The Immigration Table

I recently had the opportunity to write an article for some work we did at the Leadership Network in Dallas TX.  The following article is the fruit of that opportunity.  To see the article in it’s original form, please visit


One of the values we hold most dear in the church is the value of missions. We love the Great Commission…at a minimum the idea of the Great Commission. It affirms our sense of having something of eternal value that others need. But too often, as we try to accomplish this amazing commission, we find failure, and frustration. Some of that frustration comes from our lack of cultural intelligence on how to bring a gospel to people who are different than we are.

Here in Calgary we have nearly 30,000 new neighbours arriving every year from different countries around the world. That’s 82 people from different cultures arriving in Calgary every day. But we as Canadians should be used to that. One in every five Canadians has been born in a different country. Arriving from the Philippines, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, South Korea, Colombia, Mexico, etc., these people have come to Canada seeking a better life. But perhaps God is bringing them here for a greater purpose.

Centre Street Church has been committed to global missions for many years. Our people have been very generous in getting the gospel to the ends of the earth. One of our expressions of mission of Centre Street is the short-term mission trip. This has been our historical approach to bringing the gospel in word and deed to people God sends us to. But here’s what we’ve noticed recently; the countries that we have been going to have actually been sending their people to Canada and into our neighbourhoods. So how should this inform our global missions strategy?

Pre-trip, on-site, post-trip

Each short-term mission trip has three distinct phases: pre-trip, on-site, and post-trip. Historically in the pre-trip phase we do our best to prepare eager Christians for the adventure of living out the gospel through passionate witness and compassionate deeds to the people in a different culture. When they return we debrief our people and help them find new areas of missional effectiveness right here in Calgary.

What could happen if we looked at this pattern through the eyes of immigration? Where do immigration and short-term missions collide? Right around the table!

Immigration + Short-term Missions = The Immigration Table

I’ve never known people from any culture who didn’t love to eat. And when people entertain there are very often three distinct parts of meal; the appetizers, the main course, and the dessert. We all like to nibble at first, and then dig in for the main course. Then a great dessert is the treat that can make or break the experience. What if we used this pattern to increase the value of our short-term missions trips?

Pre-trip – Appetizers

What if the appetizer is developing our short-term trips around the cultures in our neighbourhood? What if our pre-trip preparation involved building relationships with people from the countries we were going to? Rather than sitting in class taking notes we could sit around the table of our new neighbour’s favourite restaurant. We are learners and students…not experts and know-it-alls! Our neighbours can tell us what we need to know about their countries. If we ask them they can prepare us for our trips by teaching us a bit of the local language, social customs, greatest aspirations and needs of their countrymen. What a great appetizer before the meal! We have a friendship we can take abroad. Who knows? Maybe our neighbour would like to join us as our cultural guide. Like an amuse bouche, it awakens our taste buds for the possibilities of what’s coming.

On-site – The Main Course

When we finally visit the people of our immigrant neighbour’s home country, we are so excited to continue to learn about the history and culture of these people. We don’t view their culture as an obstacle to the gospel but as a home delivery system. It’s the culture itself that can become the medium for grace. We tell our new friends about Farshid and Bijon back home. Sitting around the table with new friends talking about old friends. We share a common table in a foreign land. We talk about our family, our passions, our beliefs, our dreams and our struggles. Surprisingly we share so much in common. Talking with strangers about the gospel is difficult. Talking with friends is easier…especially after we’ve listened well.

Post-trip – Dessert

Oh, do I love dessert. After a wonderful feast, a great dessert seals the deal. Without dessert something is missing. But a great dessert creates a great memory and a desire to do it all over again. This is what happens with a great post-trip dessert. When we return home from our time of travel and service, what better opportunity could we have than to sit down at the table with our neighbour and share our experiences we had in his country? We validate of our new friend’s history and memories, and this gives us a chance to build trust with them. This experience increasingly moves us from short-term missions to long-term relationships.

From short-term missions to long-term relationships

Perhaps with globalization, we can move away from the fear we so often have of losing our culture and move towards gratefulness for the fulfilling of the Great Commission. For years and years, we have pleaded with the Lord to bring us to the people in this world. But while we were praying with our eyes closed, God distributed those from his world all around his global bride so that our rhythms of life could be a testimony of his grace and his son right across the street. It’s a new beat, with an everlasting song.