The Evangelization Of Foreign-Speaking Immigrants
(Over Against Your Own House) By Osborn S. Davis, DD., New Britain, Connecticut.
'This article is used in The Assembly Herald by the courtesy of The Home Missionary, in which it has just appeared. Dr. Davis is pastor of the South Congregational Church in New Britain, Connecticut.— "a city where four out of every five persona are chldren of foreign born parents.'
Dr. Davis and his church are engaged in practical work for Italians. Armenians. Persians. Greeks and Chinese. He writes. therefore, as one "face to face with the problem"— Editor. I
We must come to close quarters immediately with the theme assigned us, which is a discussion of the specific part to be borne by the individual church in the evangelization of foreign-speaking immigrants.
The churches and the religious press alike. have suddenly attained a "concern" for the foreigner. New England is peculiarly sensitive at this point. Special committees are at work studying the matter; our Horne Missionary Societies are seeking light from every quarter. Individual churches are astir. The theme is vital and timely.
The problem is so vast and so complex that no single agency alone is sufficient to cope with it. The Home Missionary Society cannot fully discharge this obligation; missions manned by converts or by native-born Americans trained abroad for this service are not competent to do the entire work; nor, finally, can the individual church alone meet the demands of the situation.
The work must be done by all these forces in unison. Through every possible agency, we must attack the problem, and our attack must be made with heroic courage, great wisdom and tireless patience.
The Key to the Situation
While it is necessary that we bring into action every force and weapon in our possession, there is always a key to a position and a critical moment in action. These both lie in the power and activity of the individual church. The most effective agency for the evangelization of our immigrant brethren is the local church equipped with its present plant and workers, and adapting its methods to the needs of the field in which it is placed. This is the definite proposition which we shall now endeavor to justify.
Three Preliminary Considerations
Notice at the outset certain facts which the proposition involves:
First. We cannot deal with this question by delegated effort. Equipping a mission and hiring paid workers to conduct it outside the church building is not what I mean by working over against our own house. At times this is necessary and advisable; but I mean. the personal participation in the work by members of the church, the use of the church building, and the direction of the enterprise by the officers of the church.
Second. We cannot cope with this problem by action which is inspired merely by a romantic regard for the picturesque immigrant. Mission work at a distance is always wrapped about in the haze and glamour of dramatic charm. A great deal of this is evanescent. The highest type of neighborliness is when we share our house of worship and serve together in the complex activities of the kingdom. In this abrading process that which in the distance seemed romantic becomes intensely real and human; but it also grows heroic and beautiful. These men and women become friends whom we honor and love.
Third. We must not suffer this work to become a sort of religious fad. There is real danger that it will not go deeper than this. I fear that we shall play with this intensely important matter.
Visits to Ellis Island, reading articles on the Italians and Slays, holding meetings to study comparative race or religious characteristics, all these merely touch the surface of the problem. They are interesting but not vital. The question does not concern our proficiency in Italian art, but cur willingness to teach half a dozen bright Sicilians the rudiments of English and the gospel.
This involves patient, persistent, hard work. It presents annoyance in many ways, and he is a poor pleader for this practical extension of our church work, who either leaves out or glosses over the fact. We must grapple with one of the stubbornest and most perplexing problems that the evangelical churches ever faced; we must sweat blood for the Kingdom of Christ.
We Have the Plant
The first reason why the individual church can do this work is because our churches are already equipped with sufficient buildings. These churches and chapels, closed so much of the time, are simply waiting to have the dead air in them blown out through open doors and windows.
We cross the ocean to visit cathedrals where the humblest Italian peasant could pray, cathedrals beside which our richest churches are cheap and perishing; let us not fear the possible soiling of a carpet or the breaking of a chair if we open our church buildings to this work.
I protest that it is sinful folly to think that we are justified in housing our mission work in barrack-like halls, when our own beautiful churches are closed. Take up the sacred carpets if necessary, but let us use our churches for the service of the Christ to whose glory they were built.
There is no danger of pollution to an open church; a closed church is the easy victim of stagnation and dry rot. It all depends upon the theory we hold concerning the purpose for which our church edifices have been erected. If they are simply for those who have been accustomed to use then, then we may expect a collision of interest, but if our churches have been built and carpeted and decorated for service to the Kingdom of Christ, then we have room enough and to spare.
We Have the Workers
We also have in the individual church enough workers to meet the new demand. Teaching and visiting,—the whole ministering grace of Christian friendship, which is the gist of this service,—can be done and it must be done by the old American for the new American.
We need, of course, leaders who are trained and competent; but every church that faces the problem,—and many a church would be startled to see how closely it faces the problem if only it would open its eyes,—has enough workers with which to begin the new service.
This involves the breaking down of a good many artificial barriers. It means dropping a lot of contemptible terms like "Dago" and "Sheeney" from our vocabulary. I know, however, from practical experience, that there is power enough resident in our Christian Endeavor Societies to set forward a movement among the individual churches that would register a mighty advance in solving our problem. Our reservoirs are not even tapped yet for this service. We have the workers.
We Have the Methods
Every church that is alive is competent to attack this problem, because it already has the methods for successful work. These are not novel. I know of no methods which assure any brilliant success in this kind of work. The problem to which we are setting ourselves is the evangelization of these peoples. the majority of whom have no true conception of the nature of the new life which is established through faith in Christ.
Our message to them is the apostolic message, and it must be conveyed by the apostolic method. That method is clear enough; personal contact, personal service, personal love is the secret of the apostolic way of preaching. I do not believe that there are novel methods which ever will displace these. We must know one another; we must love one another; and when we are doing this for the highest aim and tinder the supreme sanction, that is, for Christ's sake, we have all the method that is necessary to do this new business.
The New Work and the Old
The local church can do the new work and not cripple any of its old activities. It can discharge its duties to the stranger and not neglect its own households. Every society in the church can be maintained and the new work also be done. Indeed. the old activities will renew their strength under the reflex influence of the new endeavors.
No fewer boxes need go to the frontier because the Woman's Home Missionary Society begins to interest itself in the foreign missionary problem now localized at home. No less funds need be sent to the Woman's Boards for work in Turkey because the local church begins to care for the Armenians in its own parish.
If the ministry of the church through its accustomed channels is not deepened and enriched rather than impoverished by the new mission, it will be quite contrary to the experience of the past. We can do all we are doing and more than we are doing; the new service will perfect the old.