This article was written by Jamie Naramore, cross-cultural strategist at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
It is estimated that in the next 20-25 years the United States will be a majority minority country. The number of non-Hispanic whites will drop below 50% of the US population, blacks will likely remain around 13%, and Hispanics and Asians will double to nearly 30% and 9% respectively. Some of this is attributed to projected birth rates among these groups, but researchers say that 80% of all population growth in the US will come from immigration. Add to this the rise of the “nones,” (those with no reported religious affiliation) and other non-Christian worldviews – whether by conversion, generational growth, or immigration – and you have a very different environment than the one within which many churches are accustomed to ministering.
Thankfully, the historical commitment of Southern Baptists to the Great Commission through the Cooperative Program has created a mission-equipping structure that is capable of embracing and advancing a diverse, multi-ethnic, yet unified proclamation of the Kingdom of God. And by God’s grace, Arkansas Baptists are being proactive to engage in cross-cultural ministry that aims to make disciples of all nations even within our own state.
There are approximately 140 different people groups represented among Arkansas’ 300,000 first- and second-generation immigrants. Over 50,000 of those come from people groups the International Mission Board would consider unreached. And of the nearly 6,000 international students annually attending colleges and universities in the state, over half of them come from some of the world’s least reached countries.
Scripture presents all of this as a divine opportunity for fulfilling the visions of Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 in which a multitude of people from every nation are redeemed by Christ. Leviticus 19:34 sets the stage for God’s people to treat sojourners as natives and to love strangers as themselves. And in Acts 17:26-27, Paul reveals that both ethnic diversity and the movement of nations are orchestrated by God for His Gospel purposes. Therefore, the 21st century church can exhibit faithfulness to Christ by embracing the joy of multi-ethnic, cross-cultural ministry.
There are at least four ways churches in Arkansas can cooperate together to engage cross-culturally among the many nations that now call Arkansas home.
International Student Ministry. By partnering the with the work of the College + Young Leaders Team and their consistent presence on college campuses through Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM), local churches have the opportunity to welcome, engage, disciple and send international students with the Gospel of Jesus. The Cooperative Program enables partnership through training, resources, and networking opportunities. A simple airport pickup, ride to the store, furniture donation, or an offer to help with conversational English could impact eternity for an entire country through their best and brightest returning home with the Gospel.
Partnership with foreign-language churches. Arkansas Baptists have been welcoming refugees and migrant workers for generations, and much of that labor has resulted in churches across Arkansas worshipping in a dozen languages. Many of these are now home to third generation immigrant families wrestling with the tensions associated with assimilating to American culture while trying to maintain and pass on their distinct ethnic identities. They can also sometimes lack the resources needed to reach unbelievers among their own community. But local churches and associations play a vital role in coming alongside them for both encouragement and equipping. By partnering together, Arkansas Baptists can ensure these ethnic congregations experience health – even amidst change – for generations to come. This can come about through leadership development, help reaching the next generation, and mobilizing churches to participate in the mission to which God has called them.
Community missions. Whether willingly dispersed, or unwillingly displaced, the nations next door can experience the love of Christ through the outreach efforts of local churches meeting needs and delivering hope. For many, this might be through English as a Second Language (ESL) in churches that are trained and equipped through the SBC National Literacy Missions Partnership, Send Relief, and the ABSC Missions Team. Disaster Relief, community medical and dental missions, and even pregnancy crisis centers can deliver hope to groups that are sometimes overlooked in crisis situations. Simply offering help and friendship to a refugee or new arrival can lead to so much more than just a new beginning in a new country – it can lead to a new creation in Christ.
Church Planting. It is not hard to see that with so much demographic and cultural change the need for church planting among these groups continues to increase. Cross-cultural missionaries are needed to engage those groups who still lack a witness, and cultural insiders need to be raised up, called out, equipped, and sponsored to lead new gatherings of Jesus followers among them. As churches engage their communities and identify potential church planters, the ABSC Church Planting Team partners with Send Network to provide assessment, training, and support to church planters so that healthy churches can be established among the diaspora peoples of Arkansas.
All of this is made possible because Arkansas Baptists have committed to reaching the nations together, both abroad and at home through the Cooperative Program.