Taking the Gospel to Immigrants… in 1884

Immigration to the United States is not new.

Missions to immigrant communities is not a new thing either, and I found a wonderful snippet about this very thing in an old issue of The American Missionary from 1884.

Back in the 1850s, a large movement of Chinese peoples started arriving in the United States. They came to work in the gold mines on the west coast and perhaps to start careers in agriculture. Of course, this wave of Chinese immigration was met with cultural tension and discrimination. So much so that a Democrat-led coalition intent on closing American borders was able to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Remember, this snippet from the missionary journal was written in 1884, two years after the establishment of the exclusion act. It reads:

“The Foreign Missionary says the great secret of success in teaching the Chinese in America lies in the direct personal influence of the teacher over the pupil. Generally each pupil is provided with a teacher, and the chances of spiritual benefit are in direct proportion to the cordial sympathy and manifest kindness evinced. The first important revelation that dawns upon the [Chinese] is that there are those in this land who are not hoodlums, and that brutality is not the universal law in America; that Christianity is higher and purer than the enactments of Congress, and that Christ is the friend of all men.” *

These people were reaching immigrants before it was cool.

I write regularly about how missions is changing, and it is. We have unprecedented opportunity today to reach the nations right here in our own communities. That means every member of a local church can now engage in cross-cultural missions at home.

While this new wave of immigration has changed the landscape of local missions, it is by no means the first time unreached peoples have made America their home. This snippet from the American Missionary makes that point abundantly clear, and their response to the immigration of unreached peoples serves as an example to the church today. May we be more like this faithful group from generations past as we look at immigration today.

Hospitality is important.

There are three points in this snippet I find fascinating. The first is the mention of “cordial sympathy and manifest kindness” as the Christian attitude toward these Chinese immigrants. For these missionaries over 130 years ago, reaching the Chinese came through hospitality and a welcoming attitude. In fact, they state the “chances of spiritual benefit are in direct proportion to” this attitude of hospitality. That is a good word.

Do we consider that the chances of spiritual benefit for our labors in our community may be directly tied to the attitude in which we labor? If we strive to share Christ with open arms and a welcoming spirit to all (even people different than us), then that will affect the mission. It is hard to convince anyone of that we love them, let alone that Christ loves them, if the manner in which we approach them is not congruent with the message.

Many Chinese thought Americans were “hoodlums.”

The second point that strikes me is the presumed stereotype the Chinese developed for Americans. Apparently, the Chinese had grown to assume Americans were “hoodlums” and that “brutality” was the “universal law in America.” Those are strong words, but they demand a follow up question for us today.

How do immigrants to America feel today? Do these unreached scores of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists coming to make a home in America find that brutality is the law? What of the many Christians fleeing persecution in their home countries who, upon arrival, might be treated like the very people they are attempting to escape?  Over a century later, I am afraid there has been little development in the American mind in many quarters.

Truly, there is a growing group of Americans who are sensitive to the issues concerning immigration. There is an increasing number who are willing to educate themselves and welcome our new neighbors, but there are many others who would extend no kindness. Policy is policy, and we should probably have some good conversations about how best to manage immigration. However, that is a very different conversation from the one about the manner in which we treat people who have arrived.

The church’s response to immigration must be different.

Finally, the church must be different. Only two years prior to this blurb, the nation had adopted a law excluding Chinese, and yet these missionary efforts ran toward the immigrants, not away from them. They stood in contrast to the attitudes of their American peers. The church must be different. It was true in 1884, and it is true now.

Notice the desire to reach these people represented in this antique paragraph. Notice the call to Christian hospitality in its words. Notice that this welcoming spirit has profound affect on our new neighbors hearing the good news of a great savior. And notice, that we have the opportunity to be different than the country at large.

 

*The American Missionary — Volume 38, No. 01, January, 1884

 

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