A few decades ago, being interested in other cultures than our own meant one is called to foreign missions. That has changed in the United States. First, demographic change and cultural diversity became more visible in urban areas. Recently, even in more rural communities we hear more languages being spoken. In many of our communities it is like we are experiencing Pentecost every day! A couple of months ago, when I visited some of our churches in Grand Island and Hastings, Neb., to lead Volunteers in Mission (VIM) Team Leader training, I was surprised to see several families from Mexico, El Salvador, South Sudan and a few other countries in the community. By just looking at the map of Nebraska, I would not have thought that these small communities had a significant international population.
My sister-in-law has been teaching English as a Second Language to elementary kids. Karen grew up in a small town, but was interested in learning Spanish, with a desire to travel abroad. After graduating from college, she taught in Lima, Peru, for 15 months before returning to the U.S. where she has been teaching English as a Second Language to non-native English speakers. Karen may have never known that one day she would teach English as a Second Language in a small town, making use of her cultural and linguistic experiences. She is able to relate to and help kids who speak Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Arabic and more.
This is our reality, we are more diverse than one can imagine. The question then is, how do we do ministry in such a global village?
The story is not unique
The story of Grand Island and Hastings, Neb., is repeated over and over in small towns throughout the United States. One does not need to live in New York City to have global neighbors. Karen’s world is not different from ours in the life of the church.
Our mission field and our neighborhoods, have been experiencing change in terms of cultures, races and nation of origins. Some have woken up to some surprises hearing their neighbors speak in tongues! Imagine across from your house, there is a new family who just moved to the U.S. from Iraq; the family speaks Arabic. As you drop your kids at school, another parent drops his two children who were born in Bulgaria and speak Bulgarian. As if this were not enough, down the street, a new grocery store opened; to your surprise it is a Chinese store. What has happened to my neighborhood? Who stole my neighborhood?
These are the new members of our communities. The question for our churches is how do we provide hospitality to our new neighbors? How do we build relationships with persons from different cultural backgrounds?
Our newest neighbors
Today’s multiracial and multicultural communities call for church leaders who understand global realities. What was once a homogeneous local community has been slowly changing. However, the demographic changes facing the church today are not new; in the book of Acts we read similar challenges with which the church struggled. The early church was comprised primarily of Jewish congregants, but wanted to bring the gentiles (non-Jews) to Christ. They struggled to be a new faith community for all people, including the gentiles. The church needed leaders who understood both the Jewish cultures and the gentile cultures. Paul and Barnabas were Jewish converts to Christianity and God placed on their hearts a special call to become missionaries to the Gentile communities. Paul used his identity as both a Jew and a Roman citizen to his advantage in his ministry, using his cultural competency to connect with more people and share the gospel of Christ.
In this time of change when the global village is at our doorstep, where are the Pauls and Barnabas’ of our time?
Kalaba Chali (Chali), Mercy and Justice coordinator