At Peace with New Americans
Jerry Falley | New American Research Specialist
Here they come! More and more new Americans flooding into my community.
The poultry farms, the feed lots, the packing house, the factory and need for farm hands has drawn them. They have upset my routines, infused strange customs into the life of our community and changed the tenor of our quiet society.
I am frustrated, afraid of these foreigners, fearful of the impact they will have on my family and way of life. I find myself resisting the change they are imposing. I want to push back and maintain American culture as I have known it for years. Why don’t they just assimilate and adhere to my values? It seems they are the ones who should change, not me.
HERE TO STAY
I realize that new Americans, and the challenges they bring, are here to stay. I am a citizen of the United States, living in a constitutionally guaranteed free society. I recognize the right of every individual to eat what they want to eat, dress as they wish, practice their religious faith and maintain their cultural values within the framework of decency, law and order.
So, how do I make peace —calm my spirit, alleviate my fears and see the good in new Americans? I want to peacefully co-exist and develop a congenial relationship with my new American neighbors.
I need the Lord’s help. Proverbs 3:27 offers a way forward, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” Good advice! I will be open to respond to new Americans who need help. I will initiate the action. My hand will be God’s hand extended to them. “Treating them as I myself would like to be treated” will be my rule-of-thumb. A smile, a cheerful “hello” and expressing an interest in what they are doing will be a good beginning.
Interacting with them, fully expecting a positive response, will generate peaceful co-existence and mutual encouragement.
THINK ABOUT IT
- What are my concerns about the presence of new Americans in my community?
- Am I afraid or confident when I meet a new American?
- Do I see some area of their life where they need help?
When my life touches a new American, I will consciously remind myself that I am God’s hand reaching out to them.
I accepted Jesus as my Savior at a young age and by God’s grace have served Him faithfully through the years. Working with people who were born outside the borders of the United States (US) has been my career focus. I recognize my career to be God’s calling, His plan, for my life.
Currently, I am living in Springfield, Missouri. Although it is not a major metropolitan area, it is amazing how many people from various countries live here. Many of them speak their native language when at home. Most dress like Americans, but generally they can be identified by their appearance. Then, when one engages them in a conversation, their accent gives them away. Yes, new Americans are scattered throughout my community.
New Americans find themselves in unfamiliar territory. They have a lot to learn: find a house, get a job, register their children in school, obtain a driver’s license, shop for groceries, and so many other discoveries to make. It is evident that they need a friend to give a helping hand.
Sometimes they just need someone to talk with them and give them a little attention. This warms their heart and let’s them know they are accepted by their neighbors.
Recently, my wife and I were shopping at Walmart. I found what I needed and checked out ahead of her. While waiting at the exit, I noticed a man sitting on a bench—apparently waiting for someone too. It was easy to see that he was from one of the countries south of the US border. I sat down beside him and greeted him. He said, “No speak English.” So, I began to talk to him in two-word statements, like “Wife here?” Thus, we were able to converse a bit. Then, when my wife showed up, I said to him, “My wife.” He just beamed! He felt recognized and accepted.
I like new Americans. They are just like me in so many ways. They love their spouse and kids, relish good food, like to have a good time, appreciate their friends and want to get ahead in life. Then, when I consider that they are God’s creation—created by Him in their mother’s womb, given the breath of life and a soul with which they can communicate with God—it is easy to like them!
THINK ABOUT IT
- Are there new Americans living in my neighborhood or community or school district?
- Have I ever interacted with a new American?
- Do I like new Americans?
I will speak to a new American this week.
Every day we are swamped with advertising. The ads’ intent is to move us to action—to buy their product. The primary enticements are sex, pleasure and discounts. We sift all of this through our purchasing screen, then make a decision. In a similar manner, we sift all of life through a biblical screen. This helps us to arrange our priorities and determine the flow of daily life.
GET ON BOARD
Biblical truth is the driving force behind my actions—it motivates me! If I see it clearly taught in Scripture, I’m on board. I will intentionally find time and money to incorporate it into my lifestyle.
Introducing Jesus to new Americans is a primary truth of Scripture. I discovered this when examining the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:19, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations….” The words “all nations” is a translation of the original Greek “panta ta ethne.” The question arises, “What is a nation?”
I found the answer in Acts 2:5, “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” The Greek translation of “every nation” is “pantos ethnous.” It is the singular form of the plural “panta ta ethne” used in Matthew 28:19.
Then, Acts 2:9-11 gives a list of 15 nations gathered in Jerusalem. It is interesting to note that their “own language” was what identified them as a nation—not geographical boundaries for some were from the same area, nor a political entity for they were all a part of the Roman Empire.
So, I transferred this meaning of a nation to Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19. What Jesus is really asking His followers to do is to “go and make disciples of all language groups.” Understanding this truth gripped my heart! I had graduated from Bible school, served 4 years as a pastor and 13 years as a missionary, but had never seen that important truth. It had been an area of darkness in my walk with the Lord.
Applying this biblical truth to my life here in the United States has been an exciting adventure! I began noticing people around me who were speaking a language other than English, not only in their homes but often in public too.
I said to myself, “This is my chance to respond to Jesus’ command to make disciples of all language groups. My neighbor speaks Russian; my barber speaks Spanish; and at the Mall many employees are speaking their native languages from Somalia–Viet Nam–China. May the Lord help me to become their friend and gain the privilege of introducing them to Jesus!”
THINK ABOUT IT
- Am I ready to obey the teaching of Scripture?
- Can I explain why a “nation” is identified as a “language group” in Matthew 28:19?
- How can I personally apply this biblical truth?
I will pray for the Holy Spirit to bring to my attention the variety of languages spoken in my community.
How best to receive foreigners wanting to enter our country is a concern of all United States citizens. I pray for our president and leaders of government to execute godly wisdom in formulating all the policies necessary to settle these new arrivals in an orderly manner.
AS FOR ME
Bringing the concern down to where I live, I ask myself: “As a believer in Christ and as a responsible citizen, what should be my response to new Americans settling into the Springfield, Missouri, area?”
I think of three primary initiatives:
- Extend a genuine welcome.
- Extend hospitality.
- Extend a helping hand.
All of the above interactions are to be expressed in the context of an open Christian witness. I will pray with them as needs arise and openly speak of Jesus and my church.
CAN”T MISS THEM
The presence of new Americans is obvious in my neighborhood, at the sports club, at Walmart, at school events, on the job and my barber who has emigrated from Venezuela. I am especially aware of new Americans at McDonalds.
Thus, as I endeavor to respond positively to Jesus’ command and am aware of the presence of new Americans speaking various languages, I have a decision to make. Will I seize the opportunity or let it slip away? Will I intentionally obey Jesus and reach out to new Americans?
THINK ABOUT IT
- Have I ever made a new American feel welcomed and accepted?
- Am I comfortable in sharing my faith in Christ with those of another religious faith?
- Am I intentional in reaching out to new Americans?
I will offer to assist a new American in some way.
New Americans need a friend. They are anxious to find someone they can trust and in whom they can confide. How does one go about making friends with someone who looks different, struggles to speak English and whose outlook on life seems a bit strange?
May I share with you some things that work for me?
The primary thing I concentrate on and remind myself of when I approach new Americans is “Enjoy the people.” I begin by asking their names and how to pronounce them correctly. Then, I show pictures of my family and they in turn will proudly show me their pictures too. I ask about their home, their journey to America and why they chose to settle in my neighborhood.
There is a lot for me to learn about their culture, their view of life, their foods, the ways in which they relax, their religious faith and so much more. Consequently, I ask a lot of questions. Sometimes their answers are shocking and opposite of how I think or view a situation. Yet, I never express surprise or become defensive when they share differing political or religious views. I just listen, inquire further and try to open the way for them to express below the surface thoughts and feelings.
It takes time to understand a new American’s native culture. In time, by observing and asking for an explanation as to why they do certain things, I learn to appreciate and respect their cultural perspective on various issues. Until I am informed, I never worry about culturally offending them. Rather, I concentrate on conducting myself as a gentleman—polite, courteous and gentle—knowing that if I make an error they will correct me, and always with a forgiving spirit.
I have discovered that new Americans who were raised in a non-western culture are very perceptive and correctly read my intent and motivation. They know whether I am genuine or up to something. So, how do I safeguard that aspect of my approach to them? It is easy. I consciously value their interest above my own. In so doing, they know I truly want to help them and be their friend.
THINK ABOUT IT
- What do I enjoy about people from another country?
- Do I think that the way we do things in America is the best and only way to do something?
- Am I able to put the interest of others above my own interest?
I will ask a new American why he chose to settle in my community.
Open the Door
Be hospitable! Open the door of your home and new Americans will open the door to their heart.
A new American family was living across the cul-de-sac from my wife and me. We intentionally spoke to them when working in the yard, said “hello” to the children on their way to the school bus, presented them with a small gift on special holidays and invited the children to an Easter egg hunt at our church. They smiled and seemed to appreciate our overt efforts to be kind but held us at a distance. We couldn’t break through their resistance barrier.
This went on for about three years. Then we extended an invitation to them to come to our house for a meal during the week of Christmas. Five of the eight family members came. We ate and then the husband asked about church. This gave me an opportunity to share the story of how I found Jesus as my Savior.
Following the meal, we gave each of them a Christmas gift. The youngest played Santa Clause and brought the gifts one at a time. The first gift was for the husband’s 50-year old sister. She opened it and immediately came and gave me and my wife a great big hug. This set the pattern and we received hugs from each of the family members.
Hospitality opened the door to a meaningful friendship. Assisting them in their time of need, praying with them when a crisis arose and freedom to share our faith in Christ was now received without any resistance.
There is something very special about inviting a new American into my home. This friendly gesture—sharing a glimpse of what is culturally important to me—makes it clear to them that they are welcomed and accepted. I don’t know of anything more effective than genuine hospitality in developing a friendship bond!
THINK ABOUT IT
- What is special about my home?
- Am I willing to share it with people of another culture?
- Am I ready to accept my new American neighbors as fellow human beings and allow them to become my friends?
I will invite new Americans to my home to join my family in celebrating a special day or holiday.
A group of Muslims attacked a church in Egypt, killing several Christians. A Saudi Arabia student studying here in Springfield, Missouri read the report. Angered by their violent action, he attended a service at my home church. He was approached by a security guard with whom he shared his frustration.
The next day I received a request from my pastor to visit the Muslim student. I delivered a bag of treats to his apartment. He invited me in and we visited for about an hour. He shared with me his frustration over the Egyptian church attack, declaring that this was not true Islam.
I took the opportunity to respond with a description of true Christianity. I gave my testimony of how I received Jesus as my Savior, and incorporated basic elements of the gospel. He was amazed that my decision to follow Christ was voluntary, rather than being forced. This opened the door for additional visits in the future.
My focus was always on “Answering his questions or asking questions about his Islamic faith.” I have found this to be a much better approach than just sharing some aspect of biblical truth.
Also, I always asked if I could pray with him about a particular need. If he didn’t have a need, he still wanted me to pray. Thus, in the Name of Jesus I would always ask for help and blessing.
Because of these visits, we became good friends and he invited my wife and me to his graduation. I did not have the privilege of seeing him accept Jesus as his Savior. However, I did give him an Arabic Bible which he gladly received before returning to Saudi Arabia.
I continue to pray for him occasionally and thank God for allowing me to touch his life. In a very real sense, I have put him back into God’s hands knowing that the Lord will have another believer pick up where I left off. I believe the day will come when he will accept Jesus and that someday I will meet him in heaven.
My open profession of faith in Jesus was necessary for this student to inquire and hear the gospel. Consequently, I have learned that from the beginning of a relationship with a person of another religious faith, it is best to be up front and open about being a believer in Jesus Christ.
THINK ABOUT IT
- How will I approach the subject of religious faith with a new American?
- What kind of questions should I ask about their spiritual journey?
- What components of the gospel need to be incorporated into my story of accepting Jesus as my personal Savior?
I will speak to a new American about my church and why I enjoy it.
Jesus, Help Me!
Developing a relationship with new Americans and introducing them to Jesus is a big undertaking. I need supernatural help, recognizing that unless Jesus helps me I will accomplish little of lasting value.
“Lord Jesus, go before me and prepare the heart of my new American neighbor” is a good prayer with which to begin for Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
TOGETHER IN PRAYER
Jesus said, “If two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19).
I like to pray WITH new Americans. Never have they refused my prayer, regardless of their spiritual condition or religious faith.
One day a police car pulled up in front of my neighbor’s house. They are new Americans and I wondered if they had visa problems. When the police left, I saw the husband standing in the driveway. I went over and asked, “Hey, what’s going on?” He told me that he and his teen-age son had a big argument. The son had called the police and said that his father was abusing him. However, it was a false charge because it was only verbal.
I took the opportunity to suggest to the father that he needed help in raising his boy. “Jesus is the One who can help you, giving you wisdom in how best to establish a good relationship with your son. May I pray with you and ask Jesus for His help?” He agreed and I prayed sincerely, incorporating aspects of the gospel within that prayer. When I finished, he said, “thank you.”
Jesus stepped into Peter’s boat and from there taught the people. Then, He asked Peter to push out into deep water and let down the nets. Peter explained that they had been fishing all night without catching one fish. Peter said, “But because you say so, I will….” (Luke 5:5). This resulted in a great catch of fish.
To Peter, Jesus’ request was not logical and would be a waste of time—but because Jesus said so—he did it. Overcoming all the barriers that separate me from my new American neighbors seems like an impossible task. But, I will do it because Jesus says, ”You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14).
“New Americans, I am praying for you and by God’s grace will be His hand of blessing extended to you!”
THINK ABOUT IT
- Am I looking for opportunities to pray with new Americans?
- What kind of needs do new Americans have?
- Should I use the Name of Jesus and quote Scripture when praying for them?
I will interact with a new American, identify a need or a celebration for which I can offer to pray.
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