Do We Miss the Opportunities Right in Front of Us?
The other day, while studying for the classes I regularly teach on Wednesdays, a young man with a strong Middle Eastern accent came into the building. He asked me for water—or at least I thought he did. When I offered him a bottle of water, I learned he wanted holy water. In 51 years of life I have never had anyone ask me for holy water! The only thing I could think to do was to suggest he go to the Catholic church for holy water. After I gave him directions, he left and I stood there in disbelief. As I sat back down at my desk, I realized I had lost an opportunity to engage the young man about Jesus Christ. I was not taking advantage of the opportunity to share the gospel (Col. 4:5).
As I resumed my studies, I heard the door open again and saw one of our members coming in with her material for our new English as a Second Language class. This class started a few weeks ago with two young ladies who wanted to improve their language skills and their knowledge of the Bible, and the class has already grown to six ladies and their children. As these ladies came in I realized that our congregation had to seize this opportunity that was before us to share the gospel. Two of these ladies had been baptized in the fall of 2018, while the rest are not Christians. All of these women have husbands and children, none of whom are Christians either. So we decided to start this class several weeks ago in order to meet a need in our congregation and to use it as an outreach to the lost in our community.
Over the last seven-and-a-half years, our congregation in Memphis has tried various ways to reach our community for Christ. We have had gospel meetings, marriage seminars, work projects for community members, VBS, clothing giveaways, Christmas gift giveaways to the underprivileged kids in town, school supply giveaways, and Thanksgiving basket giveaways to needy families. All of these events have shown the community of Memphis that we care about them, but we have had little success in winning souls to Christ. We have worked hard to meet the needs of our community, but we were missing something important; our outreach was so broad in scope that we missed meeting the needs of specific people who were right in front of us. We needed a push in the right direction to find a way to be successful in our outreach.
The push we needed happened in the fall of 2018 when Chris Swinford and Luis Melendez of Sunset International Bible Institute (SIBI) challenged us to reach out specifically to the Hispanic community in Memphis. With approximately 2,300 residents in Memphis, over 53% are Hispanic. Memphis ISD has approximately 490 students in our school district and 61% of them are Hispanic. We had never thought about specifically trying to reach our Hispanic friends and neighbors, but that made a lot of sense to our congregation’s leadership. We made a list of Hispanic people with whom we already had a relationship, then visited with them to ask about having a Bible study. We asked Luis Melendez to help us in this work so we could bridge the language barrier with some of our Hispanic neighbors. Over the last few months we have baptized seven Hispanic people and continue to have Bible studies with others.
As we have discussed and prayed for this new work we realized we needed help with how to make this effort a success over the long haul. SIBI sent two instructors to Memphis to teach us, guide us, and empower us to work with our Hispanic population. They asked us numerous important questions that we had never considered. They also gave us important information we needed to know about Spanish culture, working through the language barrier, making this work sustainable, and meeting specific needs among the Hispanic people we were trying to reach with the gospel. Their help has been invaluable. We have learned four important lessons along the way that have helped us establish and sustain this outreach to our Hispanic neighbors:
Our Hispanic neighbors are largely unchurched and are willing to hear the gospel.
Language and culture can be overcome by the truth of God’s word shared in love.
Meeting the specific needs of our Hispanic neighbors opens the door for the gospel to be shared.
Family is very important in the Hispanic culture, so it’s important to help them feel like they are a vital part of our church family.
I challenge you to look around and make the most of the opportunities that come your way. In many parts of our country, I believe that means we must reach out to our Hispanic neighbors and friends.