Multi-Cultural: And Loving It!

A wise friend of mine once told me that every church offers something different. Some churches are “praying” churches, others are “singing” churches, others are “doctrinally solid” churches. Well, church here is a “we love Jesus” church.

Imagine a room (fancy ball-room style with diamond chandeliers and all hanging from the ceiling) filled with over 300 people from more than 150 different countries. You heard me. 150 different countries. There are people from Germany and Namibia, Hong Kong and Lesotho. Name an African country–and there’s probably someone who’s from there.

But it’s not just the multi-cultural aspect that’s amazing. What’s truly amazing–almost miraculous, you might say–is that anyone is welcome at this church. It’s not restricted to the 12-kids-and-a-15-passenger-van crowd (thankfully, because few expats actually own a vehicle here), nor is it restricted to those who only believe a certain way about “tolerance.” Whether you’re white or black, married or single, have many children or no children, certain of your faith or seeking to understand it, this church will welcome you, because it’s focused on something far more important than outward appearances: Jesus Christ.

This church truly loves Jesus. Its focus is not on convincing everyone that infant baptism should always or never be practiced or that Catholics are always wrong about everything or that homeschooling is bad or homeschooling is good. Because really, those things don’t truly matter in light of who Jesus Christ is and the message he came to bring the world. When so many different nations and cultures and people are represented, it’s impossible to fit them all into one small box. “Reformed” or “Baptist” or “Pentecostal” or “Presbyterian” are simply ways of showing how we’re different from all the other Christians out there. Before we’ve even noticed, we’ve formed an “in-group out-group” mentality.

Christianity in America is full of fears. Fear of the unknown, of the liberal, of the world–and even of fellow Christians.

Yet Christianity in America has nothing real to fear. No one knocks on our doors in the middle of the night to take us away; no one breaks up our worship services or requires us to be ID’d at the door. Here in China, those things still happen (though, thankfully, with ever-decreasing frequency). Native Chinese cannot attend this international church, by order of the government. And that’s hard, and that’s wrong.

Yet Americans act as if those things exist for them. As if one person saying “Happy Holidays” is going to change Christianity to dust. As if everything that is different is also wrong, no matter how insignificant.  As if every difference will eat away at their personal foundation. They affirm truth, but are the first to doubt their own truth.

Truth is powerful. Truth speaks. Instead of worrying whether we’ll be subverted into wearing skirts that go 1/2 an inch above the knee or believing that maybe public schools really aren’t the worst things ever, maybe we as Christians should be bold. It’s time to start believing in the unity of the body of Christ, time to see that Christ’s death and resurrection is far more important than some artificial point about theology. Yes, theology matters. But love for your fellow Christians matters more. This, after all, is what St. Paul was telling the Corinthians: knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1st Corinthians 8:1).

Christians, among all others, need to be open to other people, to actually hear what they have to say. If you know you have the truth, why not be open to hearing someone else’s viewpoint? Truth isn’t fragile. It won’t crumble at the first sign of attack. It won’t disappear if it hears a falsehood.

So I’m thankful that this church is free from fear that someone will walk in the door who will subvert the church by eating out on a Sunday. I’m thankful that I get this opportunity to worship with so many from different backgrounds and cultures and denominations. And most of all, I’m thankful that I’m given this chance to love my Savior more.

 

An Open Letter to the Recently Engaged

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Pretty much what our entire engagement looked like, when we weren’t in two different states.

And since I mean everyone (there have been at least seven engagements in the past three weeks), I thought I’d just post it here.

Dear newly-engaged-people,

I’m not sure I ever really said congratulations on your news, so I’ll say it now, even though you’re probably ready to tell the next person who says it to you to go jump in a lake. Don’t worry–the well-wishes die down after about a year of marriage. Though they’ll probably start again around the time you have your first child or so, though I’m not an expert at THAT phase of life just yet. So anyways, congratulations!

I’m happy for you both as you start this next phase of your life together, and I hope you’ll be able to keep your sanity together as you finish your next semester of school, plan a wedding, and plan a life together. Engagement is a hard time of life (or at least it was for me), since you’re transitioning from one life to another and don’t really belong in either anymore. I think the best word to describe it is tension, because you’re being pulled by your old familiar life as a daughter and a sister and a friend, and you want to keep those relationships, of course. But at the same time, you are starting a new relationship and defining yourself in a new way in relation to a new person, which means you have to grow immensely in ways you never imagined you would.

I don’t know whether you spent much time daydreaming when you were younger about what it would be like to be engaged or married–but it’s not really much like the daydreams. Of course there are those thrilling moments, but then there are a lot more moments of just life, when you have a headache and school to do and you wish he would just go away and let you do it, or when you have to talk, again, about mundane details of your wedding that you really don’t care about but SOMEONE has to think about them.

Sometimes you’ll get tired of kissing and always wanting physical affection–and sometimes you’ll long for it but will be far apart (though not SO far apart for you two as it was for Jared and me!). And always there will be a core of dissonance at the center of your being as the thing which you’re preparing for is not what you are now.

It’s times like these that enable God to show us what his kingdom will be like and what we, here on earth, are supposed to feel as we prepare for heaven. It’s times like these that make “the bride of Christ” such a powerful image, as you, preparing to be an earthly bride, more fully know what the longing for another person, for no longer being single, is.  Don’t lose sight of that understanding.

I love you, dear friend, and I’m excited to share in this new season of life with you, even though I’m far away. Stay strong!

Your friend,

Annika