RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Of all the trends that have shaped American society over the last century, which is the most important?
“Immigration,” Ben Wattenberg contends without hesitation.
Wattenberg, a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, is coauthor of “The First Measured Century” and host of a television documentary of the same name that examines major American developments of the last 100 years.
“From 1880 to 1930, on a base population of 50 million, America took in 28 million immigrants!” Wattenberg marvels. “They came for jobs, and they came for liberty.”
That early flood of “huddled masses, yearning to breathe free” came primarily from Europe, before a countertide of anti-immigration frenzy essentially closed the golden door in 1920.
But it didn’t stay closed.
Beginning in 1965, “Americans reopened the immigration flow, this time allowing persons from around the world to share and shape our liberty,” Wattenberg writes. Latinos, Asians of all varieties, Africans, a new wave of Europeans from the former Soviet bloc: They come fleeing war, persecution and poverty, or simply seeking the great promise of America.
If another backlash doesn’t shut the door once again, they will keep coming.
That isn’t just a major social trend; it’s likely a movement guided by the hand of God (see the book “Let the nations be glad” by John Piper). Not only has the world — and world missions — come to U.S. shores, but the Lord is raising up a host of servants of many colors and cultures, speaking many languages, who are going back into the world to preach the gospel.
Throughout history, observes missiologist Ralph Winter, God has been “kicking people out of one culture into a new one” — from Abraham’s move to Canaan, to medieval Christian slaves carried off by pagan conquerors, to the present day.
“What is going on?” Winter asks. “It looks as if God wants them to learn how to carry their faith into different cultures, not just preserve a given way of life within a discordant culture.”
God often uses such migrations, forced or otherwise, to place believers in cultures that haven’t yet heard he is Lord. He also moves nonbelievers into cultures where they can hear the good news, then sends them back to their own, often unreached people groups to spread the word.
Fifty years from now, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly half of the U.S. population — projected to be pushing 400 million by then — will be nonwhite. Ethnic minorities will account for 89 percent of population growth. Hispanics will more than double, to nearly a quarter of the population. So will Asian-Americans, jumping from 3.3 percent to 8.2 percent of the total. African Americans will increase to 13.6 percent.
As the great African American preacher E.V. Hill once said, only half-joking, as he looked out over a nearly all-white Southern Baptist congregation, “Folks, you better make some friends.”
Former Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson agrees: “I believe … that the future of the Southern Baptist Convention has to be a multiracial, multiethnic future, or quite frankly, it has no future.”
About 6,000 of the convention’s roughly 45,000 churches are predominantly ethnic, according to 1998 SBC statistics, representing 635,000 members or about 4 percent of total SBC membership.
Those numbers are on the low side, according to some estimates. Up to half of the churches the convention identifies as ethnic are predominately African American. African American members in those congregations and all other SBC churches may now exceed 750,000, reports IMB strategist David Cornelius.
These trends will — must — grow. And predominately Anglo churches must open their doors and hearts to all the colors and cultures of their communities.
“Any church could have a worldwide impact in their own backyard just by ministering to and sharing Christ with internationals in their own city,” says Carey Bates, a strategist with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
The more diverse Southern Baptist churches become, the more diverse their international mission team will become. At a single International Mission Board missionary appointment service last year, eight new missionaries were of Asian descent. Some 30 African American missionaries now serve through the board, with more in the appointment process. More than 20 Hispanics have been appointed in the last three years. More and more ethnic churches are sending mission volunteers to partner with missionaries. Those are small steps in the right direction.
Red and yellow, black and white — and all shades in between — the children of the world are precious in God’s sight. He is sending a beautiful kaleidoscope of servants to reach them.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BACKYARD MISSIONS, ON THE STREET and MORE OPEN.