New South demographics

It’s hard to share the gospel if you don’t know how to say “hola.”

By John Chandler

I grew up in Greensboro, N.C., in a neighborhood that occasionally welcomed “exotic” newcomers. Our city was home to several large corporations, and middle management job transfers sometimes brought families from faraway places to our neighborhood. On my school bus were classmates who were third-generation German, Polish and Swedish. “You’re not from around here, are you?” said we friendly Southerners.

Well, look around, and this is not so exotic anymore. A University of Virginia demographics research group recently released a report showing that Virginia’s foreign-born population has grown from one in 100 in 1970 to one in nine in 2012. This foreign-born population now comprises 15 percent of the state’s workforce. The report suggests that the main driver for this immigration is the prospect of prosperous employment.

Furthermore, the countries of birth are far more diverse today than they were during my childhood. The boats no longer come from Europe. Forty-two percent of Virginia’s immigrants come from Asia and 35 percent from Latin America. Habla usted espanol? Nagsasalita ba kayo ng Tagalog?

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority – 70 percent – of foreign-born Virginians live in Northern Virginia. Twenty percent more are equally divided between the Hampton Roads and Richmond areas. The immigration patterns are a vastly urban phenomenon. If you don’t live in an urban area, you might be insulated from this trend — but only for a time. One-fifth of children under age 19 who were born in Virginia have at least one parent who was born outside of the United States. That number is rising rapidly. The future face of Virginia looks a lot less like the faces of my 1970s Greensboro neighborhood.

What to do? Well, as my pastor Winn Collier suggests, it’s hard to love your neighbor if you have no idea who your neighbor is. I’m trying to learn Spanish, in part because El Salvador is the top country of birth for immigrants in Virginia (followed by India, Mexico, the Philippines and South Korea). It’s hard to share the gospel if you don’t know how to say “hola.”

I also hope that many churches will join the trend of starting or hosting language congregations. It is not only a gesture of hospitality, but a practice that will give you a dress rehearsal for heaven. After all, the Kingdom of God will one day feature “saints from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) gathered in worship around the throne and Lamb. It might be good to practice that a bit before we get there.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.