I had an interesting and truly cross-cultural experience in NE Florida this week. In the morning, I began with preparation of some materials translated for teaching used in No Thailand and Myanmar. Some of the materials are in the Sgaw Karen dialect, while others are in Burmese. Later, I had a lunch meeting at a popular seafood restaurant on the intracoastal waterway running near Ponte Vedra Beach, a well known (to golfers) and wealthy community near Jacksonville. Our server was a young Thai woman from Bangkok. On my way back from lunch, I stopped to copy the Burmese materials from a workbook on IBS (Inductive Bible Study). This was a bit of a challenge since I neither read, nor write Burmese. Eventually I was able to sort out the right sequence of pages (characters and numbers are all in Burmese) before I stapled them together.
I had a meeting that afternoon across town from where I live. I live in a pleasant beach area of Jacksonville, FL, which is the destination for many visitors during the summer. I was traveling across town to an older part of the city. Once I got on the street where my meeting was, the house was easy to spot. It's painted in lavender and purple, with one wall in a checkerboard pattern. This is where the family lives who have migrated to NE Florida from Myanmar (Burma) via Thailand.
The father is Karen (a Burmese-Thai tribal people), but reads and speaks Burmese, so he needs materials in Burmese. The mother is also Karen-Burmese, but she can read and speak Burmese and Karen, plus some Thai. She is also fairly proficient in English, although still learning. Their teenaged daughter and son, who also joined in the Bible study, speak and read Thai because they were raised in Thailand. They are also fairly proficient in English, so they are a great help to me.
I'm still learning their story. I know it has some heartbreaks, as there are for all refugees. But there are also hopes. They were able to immigrate from Thailand as refugees because their oldest son, whom I've not met because he lives in another state, was able to work, save money, and sponsor their immigration. Their family is representative of many families in the US from all over the world. The world has come to America (including Canada) with many nations represented within urban centers across the country.
My experience this week illustrates the great opportunity there is right in our own nation for cross-cultural ministry! Cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York are probably better known for being melting pots for many different ethnic groups and nationalities, but there are literally millions of people from all over the world transplanted throughout America and Canada (also Europe and other western nations). Not all migrate into large urban areas, but many do as an entry point, especially those who come in as refugees.
There's a lot to say about all of this, but my point is simply this– God has been bringing the world to our own neighborhoods. The Lord's mandate, called the Great Commission, declares that Christian believers are called to Go! into all the world– preaching, teaching, making disciples, and extending the Lord's forgiveness. If you're not familiar with this, just go to the end of all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and the beginning of the book of Acts (1:8). The Lord Jesus makes it very clear that this is His mandate for us, His church.
Unfortunately, there has been a great decline in the sending out of long-term missionaries into the world by the church in America. There's a lot of reasons why, and a lot of debate about those reasons. Yet, here's the great thing about God–He finds a way to help us do what He calls us to do. In Christian circles we call this His grace, His loving kindness towards us. So, there's opportunity, most likely much closer to you than you imagine, to participate in the Great Commission and cross-cultural missions.
There are a lot churches and para-church ministries already doing this, perhaps your church if you go to one. It's not a complicated process, because it's about building genuine relationships with people, becoming part of their lives, and watching God build bridges and open up opportunities for extending God's forgiveness and acceptance to them (see Luke 24 and John 20). Many refugees simply need help with processing papers and learning English, or learning how to get around in the town or city where they live. Simple stuff anyone can help with if they're willing to do so.
Gettng involved with cross-cultural missions doesn't require getting on a plane, eating strange food, and trying to connect with people of another language and culture. Well, it doesn't require getting on a plane, but the other two things may still be issues, but these can be a great learning experience. If you're unsure about how to get started, there's a wonderful ministry in Phoenix called the Phoenix 10/40 Interface. It's founded and directed by a good friend of mine, Ptr Jeff Jackson whose vision is helping others reach out in this way. Here's the website to find out more about it– http://phx1040interface.org/
So, observe people around you wherever you go, and wherever you live. God may just open up your eyes to see some cross-cultural missions opportunities right near your own home! Then you also might be heading across town to do some cross-cultural missions in your own area.