Mark Simon with Louisa Afful, Sarah Hornidge and Kate Shrestha (Anglicare Sydney)
Mark Simon: All three of you are involved in cross cultural ministry through Anglicare. What are your particular roles?
Sarah Hornidge: I'm the Western Region crosscultural advisor. I support English as a Second Language (ESL) ministries in Western Sydney. Our team serves 100 church-based ESL classes through training, writing of resources, ongoing support for volunteers, and leading some classes myself.
Louisa Afful: As the Program Manager – Cross Cultural Services, I lead a team of eight Anglicare workers like Sarah active across all regions of Sydney and Wollongong in ESL ministry. We are also developing new initiatives to equip and support churches to widen their cross-cultural outreach beyond ESL with activities like cultural awareness training. The purpose of the team is to inspire, equip and support local churches as they reach out and respond practically to their multi-cultural communities and under God make Jesus known.
Kate Shrestha: I work in our church partnership team focused on Southwest Sydney, which is a very multicultural area. I work at building connections between churches and Anglicare, so that services like our mobile food pantry and family support programs are widely available.
Mark: What are some of the ways that churches you work with are reaching out to migrant and refugee communities?
Sarah: Church-based English teaching is reaching hundreds of people every week. Volunteers set aside lots of time to prepare and teach lessons that often include Bible segments. But it really goes much further. The volunteers are often developing relationships that go beyond the classroom: they're building friendships with migrants and refugees who participate in the classes. They're regularly acting as cultural guides – helping people to understand life in Australia and how to operate in the Australian community. These volunteers often welcome migrants and refugees into their family, having meals together and becoming an 'auntie' or 'grandma' to an extended family group. It's an opportunity for them to show Jesus' love to these migrants and refugees who come into the English classroom.
Kate: Churches are being very creative in how they express the gospel through local community activities. Playgroups, for example, help churches build strong connections into their community. These reach people who are often quite isolated in their parenting, and playgroup can be a springboard that leads to other practical expressions of care like parenting classes or help with preparing for job interviews. Another way we reach migrant and refugee communities is with our mobile community pantry. Fifty churches are currently involved in this scheme where once a fortnight the church hosts a morning or afternoon tea, spends time chatting with those who come, and then providing low-cost groceries through the Anglicare van.
This Christmas we were able to work with a number of churches to help refine what kind of Christmas hampers to provide to their local community. A couple of churches are in an area where the hampers would predominantly go to Muslim families. They researched the target demographic and decided on halal hampers, as a culturally-relevant gift to meet the actual needs of those who received them. The hampers were packed by partner churches outside the area. Anglicare provided resources on ministry to Muslims so that packing hampers became a training opportunity in those partner churches.
Mark: What kind of training or support is useful for Christians to be effective in cross-cultural outreach?
Sarah: In the context of English teaching, we run a six week course. The middle four weeks are on the specifics of the English language curriculum, but we open with a focus on culture and how to engage sensitively with people from other cultures. The crux of that is to listen and suspend judgment; to be reflective and patient. We listen in order to understand differences, which are not right or wrong, just different, arising from a different worldview. We want to see volunteers caring for the whole person: not just the student that is sitting in your classroom, but someone with a family and community context, so we may connect them with other Anglicare services like food support or counselling or youth support services. At several points in the training, we consider how to share the gospel effectively with simple Bible stories about things Jesus said or did in ways that might be sensitive, and also understandable for people. We consider how some parts of the Bible may be more suitable depending on the person's cultural background.
Mark: Moving beyond ESL, what are some new areas you're exploring?
Kate: We want to support a wider group of church members including playgroups and food ministries in cross-cultural awareness and cross-cultural relational evangelism. That's why we are currently developing some new programs in partnership with CMS Australia which will help equip lay people with greater sensitivity to cultural dynamics. I also see the need for ministry training to have a stronger focus on the cross-cultural setting that characterises most churches in the growth regions of Sydney.
Mark: If a migrant or refugee comes to faith, what are some important next steps for their church?
Sarah: Community is really important. When someone from another culture engages with the gospel and by God's grace comes to faith, it can be a really hard journey. They may get isolated from the very small community that they have in Australia. So the church really needs to step up and provide warm and extensive community for somebody in that situation. They will need much more than one Sunday meeting a week, and more than teaching doctrine; the church members really need to think about how to include someone like that into their family, and provide a lot of support. Expect that it will be complicated, perhaps bumpy, and it's a long term kind of support that's going to be needed for somebody in that context.
Mark: If a church wants to start an ESL-based community outreach, how could they begin?
Sarah: Start with prayer, and with a really clear idea of why you're doing it. If your intent is gospel witness, then keep that front and centre as you make your practical decisions about 'who, what and how.' Gather a team that shares this vision. The ministry needs loving helpers who have time and inclination to care for the language students. This is a relational evangelism strategy, where the kindness of Christian people leads people towards Christian faith for themselves.
Get support from Anglicare Sydney or other existing English teaching ministries active in your area. Anglicare Sydney provides a lot of resources so that your team can focus on the relational aspects of the ministry: connecting with people, facilitating relationship-building with believers, and helping migrants and refugees to meet Jesus.
Louisa: It is also vital that English teaching as outreach aligns with the mission and vision of the church. For its long-term sustainability the leadership team of the church needs to whole-heartedly support this ministry too. The presence of the church minister at key English class events communicates to cultures that respect community leaders: 'having the church leader know me and talk to me makes me feel strongly towards the church'.
Mark: How can the gospel impact of ESL ministry be maximised?
Louisa: If possible, the ministry needs an adjacent Bible content class, either on the same day before or after the class or on a different day where students can explicitly learn about Bible content. This is direct evangelism that could be exploring gospel presentations but is just as effective if it explores Bible content and the gospel is introduced over time as scripture is explored.
The class needs to have a Bible spot. This is a 5-30 minute Bible reading (distinct from a Bible study because it is normally without personal application of the content). This is a 'drip feed' evangelism strategy. That is, as students are exposed to different aspects of Christian content each week, over the course of many weeks of attendance they will gain a clear understanding of Christian teaching.
It helps if there are events for the students to showcase themselves and/or their culture. This is part of the relational strategy where students and the culture where they are from are celebrated and delighted in, showing that the church deeply values who they are. We've documented these, and other ideas, in our own Practice Guide, which our team seeks to follow.
Mark: For readers of Essentials who aren't in the Sydney region, where could they go for resources?
Louisa: Our team in Anglicare Sydney never turns anyone away! One of the unexpected blessings of COVID is that we have moved most of our work online, which means that anyone and everyone can join us. We are supporting non-Anglican churches and churches all around Australia. The resources we produce are free for anyone to download through this link:
We've also been partnering with the Bible Society over the last two years to produce new resources for migrants and refugees and those ministering to them, such as Easy English Bibles and Bible study resources. https://www.biblesociety.org.au/english-for-life/
Mark: Any closing thoughts?
Kate: Cross-cultural ministry used to be thought of as the domain of a small number of specialists serving isolated pockets of immigrant population in big cities. But that's no longer true. The majority of churches now have multicultural communities on their doorstep, so their ministry is increasingly needing to be multicultural. Multicultural ministry, distinct from ethnic-specific ministry, is complex. There are some challenges, but a lot of joy and richness. It is such a beautiful picture of the kingdom of God, that the hard work volunteers and churches put into reaching out cross-culturally is absolutely worth it for the gospel fruit.
Louisa: In our work it's very evident that most churches and Christians have the heart to welcome multicultural communities into their church community. What limits them is not knowing where to start or what to do. But we don't need to start with something grand. Sometimes it's about the little things, like adding a welcome sign in the language spoken by people moving into your local area. Even a little step like that can build a bridge for the gospel.
Sarah: It is a really exciting time to be in Sydney. We have people from all these nations that are in our city, and many of them are eager to come into our churches to meet with Christians to do simple English classes and then have simple English stories about Jesus. It's amazing that people are willing to do that, and a privilege to be able to make the most of it.