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ANALYSIS Welcome strangers here, reach the world out there

ROANOKE, Va. (BP)–The Kurdish Muslim family fled northern Iraq in 1996, fearful of Saddam Hussein’s threat to kill Kurds who helped the American-led force based there.
They settled in a working-class neighborhood in Roanoke, Va. Ramadan Abdulrahman found a job to support his wife and children. They began to adjust to life in America — until the “welcome wagon” arrived.
Laundry disappeared from their clothesline. Bicycles got snatched from their porch. Eggs pelted their house nearly every night; the family finally quit wiping away the ugly yellow smears. Police said the likely perpetrators are a group of intolerant locals.
Abdulrahman is bewildered. “In Iraq, we welcome new neighbors into our homes,” he told a reporter. “But here, why must people do such things?”
Good question. The Kurds, largely unreached by the gospel and long abused or ignored by their Mideast neighbors, are one of the world’s largest people groups (up to 30 million strong) without a national home to call their own.
A newspaper photo showed Abdulrahman’s 4-year-old daughter, Imam, peering from behind the egg-streaked glass of their front door. Her pretty little face reveals a mixture of fear, sadness and budding anger. What will she tell her Kurdish relatives back in Iraq about the welcome she received in “Christian” America?
God commands more than 40 times in the Old Testament that his people shelter, aid and defend needy strangers. A typical example: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34, NIV). Jesus reinforced that principle in his words and actions.
Hospitality to strangers is more than a general biblical principle, however. It’s a specific, strategic way to spread the gospel far beyond our borders — even if you never cross them.
The United States, cultural crossroads of the world, attracts foreigners like a 3.6 million-square-mile magnet. Foreign-born residents here account for about one in 11 people — double the percentage counted in 1970. Even more significant from a mission strategy perspective, 20 million or more internationals visit America each year.
Most foreign visitors are tourists and ship or airline crew members who pass through quickly. But several million — representing more than 185 countries — take up temporary residence while studying at American universities, conducting business or representing their governments.
One list of current world leaders who have attended U.S. schools includes 11 presidents, six prime ministers and two kings. Some future immigration or economic official studying in your city right now might one day open history-changing doors to the gospel in his homeland.
Like the Kurds, many come from places and people yet to be penetrated by the gospel of Christ. Our opportunity to love them, lead them to Jesus and disciple them is an open door. Once they go home, that door may never open again. But by one count, 80 percent of the more than half-million international students and scholars living here at any one time never see the inside of an American home. Why? They never get invited.
“We must develop strong friendships with internationals from countries closed to the gospel,” says Carey Bates, who directs the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s international outreach office. “Some will receive Christ here. Some will return home as allies for starting Christian work in their own country.”
Do you have the gift of hospitality? Why not add an international dimension to it? By becoming a missionary “welcomer” at home, you might make as big an impact for the kingdom as missionary goers.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges