Nearly one million people immigrate to the United States every year. Many of these immigrants come from countries where evangelism is illegal and Christians are openly persecuted. Settling in immigrant communities within large metropolitan regions, they often form isolated subcultures and can live in the US for years without ever hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One Virginia-based ministry sees the incredible potential within these communities. Since 2004, Philip 8.4.8, a division of Accelerating International Mission Strategies (AIMS), has sponsored short-term outreaches to regions where immigrant populations have settled. Philip 8.4.8 is designed to serve as a mobilization strategy and equip believers to reach the nations through connecting them with ethnic communities in the US that have the least opportunity to hear the gospel. Philip 8.4.8 seeks to model national outreaches after the story of Philip the evangelist, found in Acts 8:4-8.
“Once churches have the opportunity to minister to unreached people groups in our backyard, we hope that they will develop a passion to reach unreached people groups in other countries around the world,” said Philip,* coordinator of Philip 8.4.8.
According to Philip, partnership is the key. Before initiating any new outreach trip, he meets with existing ministries in the metropolitan region who are actively reaching the community with the gospel. He then connects them with other ministries in the area that have the same goal and brings in teams from other regions to help them accomplish those goals.
Philip 8.4.8 outreaches generally last one week and attract youth and young adult groups. However, interested laypeople of all ages are welcome to join each outreach. Each team is trained in evangelism techniques for the cultural group with whom they intend to interact. Once there, they have the opportunity to become involved in a variety of outreach techniques including street evangelism, park outreaches, tract distribution, worship concerts, drama ministry and intercession.
“We have to think about training, discipling and mobilizing each generation in different ways,” Philip said. “Generations X and Y are hands-on. They have to get out there and experience it themselves.”
The World at Our Doorstep
The high level of immigration to the United States offers a great potential to reach the nations with the gospel. The 33.1 million foreign-born people (eleven percent of the population) who currently live in America1 often settle in gateway cities—key metropolitan areas that serve as an entry point to the country for many immigrants. Major entry points such as New York City; Los Angeles, California; Houston, Texas; Miami, Florida; and Washington DC have become the new homes for more than half of the total immigrant population in the US.
As America’s primary gateway city, New York City has welcomed immigrants from almost every nation. The first wave of Arab immigrants settled in the metropolitan region in the late nineteenth century; however, when Ford Motor Company began hiring Arabs in the 1930s, many Arabs relocated to Dearborn, Michigan. Today, New York City has the third largest Arabic population in the US, behind Detroit and Los Angeles.2
Since 1990, the Hindu population in the United States has grown from 227,000 to more than 760,000, an increase of more than 274%.3 Like immigrants from Arabic countries, immigrants from South Asia, particularly India, have settled in large metropolitan regions like Orlando, Florida, and formed cultural communities.
Philip 8.4.8 has developed partnerships and begun ministry efforts in Dearborn, New York City, Orlando and Washington DC.
Case Study: An Open Door in Dearborn, Michigan
Located just outside of Detroit, Michigan, Dearborn is known for its Arabic population. Of the 400,000 Arab Americans living in the Detroit metropolitan area, more than 150,000 live in Michigan’s Wayne County where Dearborn is located. Several communities on Dearborn’s south and east sides are more than ninety percent Islamic.
When Philip first heard about the Muslim community in Dearborn, he immediately called more than a dozen churches in the area and asked if they were actively reaching out to the Arab community. Only one church leader, Pastor Nicodemus, said they were.
After planting Harvest International Worship Center in Dearborn in the early 1990s, Pastor Nicodemus began talking to Arabs on the street. He wanted to learn about their culture and understand their beliefs. As Muslims began to convert to Christianity and join the small congregation, members of Harvest International joined their pastor in reaching out to those around them.
Although the outreaches were successful, Pastor Nicodemus wanted to do more. However, he knew he could not accomplish the task alone. For three years he spoke with other churches and organizations about sending ministry teams to help, but in the end, every effort failed. Then he received a call from Philip. In August 2004 thirty-nine teenagers, young adults and youth pastors from Philip 8.4.8 arrived in Dearborn.
The team focused on community outreach, talking with people in the neighborhoods, handing out tracts and offering to pray with anyone in need. They organized an outreach in a community park with live worship, music, puppets and drama. Although the team met some resistance, most people were very receptive to the group.
One team member said, “The trip opened my eyes to other beliefs out there. I now have a burden for the Muslim people and for every person I meet who doesn’t know Jesus Christ.”
When Philip brought two additional teams to Dearborn in summer 2005, they focused on finding individuals who specifically wanted to speak with a pastor, join a Bible study or receive information about becoming a Christian.
“After the first day, we had gathered fourteen positive responses,” said Philip. “That’s more than we had during the entire trip last year. We knew that we were experiencing a miracle from God.” By the end of the two week trip, Harvest International had seventy-five individuals to contact for follow-up.
“Dearborn actually lends itself to reach Muslims in interesting ways,” said the Islamic World Missions director* at Calvary International in Jacksonville, Florida. He participated in a 2005 Philip 8.4.8 outreach in Dearborn. “There’s a broad spectrum of Middle Eastern Muslims within a close proximity, and believers have the freedom to reach them,” he said. “You can go door to door and hand out literature. Those freedoms don’t exist in other nations.”
Since the first Dearborn outreach, Pastor Nicodemus’ ministry has soared. He began networking with other ministries in the region, accepting invitations to speak at various churches and planning a summer internship program which will begin May 2006. He will continue to partner with Philip 8.4.8 for short-term outreaches and is working on a partnership with other organizations like Calvary International, that will send their missionaries to Dearborn before commissioning them to Arabic nations.
Changing Lives for Missions
The Philip 8.4.8 trips have also changed the lives of many teenagers and young adults who have participated. One parent commented that her daughter’s attitude and temper were transformed. Another young adult decided to commit her life to missions work. Two of the youth groups that participated in the first trip to Dearborn have begun witnessing in their respective neighborhoods.
“This trip put a fire under every single person in our youth group,” said Pastor Cory Elliott, youth pastor at Bethel Christian Fellowship in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “It woke us up as a youth group.”
One young woman named Diana said the experience gave her a new boldness to minister to others around her. Growing up during the Civil War in Lebanon, Diana felt bitterness and anger toward Muslims. When she heard about the trip to Dearborn, she didn’t want to go, but felt the Lord wanted her to participate. While there, Diana began to share her experiences with other Lebanese women she met. She connected with several Arabic families and continues to minister to them via email and telephone.
“All these years, I’ve been trying to get people interested in the Middle East,” the Islamic World Missions director with Calvary International said. “When I saw these kids pouring out their hearts to Muslims right here in America, it blessed me to see them have a passion and a heart for the Arab people.”
* Some names have been changed or omitted to protect the identity of persons ministering in regions that are hostile to the gospel.
1. Center for Immigration Studies.
2. Arab American Institute Foundation. Estimates by Zogby International.
3. American Religious Identification Survey. City University of New York Graduate Center.