The world’s population continues to expand exponentially with China and India leading the way.
For instance, there are four Chinese for every one person in the U.S. China has more honor students in public schools than the U.S. has students in its entire school system.
And the world is coming to the U.S. The U.S. grows by one international migrant every 33 seconds. The University of Florida alone has more than 6,000 International students.
How can the church respond to this influx of internationals?
The good news is that you can do international missions and still sleep in your own bed at night. The International Learning Center (ILC) of Parkview Baptist Church has been doing just this for the past 40 years.
The ILC intentionally builds relationships with internationals in Gainesville, Florida, to share the love of God with them. In the last 11 years, we have touched 1,235 different students from 64 countries at our English as a Second Language (ESL) school.
Parkview’s ILC was established in 1976 and is a literacy school teaching English to speakers of other languages.
Our student body is varied. We have students who are doctors, chemists, pharmacists and professors as well as students who have little education in their native language. Our students are young adults to senior adults. We welcome all regardless of age or nationality.
ILC’s mission is to:
- Help students speak English and understand English more clearly.
- Share the love of God and what he means to us.
- Impact world relations as we build relationships with students who will become leaders in their countries.
The ILC has seen numerous results from the ESL ministry.
Students develop basic conversational skills that enable them to function in American society. Friendships develop that alleviate the loneliness often felt by families living in a foreign culture.
Skype groups have developed with students after they return to their countries to continue English lessons.
They invite their friends to join in the ESL classes that often turn into Bible study classes.
These groups have evolved into discipleship groups as students want to be better prepared to reach and teach their families and friends for Christ.
Students have published web pages to recommend the ILC to new families coming to America as a place for learning and friendship.
The devotional and snack time have introduced the gospel to some internationals for the very first time.
Some students have commented that Bible study is the best time.
One Muslim student, when told she did not have to sit in the Bible teaching time, said, “I want to know all about American culture and this is part of it.”
Another student said, “You know I have been taught about a God. But for the first time I understand that God speaks to me and God listens to me.”
Internationals want to learn American English and culture and are open to the good news of Jesus Christ.
What can you do to reach internationals?
- Teach English. Establish an ESL group in your church. Have conversation groups at your Wednesday evening dinners at church. Start a Bible study class on Sunday mornings just for internationals.
- Connect with community ESL programs to help teach English or to learn how to start your own ESL program.
- Build relationships by helping internationals shop for groceries, enroll their children in school and look for employment.
- Invite internationals to your home. Let them see everyday life.
- Celebrate American holidays and culture with them.
- Join in their cultural events.
- Love internationals and make them feel welcome in the community.
- Share the love of Jesus.
God has sent the world to our doorstep. We can do international missions and never leave our bed at night.
Let’s embrace the mission to reach internationals with God’s love and personal care.
Mary Lynne Moore is the director of the International Learning Center at Parkview Baptist Church, Gainesville, Florida.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on local churches and immigration.