Where I grew up (the northeast Georgia mountains), there was not very much diversity, however you would like to define it. The county was pretty close to 100% Caucasian, and at the time, there were not all that many residents who could not trace their roots back to some of the earliest settlers of the area. This lack of diversity, sadly, often led to ideas and perspectives that viewed some people as being less, based on nothing more than their ethnicity. Today, despite the increased population of the county, census estimates for 2017 suggest that the county remains 97.7% Caucasian. Many of my peers (not to mention those who were in older age groups) harbored prejudiced – at best –attitudes towards those of various other ethnic backgrounds. As my age cohort grew up, however, and moved into other areas, they began to interact with a more diverse group of people and discovered that many of their preconceived notions were false (some did not, unfortunately). I always found their attitudes curious, since many of them had never had any meaningful interactions with people who were different from themselves, so their prejudices were almost entirely based on attitudes that were passed down to them from their parents, grandparents, and beyond.
This past week, I had the blessing of engaging with brothers from two different ethnic groups. Earlier, Pastor David Pau of Zomi Baptist Church here in Battle Creek (they meet in the same building as Level Park Baptist Church and have a co-ownership agreement there) shared with me that Zomi is hosting a couple of events/seminars for the Burmese people: 1) Christianity and human rights and 2) diabetes prevention and management. Pastor Pau had two old friends who were experts in both of these fields back in Myanmar (Burma) and wanted to bring them over for these events. To help facilitate their travel, he asked if I could write a letter to the American consulate in Rangoon on his behalf. On Monday morning, he and I sat down to fellowship and hammer out those letters. I was privileged to be able to assist in seeing the body of Christ encouraged and equipped by supporting two brothers’ efforts to come here to the US for these conferences. They will bring perspectives on the issue that speak directly to our Burmese brothers and sisters.
Then, on Tuesday, I was blessed to meeting with Pastor Sam and Deacon Song from New Hope Baptist Church in East Lansing, Michigan. This Korean church has expressed their desire to affiliate with our state convention of churches. I am currently serving as the chair of the Credentials Committee, so I, along with another member of that committee, met with our brothers to discuss in more detail what being a part of the Southern Baptist Convention is all about. New Hope is a mission-minded church that is already supporting a number of international missionaries, some of which are in places that cannot be discussed. Their desire was not to be just a church “on paper” for statistical purposes; they wanted to be active in denominational life for the glory of God! Their congregational dynamics were constantly changing every few years because of being in a university city, but they embrace that and minister to those God brings to them. It was exciting to hear and see their perspectives!
Diversity can be challenging and, to be honest, a little scary. Different cultures have different perspectives, customs, foods, and traditions – and sometimes, they can be so different that they are overwhelming. Yet if we allow our fear of the different to keep us apart, we miss out on some of the tremendous work that the Lord is doing. The Lord is bringing the nations to us. Are we willing to put aside our uncomfortableness and fears in order to fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as bring the Gospel to them? One day, people from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Rev. 7:9) will gather before the throne to worship the Lord of all. We might as well be practicing for that day, today. Just something to think about…