Overcoming cultural, language and ethnic barriers in ministering to strangers in our midst is a two-way street—a point emphasized during the aftermath of the destruction caused by Alabama’s spring tornadoes.

Two weeks after the storms left a mammoth trail of destruction, a Spanish-speaking visitor came to the distribution center opened by Restoration (Huntsville Foursquare Church) in Madison, pastored by Huey Hudson. Very shy, the man said he needed some diapers but refused any other supplies. Before he left, the pastor of Restoration’s Hispanic church talked to the man and discovered he was the pastor of a Hispanic church, with numerous members who needed help.

“One challenge with our Hispanic brothers and sisters has been with them receiving help,” says Pastor Huey. “They’re very skittish and bashful for fear someone might be discovered to be here illegally.”

Which is where God comes in to the picture. After three failed attempts to start a ministry in the past, in February 2010 a man named Carlos Aybar came to Huey and told him God had led him to Restoration to start a ministry to his ethnic group. Today an average of 60 people attend the Sunday morning Hispanic service Carlos leads in the fellowship hall, adding to the congregation’s multi-ethnic flavor.

“He was sent by God,” Huey affirms. “That’s the story of the ministry God has allowed me to see. The common thing we’ve found is that everyone wants to be loved and respected for who they are. That cuts through cultural differences.”

An associate pastor for 17 years before he became Restoration’s leader in 2005, Huey has seen an average attendance of 130 nearly triple the past six years—and a corresponding increase in the number of ethnic groups. He credits a four-point approach in helping to cross cultural barriers:

  • Loving people: “You can’t just tolerate people to be part of your church,” Huey asserts. “In time, they will figure out if they’re being tolerated or truly loved.”
  • Being understanding of differences: During the last presidential election, Huey says he realized he couldn’t publically support a particular candidate because of the differing perspective of his members. Others who love God have different views, he says, and he must respect them.
  • Preaching a kingdom message: This means not aiming sermons in only a certain direction, but being biblical and making sure everyone can grasp the message.
  • Having balanced music: Last year Pastor Huey, who is African-American, met with the two primary worship leaders to caution their music couldn’t be too oriented towards blacks’ preferences (ironically, both musicians are white).

“Something else I’ve learned as a leader is, I have to be strategic in developing the mindset of being a multicultural church,” Huey explains. “Most people come here and think it’s organic, but it’s strategic. It takes strategy in the heart of God and planning to make people feel when they come in that they belong here.”

Meeting Needs

Reaching other cultures takes practical ministry, too. Iglesia Cristiana Remanso De Paz (Warner Robins Hispanic Foursquare Church) in Warner Robins, Ga., seeks to be part of its community by sending teams to hospitals and jails to serve as interpreters for those who don’t speak English. Members work with families needing marital or financial counseling, collect clothing, furniture and other items for the needy, and have volunteered at a homeless shelter and a hospice ministry.

The church also hosts a teen music gathering in the fall called “Under Holy Fire,” enters youth softball and soccer teams in city recreation leagues, and twice a year sponsors a soccer tournament. Pastor Luis Ramirez recently contacted Special Olympics to see if the church can enter a team in its next event.

“There are so many needs,” Luis tells Foursquare.org. “It’s very easy to get in touch with people. They come to you to get help with their needs. We provide spiritual and special services; we don’t limit ourselves to Hispanics.”

Practical ministry is the way to everyone’s heart, regardless of background, says Andy Millar, senior pastor of Light of the Nations (Denver South Foursquare Church) in Colorado. In addition to those of American background, members of his church come from such countries as Nepal, China, Ethiopia, South America and the Middle East.

With an average attendance of 130, the congregation doesn’t have the financial resources to offer ongoing financial assistance. However, Pastor Andy says they don’t want people expecting money, anyway. In the long run, practical ministry is far more helpful than cash.

“We put more effort toward getting people jobs and getting them better jobs,” the pastor says. “It’s personal time and closeness, and the presence of Christians in prayer that matters. The key is being a friend to people. People can tell if you care about them. Doors open up when we show ourselves as loving.”

Healthy Dialogue

One of the keys that will facilitate the body of Christ handling the issue of immigration with care and sensitivity is healthy dialogue. An example of this occurred on September 21, 2011, when the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (also called the Hispanic Evangelical Association) met in Tuscon, Ariz., to discuss issues involved with immigration reform.

Among the many leaders present was Foursquare's own Jim Tolle, senior pastor of La Iglesia En EL Camino in Van Nuys, Calif. During his panel discussion, he presented seven points regarding immigration reform: "Love thy neighbor as thyself; the need for a bi-partisan commission made up of the various realms of societal influence (business, religious, educational); evangelize the evangelicals; agree on getting dialogue in the media about this issue; constant prayer brings change; keep dialogue alive to educate the community; and take the initiative to love those who oppose us."

Conversations such as this will go a long way to bridge the gap between believers here in the U.S. and those who desire to make the U.S. their new home.

You are reading Part 4 of a four-part series.

Read Part 1: “The Church and Immigration”
Read Part 2: “Cultural Differences”
Read Part 3: “Spiritual Blessings”

By: Ken Walker, an award-winning freelance journalist in Huntington, W.V.