Loving the Children of Your Immigrant Friends

By Executive Director John Yoder

In previous blogs, I showed you how to initiate a conversation with someone from another culture and build rapport by asking great questions. These tips are enough to get your relationship with a new immigrant friend off to a solid beginning. In this blog I want to share a key that will move that relationship to the next level: engage their children.

That may sound obvious to you.  You may understand that it’s important, but you may not realize how important it is.  Family is a higher value to global cultures than to American culture.  We Americans have developed the most individualistic culture in history.  We are the “selfie” generation, announcing to everyone on social media the details of our lives.

Most global cultures are more centered around the family.  In recent years, younger Americans have expressed diminishing interest in marriage and children.  Not so with our immigrant populations.  They generally have younger marriages, earlier babies and more babies than Americans.  To them, family is a big deal! 

Asking about children should be one of your first priorities when meeting someone from another culture.  If possible, ask to meet their children.  They may be thrilled to introduce you and tell you all about them.  They will be grateful for any assistance you can give to make their children’s lives better. 

Here are some practical suggestions to win the heart of your immigrant friends through loving their children:

  • If possible, engage your children or friends’ children with them. Children are more fluid than adults in building relationships across language and cultural barriers.
  • Understand that their parents may be bewildered by American homework, teachers, buses, and other aspects of the school system. Do all you can to help them navigate the system.
  • Be alert for any lack of resources their family may have, such as school supplies or food.
  • Those children whose families move often may struggle to open up to anyone. Be especially proactive, kind and understanding with them.
  • Ask children to serve as translators between you and their parents, even if they’re initially hesitant. Encourage whatever skills they’ve developed.  Affirm the value of being a bicultural and bilingual person.
  • One of the greatest resources American churches can provide to their immigrant friends is access to your English-language children’s and youth programming. But you may need to earn the trust of the parents first.  Children are the most prized possession of an immigrant family, and they may be hesitant to hand them over to people of another culture and denomination to “indoctrinate” their children.
  • Encourage youth to befriend one another on social media. There are plenty of bad influences out there.  Point them to edifying relationships and Christian content.

In our final blog in this series, I will share practical steps to engage your church in the lives of your new immigrant friends.