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Nashville churches step up to care for nations in their backyards

Students from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, host a medical clinic for the immigrant community in conjunction with The Branch, a ministry for internationals in southeast Nashville. The heart of the Nashville Diaspora Missions Collective is to connect churches to ministries such as this one to reach the nations in their backyards. IMB Photo

NASHVILLE (BP) – Brett pulled up to the unassuming farmhouse situated in the rolling hills of Tennessee with a box of winter supplies and clothes donated by local churches. He expected a language barrier with the Arabic speakers. The residents of the house were Egyptians who trace their Christian roots to the first century.

What he didn’t expect to see was a rat scurry across the carport as he talked to the second resident who came to the door – one who could speak some English and accept the donation. He also didn’t expect to see more than 20 men come out of the same house. As he spoke with the men in the middle of December, he noticed they all wore sandals. While this is traditional dress for the climate in Egypt, sandals wouldn’t begin to keep them warm during their first middle Tennessee winter.

Leaders from ministries and churches around Nashville lead the Nashville Diaspora Collective in prayer for their city in their heart languages. The Nashville Baptist Association’s windows overlook the city’s skyline. IMB Photo

Brett, a leader in his church, saw the supplies he brought were needed. The overcrowded house was now after they fled their Egyptian homeland.

When he first heard about this specific household, Brett sprang into action, calling on the growing network of churches who are part of the Nashville Diaspora Missions Collective to help. As he shared the story of the Egyptians with other pastors and leaders in his network, donations began to roll in. One Sudanese pastor brought a box of Arabic Bibles. He was able to give a short Bible study for the men at the farmhouse and Brett prayed over them.

Over the next month, other pastors and leaders rallied to meet the physical needs of these families. The power of cooperation of churches was evident.

“I know that God places on our hearts situations and people that make us want to spring into action,” Brett said. “By communicating the situation, God places the same desire on others’ hearts, and hopefully, this will cause a snowball effect calling other pastors, ministers and laypeople to action.”

This call to action is the purpose of the Nashville Diaspora Missions Collective (DMC). The Nashville DMC is the first local chapter of a larger initiative by the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Send Relief and Woman’s Missionary Union, uniting with seminaries, state conventions and associations. The goal is a renewed commitment to assist churches in reaching the nations next door.

The Coptic Christians Brett met are the latest wave of asylum seekers in the Nashville area who have very few resources available to them. They’re far from the only people group in need of a welcoming face and basic resources in the backyards of numerous churches. In Davidson County alone, more than 90 people groups are represented. They come as refugees, asylum seekers, international students and immigrants. Of those people groups, 40 would be considered unreached.

The collaboration to reach the nations in their backyards was born out of that realization. Each month, church leaders across the Nashville area meet. They hear from local refugee ministry and nonprofit leaders, as well as leaders across the Convention involved in ministry to internationals. At meetings, the cohort learns about refugee response, sharing faith with ethnic neighbors and other topics. The meetings, typically hosted at the Nashville Baptist Association, end with prayer for the nations that God has brought to Nashville.

“We have all these opportunities to reach people. All we want to do is come together, pray, share and collaborate so that awareness is raised and we’re working together,” said Josh Matteson, founder of SALT NextGen ministries and a key leader in the Nashville DMC.

The vision of seeing the nations reached in the Nashville area is something that diaspora congregations themselves are catching. Ziero Esteban Solano, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Nashville, shared that his congregation has many felt needs. With Hispanic and Latino refugees and asylum seekers finding community and support in their congregation, each week, the food pantry diminishes. The clothing closet can’t stay fully stocked. Still, though, his congregation desires to reach out and reach the nations, despite their own needs.

During a recent Nashville DMC meeting, Solano stood up and asked a group of refugee nonprofit leaders how his church could get involved in what they’re doing – specifically his youth group. As they shared that his church’s teens would be a great aid in translation services or sorting donations, his eyes lit up. When asked later why he’d focus on outreach with needs in his own congregation, he responded with John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

“I think that love God talks about is the agape love,” Solano said. “It’s the love that only comes from God. And you can only have that type of love by surrendering to Him and serving people.

“For our youth and our young adults, I want them to get involved. I want even our kids to start serving other people. I want this to be a year-round thing where we go, we serve, we love people. That’s what the Gospel is all about.”

He added: “Maybe God has a missionary sitting in our youth, or an evangelist, or a preacher – somebody who serves the community. You don’t know until you get [that] hands on [experience].”

Allison, who serves the IMB’s newly formed diaspora mobilization team as a senior diaspora mobilization strategist and who partners with the Nashville DMC to connect and equip local churches, is excited about the collaboration happening in Nashville. She’s eager to see it replicated in other key cities throughout the country.

“Our team is very encouraged by the Nashville DMC. We see local churches and Christian organizations gathering together to begin the discussion of how to impact the internationals in their community. They are encouraging one another and providing accountability.”

To learn more about the diaspora mobilization team or how to start a diaspora missions collective chapter, visit dmcollective.org or email [email protected].