Every day more than one thousand people enter the United States from other countries. Immigration has made the United States and Canada worldwide mission fields. We have been earnestly counseled that "in the cities of America there are people of almost every language" who "need the light that God has given to His church."—Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 36.
In New York City, in Chicago, and in other great centers of population, there is a large foreign element—multitudes of various nationalities, and all practically unwarned. Among Seventh-day Adventists there is a great zeal—and I am not saying there is any too much—to work in foreign countries; but it would be pleasing to God, if a proportionate zeal were manifested to work the cities close by. His people need to move sensibly. They need to set about this work in the cities with serious earnestness. Men of consecration and talent are to be sent into these cities and set at work.—ELLEN G. WHITE in The Review and Herald, July 25, 1918.
God would be pleased to see far more accomplished by His people in the presentation of the truth for this time to the foreigners in America than has been done in the past.... There is a great work before us. The world is to be warned. The truth is to be translated into many languages, that all nations may enjoy its pure, life-giving influence. —Ibid., Oct. 29, 1914.
There was a time when the work among overseas peoples of other nationalities who had migrated to North America was carried on in a strong way. In time, many of these other-language churches were absorbed by the English churches, and many of their pastors went into English work.
Time's onward march changes situations. Today we have living in our large cities more foreign-born people than native born. There are millions within our borders who have not yet mastered the English language and can only be reached in their mother tongue. If our North American churches wait until our many foreign-speaking immigrants are able to understand a sermon in the English language, they will have failed to evangelize one of earth's richest mission fields.
No one should underestimate the necessity of establishing churches in which these peoples from other lands can hear the gospel in their own tongues. Some people who have lived in the United States for twenty years and more are not yet able to converse on Bible truths in the English language. Moreover, some who speak the English language perfectly prefer to hear the gospel preached in their native tongue. In order to touch the heart and win souls we must use the language the people understand.
Understanding the Peoples of Other Lands
When working with people from other lands, we must try as far as possible to understand their background and to ascertain the best methods of approach. We should ask ourselves: What are the characteristics of this individual language group? What reason had these people for leaving the old homeland? What do they expect to receive in this land of their adoption? How can we bring them spiritual satisfaction and security? Whether or not they were active members of their home church across the seas, they in all probability looked to their pastor as their shepherd and will doubtless miss the spiritual tie that relationship represented. The majority of immigrants are industrious workers and are eager to build a better way of life in this country. Many of them, having lived through keen disappointments and having suffered great losses in war-torn lands, are more profound in their thinking than carefree Americans. They seek not merely for material advancement here but also for liberty of body and soul. These people, won to the Lord Jesus Christ, make excellent Christian workers.
Initial approaches to these other language groups among us should be tactful and sincerely friendly. It is better for gospel workers not to appear to be too eager to secure their names and addresses, as many of them have lived amid much suspicion and fear, and may suspect that whenever their signature is requested, it could involve unforeseen obligations. They may fear that signing a card is practically synonymous to actual membership in the church. They may fear that they will be financially obligated.
What Have We to Offer Them?
During the war years the pleasures and privileges of many of these peoples were restricted. What have we to offer such people in order to make the gospel attractive to them? Our people should learn how to befriend these peoples of other lands. Many of them have not found it easy to settle here, and they suffer from homesickness for their native land.
Widely scattered as these people are throughout our large cities, carefully laid plans are necessary to seek them out. In New York City we have developed a very simple plan. Our church members distribute leaflets to every home in a certain area. In such house-to-house "block work," each member sets a goal of obtaining five names of those of like nationality. Care should be taken to tactfully secure these names at an appropriate time. These five persons are contacted every week for five weeks and a tract is left with each one. German-speaking people, for example, are given the German Signs of the Times, and by this means they become acquainted with us through reading. It is next the pastor's or the Bible instructor's responsibility to introduce the Bible course, and during a subsequent visit an offer is made to help interested ones answer the questionnaire. We have baptized as many as six out of ten persons who completed the Bible course.
When there are opportunities to hold a series of lectures in a public hall, the attendance record is usually very satisfactory. We found it helpful to call attention to the offer of a free copy of the lecture on request when advertising the lectures in the newspapers. A carefully kept mailing list is essential to ensure that a copy of each lecture of the series is sent. A special effort is made to invite those living in the outskirts of town to take the Bible course. Brief personal messages have often brought a surprising response.
Persistence is an essential quality in this work. It might be that the day we allowed discouragement to hinder us from continuing our visits would be the very day someone would be ready to make a decision. We must not give up too quickly!
In order to obtain names we have also made contact with travel bureaus, newsstands, clubhouses, ships, railroad depots, and have scanned the newspapers.
New believers help to build up the church, especially when they are firmly established in the message by a thorough study of all the principles of Christian living. Souls newly born into the kingdom of God are willing volunteers in the work of winning others to Christ, and the sooner they share in this living witness the better it will be for the church. I have found these Christian converts from other lands most conscientious in fulfilling their spiritual obligations, faithful in tithes and offerings, and loyal in their Christian relationships to God and to their fellow men.
The longer I labor among my fellow countrymen the more I see the need of dedicated men and women who will give of their time and means to lead these earnest, sincere people from other lands into the saving grace of the everlasting gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.