“I have a confession to give you,” my Yemeni friend told me in his still-improving English. Amir and I were at the local library going through an English as a Second Language (ESL) lesson and practicing some vocabulary. When Amir arrived a few years before, he knew very little English. But since arriving, he worked hard, learned conversational English, became a US citizen, and had just purchased his first home!
“Ok, what’s your confession to me?,” I asked him. He said, “When I first left my country to come to the United States, everyone in my village warned me about people like you.” He continued to tell me that every Friday at the mosque, he would hear sermons about the evil West and the Christians who rule there. Amir was told Americans hate Muslims and, though many Americans are Christians, they don’t really follow Jesus.
However, the opportunity came for him to relocate to the United States, and despite the warnings, he moved over. His confession to me was that when he first came to America, he was skeptical of “people like me.” However, since arriving, he experienced something very different. Sure, there were many people that rejected him, but there were also many Christians who befriended Amir and loved him well. And that day, Amir wanted to say sorry for believing those things about Christians.
Before we left the library, Amir wanted to take a picture together to post on Facebook. Through the magic of Google Translate, I read the post that he tagged me in and he sent out to his friends all over the world, including the Middle East. He said, “I was told to not trust Americans or Christians, that they only want to hurt us. But, it was the Christians that helped me learn English. It was the Christians that helped me become a citizen. It was the Christians who helped me buy a new home. Don’t believe everything you’ve heard! Listen to me. I know that real Christians love others.”
Slowly, I watched comments trickle in. Some agreed with what Amir said, based on their own experiences. Still, others rejected his claims saying Christians were only helping him to convert him or brainwash him. It was beautiful to see Amir engaged with them all. Comment after comment, Amir was speaking of the love of God shown through His church here in Southeast Michigan. God’s famous love was being scattered throughout the world!
We now routinely ask people we meet what they heard about the United States and Christians before they arrived. They all share some similar version of what Amir said. When I consider the number of people God has allowed to resettle in communities around the US, I wonder how many more share the same worries and fears.
I am learning that reaching the diaspora can have an immediate and distant impact. What the church has before us is the opportunity to either fulfill the stereotypes that others say about us, or we can show our immigrant and refugee friends what true, Christian love looks like. Consider this: What if even just one person read Amir’s post and began to believe that maybe not all Christians are bad? The ripple effect could be huge.
What if God has placed diaspora people around us, not only so we can love them well, but, through the help of the Spirit, begin to lay the groundwork for the Gospel in other places and people we do not yet know?