HomeBibles in Your LanguageSite Map

Challenges of the Ethnic Millennium
Excerpts from a speech presented by Dr. Russell Begaye at the Ethnic America Network conference in 1999.

In the early history of the United States, immigrants came for religious freedom and an opportunity to build without governmental interventions. These early European ethnic groups built on European culture to create a new nation that catered to their needs.

The cultural distinctives of other ethnic groups that followed were largely ignored, including that of the people native to this land. Up to the middle of this century, the dominant culture could ignore these ethnic groups and view this country as homogenous, though it never was. But these groups can no longer be ignored.

We are caught up in a powerful culture shift, the dawning of the "Ethnic Millennium." In the past twenty years we have moved from Ozzie and Harriet to the Cosbys, from Walter Cronkite to Connie Chung, from Chevrolet to Honda, from Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods.

The change is reflected in our "All-American diet." In addition to the classic burger and fries, McDonald's now offers burritos for breakfast, sushi for lunch, and Szechuan chicken for dinner.

Today salsa outsells ketchup by $40 million annually in the U.S. market. The torilla chip is now consumed by 60 percent of all U.S. households.

The 1990 census recorded the largest number of foreign-born persons in the history of the United States. They number 19.8 million or 7.9 percent of the total population. From 1820 to 1970, of the nearly 42 million people who immigrated to the United States, 34 million were Europeans. From 1970 to 1999, however, 97 percent of immigrants coming to the United States came from non-European countries; most of them from Latin America and Asia.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 1980's represented the largest population change in this century. One out of every four Americans now claim African, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American ancestry. This is compared to one in five in the 1980 census.

In the 1990's, the Hispanic population increased by 35%, reaching 30 million. At this growth rate, the Hispanic population will increase to 39 million by 2010, surpassing the African-American population. The Asian population now number 7.3 million and are expected to grow to 22 million by 2020.

This phenomenal growth is undergirded by the youth of these ethnic groups. The median age of Anglo Americans is now 33 years of age. Compare that to Native Americans with a median age of 22.7; the Hispanics, 25.6; and the Asians, 27.

These ethnic groups are living the "American dream," and they are educated and prosperous. Asian-Americans have the highest median income in the United States at $42,250. Thirty-nine percent of Asian-Americans have college degrees, almost twice the proportion for Anglos at 22 percent.

The most dramatic population shift is occurring in the mega cities of America. Los Angeles has the second largest population of Filipinos, Koreans, Mexicans, and Salvadorans of any city in the world. Along with these groups are large numbers of Chinese, Ethiopians, Asian Indians, Indonesians, Iranians, Pacific Islanders, Druze, Tamils, and Vietnamese. More than 80 languages are spoken daily in Los Angles, where the ethnics now outnumber the Anglos.

In cities like San Francisco and New York, a Chinese person can go to school, marry, and live almost their entire lives without speaking to a non-Chinese. Among Asians, 87 percent prefer speaking their native language at home. Eighty-three percent of Hispanics speak Spanish at home.

According to Business Week, without these new immigrants America's 10 largest cities would have shrunk by 6.8 percent in the 1980s. Instead, with the influx of these immigrants they grew by 4.7 percent. They are rebuilding the inner-cities of America.

The new immigrants are diverse and educated, with an aggressive entrepreneurial spirit that is reshaping America. Many of them start businesses and create job for native-born Americans. Though they receive nearly $5 billion a year in welfare payments, their payment of $100 billion in taxes annually more than covers this amount.

In 1991, 37 percent of doctorates given in science were given to immigrants. Fifty-one percent of computer science doctorates went to foreign-born students.

Companies are just beginning to realize that the most profitable market today is the ethnic market. The current purchasing power of African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics has been estimated at $500 billion.

In 1993, companies like Proctor & Gamble, Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola spent $734 million promoting their goods to the Hispanic market.

Estee Lauder has a successful line of All Skins cosmetics targeted to ethnic women.

Chemical Bank has installed Russian-langugage automated teller machines in areas like Brooklyn where most Russians are immigrating.

In California, Vons Supermarkets developed a separate chain to cater specifically to Hispanics.

Hospitals, like the Samaritan Hospital near Hollywood, now serve kimchi to their Korean patients and bean curd to Chinese patients.

Bandages now come in shades of brown as well as pink. Even Crayola has introduced a box of skin-tone crayons in shades far more diverse than the pink "flesh" shade of the 1950s.

It is estimated that by 2010 nearly 35 million people in America will be foreign-born. These foreign-born Americans and their children are shaping the "Ethnic Millennium" and changing America through their hidden but thriving market power. Companies or organizations that ignore their power will be left behind.

Successful organizations are adapting the adage, "Know thy market." Technology has made it possible to locate and analyze the various ethnic populations. Identifying cultural differences among various groups (and subgroups) makes it possible to design products that are culturally relevant and tailored to their individual interests and needs. Taking the care to understand each group, helps the organization to avoid inadvertent or careless mistakes that may offend the various segments.

The church needs have the same wisdom as businesses in addressing these important groups. Just like successful businesses, we need to research the demographics, lifestyles and interests of the groups we want to reach. We need to go among the people, to make our message culturally relevant. Most important, we must raise up, equip, and empower leader from the ethnic harvest. Pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders must play the role of mentors.

Today, too many ministry strategies are still being designed with no grassroots input. Too many administrative decisions are being made without any knowledge of how they impact the local church or ethnic communities. Too often, we are still trying to fit the ethnic groups we reach into one massive program after another. We must be wiser, tailoring our programs, materials and approaches to the heart of the people we want to reach.

We need to develop new approaches to information gathering, so we can better understand cultural issues of language, religion, family patterns, gender roles, education and aspiration which affect congregationalizing of ethnic people groups.

The challenge for the church and parachurch organizations in the "Ethnic Millennium" is to:

If we are successful, we will learn who the ethnics are and what they are seeking. We will introduce them to Christ and bring them into His church with culturally relevant programs and materials.

If we fail to appropriately address these issues, the denominations and parachurches will become more exclusive and more "white". We will quickly become a remnant of what we once were rather than being a mighty instrument of God in the coming century. We will move from being the senders to the receivers of foreign mission enterprises. We will become a minority in a nation of Muslim, Hindi, Buddhist, and New Age religions.

I challenge you as leaders whom God has positioned to impact ethnic communities to lead the Christian community to impact the Ethnic Millennium. In answering the question, "Where do we begin?" I would offer the following.

First, we must work together. No single Christian organization can evangelize and resource the over 800 ethnic groups that have made America their home. We must passionately seek ways to collaborate without losing our distinctiveness. We can work together to gather data, identify cultural distinctives, and create models of effective church planting, church growth and evangelism.

Second, we need to work to make our Christian organizations sensitive to the ethnic millennium. Our leaders need the vision and facts which will lead their organizations to network with ethnic leaders, hire ethnics for upper-management positions, and assist in the development of ethnic churches and parachurch associations. Our colleges and seminaries need to broaden their curriculum and expand degree programs with offerings in multiple languages and diverse cultural settings.

Our leaders must have a new focus and appreciation for the strategic value of ministries working to resettle refugees, work with international students, and minister to Muslims, Native Americans, and other ethnic groups. These are bold steps but society is changing and Christian leaders must rise to the challenge.

"Foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve Him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship Him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to My covenant, these I will bring to My holy mountain and give them joy in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations."
    - Isaiah 56:6-7

This article is exerpted from a speech by Dr. Russell Begaye at the Mission America conference on Ethnic Diversity, held in 1999 in Atlanta.

* Back to Ethnic Harvest site map

Copyright © 2015 Ethnic Harvest. All rights reserved.