it grows and is healthy. The immigrants give us a great opportunity for outreach at the same time as we empower our church members to bold witness! It’s an amazing shift.

Today the world has come to us. Can we together try to grasp a vision for outreach as big as our God?

Pastor Roland J. Wells, Jr. serves as the Senior Pastor of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis.  He is the creator of MissionShift, the Executive Director of the Urban Cross-Cultural College Consortium and the Executive Producer of the MissionShift DVD Series for congregations, non-profits and educational institutions.

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