Across the country, churches are reaching out to the increasing immigrant communities in their midst as ways to share the gospel and grow. Whether it is immigrants from Latin America, Muslims or Hindus from the Middle East or Asia, or refugees from troubled nations, many congregations are seeing a huge need and working to meet it.
Antioch Church, a Southern Baptist congregation specifically organized to spread the gospel to the international community of Louisville, Ky., meets on Sunday nights for barbecue and worship services conducted simultaneously in English, Arabic, Hindi and Swahili. Not only are the services in multiple languages, but, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the mostly young, white, American-born congregation also helps their immigrant friends with transportation, job searching and English classes.
"The call for us as a church is not only to share our message and say, 'I hope it works out for you,' but to be family for them ... for the long haul," said Todd Robertson, pastor of Antioch. He and several other families in the church have moved to the southern part of Louisville, where most of the international community is located, in order to serve them better.
According to a 2009 LifeWay Research study, at least 74 evangelical organizations from various denominations have 3,757 people doing missionary work among immigrants. Many provide temporary homes, run coffee houses and provide other services to help serve needs and to witness.
The African-American members of New Life in Christ Church in Los Angeles are also reaching out to their immigrant community, composed primarily of Latinos. The small, Pentecostal congregation of about 100 members has started bilingual services as a way to reach its Spanish-speaking neighbors, according to the Associated Press.
Pastor Elwood Carson saw this shift in format as an opportunity and even a necessity as he watched many of his members move away from the church on Compton Avenue to the suburbs and their homes filled in by primarily Mexican immigrants. He also wanted to create a place of unity in an area that has historically had trouble between the African-American and Latino communities.
Since the shift in format two years ago, most members have embraced the change, but many complained.
"They told me they have to deal with this at their jobs and they don't want to deal with it at church," said Carson, who learned to speak Spanish while getting his master’s degree from Fuller Theological Seminary and on trips to Costa Rica. "Some people don't realize how prejudiced they are. So when they're confronted with people from other cultures, they're uncomfortable."
New Life’s “unofficial assistant pastor” and translator, Gary Nava, found the church after being released from prison. Nava was a member of Los Angeles' largest gang, Florencia 13, which vies for turf with the East Coast Crips, an African-American gang. His redemptive story has opened a door for New Life with its Latino neighbors. [courier-journal.com, 5/24/10; washingtonpost.com, 5/14/10]