A chance like no other
In today’s UK we are faced with an unprecedented situation in terms of the numbers of internationals living in our country. The 2011 census revealed that the percentage of the population born overseas now tops 10%. Net migration to the UK has never been higher than in these early decades of the 21st Century and the ONS (Office of National Statistics) predicts that this influx will fuel a 15% population growth over the next 25 years. Already in many towns there are scores of languages represented in our primary schools, sometimes over a hundred!
Some long term UK residents consider this merely to be a problem; a threat to jobs, to British heritage and the economy. In surveys, immigration consistently presents as one of the political hot potatoes and the Brexit vote brought many of those concerns to a head. For Christians, however, there are other lenses through which to view immigration. Our universal God has always been the Lord of the nations (Psalm 22:28) and according to his sovereign will do they ‘live move and have their being’ (Acts 17:26-28). If the increased movement of the nations is a threat it is also a gospel opportunity.
In the past British Christians had to cross oceans to obey Christ’s Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) but immigration has meant that these days to ‘make disciples of all nations’ we might only have to cross the road. Furthermore, many of the people who arrive in the UK come from countries in which they might never have met a Christian and heard the gospel.
A chance to help
As well as having what everyone needs (the gospel) we also happen to have what everyone wants (the English language).
Significant numbers of people coming to the UK do not have enough English to function adequately. They may be refugees driven from their country without a chance to prepare, women deemed too unimportant to be educated or manual labourers who only haven’t had the chance to learn. What unites them all is that they miss out on a great deal of what our country has to offer.
As native English speakers, it is hard to appreciate what a handicap this is, the barrier it presents to forming relationships with locals, to getting a job suited to your talents and even to things as seemingly simple to getting public transport. The Bible is very clear about our obligation to help those who are in need (Gal 6:10). With 2:19 support and through Bridges ESL provision your church is able to make a real difference in these people’s lives. Bridges classes have enabled many of students to break through the language barrier and achieve previously unreachable things. Read some of their stories.
A chance to learn
At 2:19 we don’t view the international community merely as a project in need of help, but as an exciting group of people from whom we have much to learn. Paul’s metaphor of a body made up of different parts reminds us that God’s church is at its most vital and active when made up of a wide variety of people with different giftings, backgrounds and personalities. That best reflects the unity in diversity that Paul describes in Ephesians 2:19-22, where God is building people from different backgrounds into a new family, a new household, a new nation a holy temple.
By resisting the variety other perspectives bring, churches in the UK may run the risk of becoming stale through wilful homogeneity – nobody to remind us how truly global the church is and no-one to challenge our blind spots. Conversely, by embracing the perspectives, ideas and traditions that believers from other nations can bring we can glimpse and anticipate the multi-cultural worshipping crowd that John saw in his Revelation (Rev 7:7).