As I serve in a multicultural church context, I often think about the factors which have molded me as a leader. I increasingly recognize that much of who I am and how God has worked through me to pastor across cultures has actually been because of my upbringing in the immigrant church (in my case, the Korean church).God has shown me that my experiences were not hindrances to overcome but rather some of the very reasons I have been able to successfully do what I do.
These thoughts have led me to reflect on the importance of the immigrant church to the greater well-being of the larger church. There are many lessons we can learn from immigrant churches.
The immigrant journey is one marked by sacrifice. For immigrant families, there is often the common narrative of parents working themselves to the bone for the benefit of their children. I have observed that immigrant churches are likewise marked by this concept of deep personal sacrifice for the welfare of the greater good. That even if one may not have much, you give and share what you have for the benefit of others. The expectation with ministry is that there is a cost involved.
A larger, national culture (regardless of country) tells each of us to make the world all about us, there is value in denying oneself for something greater. Rather than a place that provides our weekly dose of entertainment, what does it look like to be a part of a Kingdom that calls us to embrace death for the sake of true life? Immigrant churches provide living examples of men and women who embody sacrifice as an antidote to the consumerism that can often creep into our churches.
Growing up in an immigrant context, church was much more than a religious service you attended once a week. It was the very center of community life. It became very natural to understand church as more than an organization but a very real family with whom you walked together in this journey. Though other adults may not have shared common bloodlines, you still used familial terminology to address them.
In our current ministry, I have met some who never viewed church through this kind of lens but are drawn to the idea of church as a family. I think this is one of the reasons why many multicultural churches led by those of immigrant and minority cultures are able to cultivate a sense of relational closeness contrasted with more corporate models of church. As many of us decry the business-like feel that can often mark church ministry, the immigrant church can teach us what it means that family is more than just your people of origin but the new bloodlines you are given in Christ.
Suffering is common in many immigrant and minority communities. The immigrant experience is naturally tied to hardships and this suffering is communally shared in solidarity with one another. Seeking God in the midst of suffering, then, is a normal theme often found in the immigrant church. It is almost as if suffering should be expected in this world and all the more reason we cry out in even greater ways to God. When the suffering and tragedy of life is all too real, we come together as the church to lament before God.
This is a valuable lesson to be learned from the immigrant church as we teach people to talk about suffering as not merely something to endure but the very thing which God might be using to lead us to Him in hope. We even experience the joy of learning that suffering is not intended to be carried alone.
The Immigrant Church is Part of God’s Mission
Much global immigration discourse focuses solely on what immigrants might cost their new country, rather than the possible positive impact they might have. But, I believe in God’s providence and that some of His very purposes for the revival, redemption, and renewal of the church may be found in bringing immigrants to our lands to join, start, and lead churches. We have much to learn about the Kingdom of God from the path of the sojourner.
My hopeful prayer is that some of the greatest leaders of the future church are being raised up at this very time in immigrant churches throughout our lands.