With the rapid increase of ethnic minority groups coming into the United States, it is evident that the need for ministry among them is vital and urgent. It is also evident that in order to be effective and efficient in ministry among them, one must be prepared for the challenges that are involved! Truly, the mission field has been "coming to America" and God is raising up pastors, teachers, evangelists and lay workers to carry out the task of reaching these people with the good news of the Gospel. But the need for greater awareness and "acceptance" of the reality of these changes in our society must be confronted by all pastors and individuals who are in Christian ministry. Our society as we have known it, with English the major language and white-anglo the predominant race, is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Whether or not this influx of immigrants will be curtailed by the current restrictions of immigration (enforced by the Clinton administration), remains to be seen. Either way, there are enough refugees and immigrants already living in America who have come without knowledge of or belief in Jesus Christ to keep the church challenged with outreach and evangelism for the next 50 years! (For statistics on your community, see Who Lives in Your State.)
The three ethnic groups documented in this study are very different from each other in culture, background, styles of adaptation, and personality. Since cultures vary so much, it is impossible to document a "tried and true," step-by-step method or strategy of "doing ministry." Much of Dr. Thomas' expertise in this field has come from his educational background, but he still maintains that "there is no single answer for every situation - each one must be handled on an individual basis". When working with people from other cultures, we are continually learning how best we might relate to them, and a great deal of this insight and knowledge is learned from experience in working among them, and often by learning from our mistakes!
Common Ministry Needs
A primary ministry "need" which is common to all people of other ethnicities who are resettling in America, is sponsorship or help in finding the right services for establishing themselves in the community. Some of the activities in which Dr. Thomas has become involved (particularly for the Slavik group) are documented in this research, but there are many more things which may be necessary to know about. These include:
- Establishing a care fund (for people who need initial help with bills).
- Driving people to appointments (doctor, dentist, social services, etc.)
- Know good lawyers who can help with legalization of residency.
- Know where the welfare office is, and how to apply. Be willing to go with them and assist with application.
- Know where the clothing and food banks are, what their hours are.
- Find out where jobs (without English speaking requirement) are and help with completing job applications.
- Learn about ESL programs for those who wish to learn English.
- Know where bilingual childcare services are available.
- Find out where bilingual medical services and social services are.
- Know what the qualifications are for low-income housing, where to apply, how to apply; assist with follow up with these agencies during the "waiting period'.
- Know where there is rental housing where 'ethnics' are welcomed (or accepted) by the management. (Not many, but some landlords are pressured not to allow "too many" immigrants into their complexes).
- Find out when and where the job fairs are.
- Know when and where free immunizations are available.
Obviously, this list could go on and on, but the importance of taking the time to keep up with what is going on and knowing what assistance is available for ethnic people is vital to the early stages of their resettlement, and a focus for ministry.
A characteristic which is also common to almost all immigrants of any ethnicity is the importance of reaching them with the Gospel soon after their arrival in America. Religion is very important to most ethnic people, whatever the religious background - for some cultures it is central to basic survival. When people are new to a culture, the initial excitement of the early stages of cultural adjustment is the best time to introduce new concepts, including religious beliefs. While the "approach" or "method" of evangelism will be strikingly different depending on the cultural background of the individual, the need to reach out soon (usually within the first six months from their arrival) is imperative.
During this period, especially if translation is difficult to find, there may be a need to learn the language of a particular ethnic group in order to communicate the Gospel. In America, there are 32 million people who do not speak English, and they must be reached in their own language. Biblical teaching and training for leadership is also very important because many of these people are likely to return to their own countries to share the Gospel with their friends, relatives and neighbors.
Because of the differences in the personalities of cultures, it seems that working within the confines of a particular denominational 'style of worship" may be limiting to the growth of a new church among immigrants. We have seen in the models presented in this study that the three ethnic groups represented are very different in personality: The Slaviks tend to be rigid and culturally isolated, the Hispanics emotional and expressive, and the Vietnamese polite, reserved and orderly. These personality traits carry over into worship styles, and the ethnic church worker must be sensitive to and respectful of these differences.
Finally, the most important factor that is always necessary for the strength of ministry to ethnic people is the power of prayer. Networking with others who are involved in ministry to ethnic minorities, meeting regularly for prayer and sharing of knowledge, insights, and experience, is a tremendous tool in building strength among ethnic workers.
Working alone or as a single congregation attempting to reach out to ethnics in the community can be an overwhelming task, one which can be defeating or at least, very frustrating. There is much to be gained from the knowledge and expertise of others who have learned from their own work and experience. Networking also builds "bridges" for ministry, offers support for the challenges of rapidly changing ministry needs, and facilitates unity among Christian workers from various denominational backgrounds. With the immense task before us of reaching multitudes of ethnic people within our own country for Christ, we cannot afford not to work together!