Migration a 'divine opportunity,' conf. speakers say
The Oct. 27-28 event at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., occurred both as a catalyst and result of "a movement starting in local churches across North America -- a genuine awakening to the amazing opportunity we have to reach the nations next door," according to the conference planning committee.
More than 280 people attended the sessions in person with another 231 viewing online toward helping churches engage foreign-born people in North America. The conference was sponsored by Southeastern, the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and Peoples Next Door, a research and equipping initiative for missions in North America.
Speakers included J.D. Payne, pastor of church multiplication with The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.; SEBTS President Danny Akin; J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and Chris Clayman, co-founder and associate director of Global Gates, a missions organization focused on large international cities.
Payne led off the conference's first main session, speaking on the "pathway to planting," which begins with evangelization and discipleship and leads to a mature local church.
He first addressed the demographic contours of North America that shape church planting strategies. After reading Acts 17:26-27, he noted, "Isn't God good? He tells us to go and make disciples of all nations, and simultaneously, as the Divine Maestro, He orchestrates the movement of unreached people groups to our backyards as well."
Two of the world's top six countries with the most unreached people groups are in North America, Payne said. There are 207 unreached, unengaged people groups in the United States and an additional 141 in Canada.
"In light of that practical reality and Acts 17," Payne asked, "how are we responding?"
Akin outlined Romans 15:8-24 as "a scriptural strategy that can help us as God's people to find our rightful place in His redemptive story at what I believe is absolutely a propitious moment in the Western world."
Akin noted five ways for Christians to respond: by praying for those in need; sacrificing financially to support ministry to internationals; asking God to call out missionaries to the nations; equipping church members to engage foreign-born people with the Gospel; and seeking to influence American politicians for the sake of immigrants and refugees.
"Is it an accident that America is being flooded with immigrants and refugees?" Akin asked. "No, it is a divine appointment and a divine opportunity that we dare not neglect."
Akin encouraged attendees not to get caught up in political agendas but to boast in Christ by speaking well of immigrants and refugees who are made in His likeness.
Citing Lifeway Research, Akin said 60 percent of immigrants do not know a Christian and have little assistance from Protestant churches.
"Where there are people who have no access to the Gospel ... that deserves our attention, that deserves our energy, that deserves our priority," Akin said.
Greear offered an exposition of Luke 10-25-37, the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.
"What if the person we are most supposed to identify with in the story is not the priest, not the Levite, not even the Good Samaritan?" Greear asked. "What if, instead, we are supposed to hear this story and primarily identify as the guy who is bleeding on the side of the road?
"What if somebody who had every reason to hate us and be our enemy -- someone very unlike us -- had chosen to put himself in danger to help us? What if the really Good Samaritan in the story is Jesus? ... We are the ones who have been saved by radical grace. ... When we embrace that, we will become givers of radical grace."
Referring specifically to how churches might engage immigrants and refugees, Greear urged attendees to ask the right questions.
"There are a lot of Christians asking the same question," he said. "What do we have to do when it comes to refugees and other things we are dealing with? It's really the wrong question. The question is what does the person who has been transformed by the Gospel want to do? If your heart has been moved by the Gospel, what is that going to look like?"
People who have experienced the Gospel, Greear said, "develop an uncontrollable impulse to be generous and an insane ability to forgive."
For Wright, desperation is a key word for describing the refugee crisis.
In looking at Matthew 2:13, Wright highlighted how Jesus Himself was a refugee when He and His family fled from Bethlehem to Egypt from King Herod, who was trying to kill Jesus.
"How you treat the immigrant, how you treat the refugee is how you treat [Jesus]," Wright said, calling conference attendees to decide whether they are willing to let the Bible guide how they think and act in regard to their treatment of refugees.
Clayman challenged the audience to think practically about steps to move beyond hospitality among immigrants and refugees to having Gospel conversations within those relationships.
"If you have a genuine relationship that is loving, then you're going to share your life with them," Clayman said. "If your life is what it should be, that means that you've shared Christ with them."
The conference featured peer group discussions and breakout sessions on more than 30 topics, such as prayer strategies, international student ministries, cross-cultural communication, English-as-a-second language (ESL) ministries, refugee resettlement, discovering unreached people groups in North America and more.
The 2018 Reaching the Nations in North America Summit is scheduled for Sept. 14-15 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.