Gifts from Worshipping in a Multiethnic Urban Church – Part 1 of 2

By Brandon O’Brien

When we moved from Arkansas to New York City, we settled in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. Our decision to live in Washington Heights was determined primarily by economics. I just could not imagine paying so much rent for so little space somewhere like the Upper West Side.

So, completely naively, we moved into the Heights and immediately became ethnic minorities.

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In addition to being white in a predominately Dominican neighborhood, my wife and I also have two adopted children. Both of them are ethnically different from us and from each other. We are quite a sight. And we’ve received our fair share of stares in the last several months—not just in the Heights. But the one place we feel totally normal is at church.

We worship in a new church called Christian Community Church of the Heights. Our service is bilingual—with music and announcements in both Spanish and English and a sermon delivered in English and translated live for Spanish speakers. The congregation is majority Latino but very diverse. In fact, the congregation reflects the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood (60-something percent Latino and 40 percent “other”). There are as many or more trans-racial couples as same-race couples.

Being surrounded by diverse families is a gift in itself, for a family like ours. We’ve received several other gifts by worshipping in a multiethnic urban church. Here are a few, presented as lessons learned. I’ve learned, for example:

Hips can be used in worship.

I’ve raised my hands in worship. I’ve bent my knees in worship. Doggone it, I’ve even clapped and swayed. But never before have my hips been tempted to involve themselves in worship. And it shows: they are very bad at it.

There’s a serious point in here somewhere. Style of worship is more than a matter of taste. Different musical forms open different possibilities, even theological possibilities. For example, I’ve sung the song “Blessed Be Your Name” in many churches in the last fifteen years. In all of them, the tone of that song has varied from reflective, even repentant, to triumphant. But when I sing it over a Caribbean bass line and rhythm section, a new possibility opens up. The song becomes positively celebratory.

In this case, musical style is a reflection of deep values and cultural personality. Our Dominican brothers and sisters know how to party, and they know how to bring that party to church. I never thought I could sing, “You give and take away” with a smile on my face. The fact that I can do it now is a gift from my diverse congregation.

*This article will continue in the next post.

Be Joyful

Many readers of this blog know that my family and I are in Russia right now for the World Cup. Yesterday we attended the France v. Denmark game, which was amazing. Interestingly enough, Dr. Eugénio Duarte, one of our General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene, wrote about Denmark and their positivity.  I can confirm from my limited experience with fans of Denmark that they are a happy nation, indeed. I hope you enjoy this article on Denmark, but really more focused on the contentment that Christ gives every believer.

By Eugénio R. Duarte

Copenhagen, Denmark, is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited. My only stay in the city was short, but I was able to spend a couple of hours on a tour that introduced me to its historical, cultural, economic, political, industrial, and social life. One of the things I heard, and needed to ponder, was this statement by one of the tour guides: “Denmark was recently rated the happiest nation in the world.”
 
The moment I made my first purchase and saw the bill, I decided that with such a high cost of living, people must require a sizeable income in order to stay happy. But a quick recall of what the same tour guide said about how highly they value community and mutual accountability — especially as it relates to family life — caused me to think again.

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When we learn to appreciate one another and the contribution each can make without constraint to the overall good, our human tendency to complain about any distress or hardship disappears.

Indeed, we are amazed at what some social doctrines can do by using the spirit of tolerance and responsibility. They can generate and even sustain contentment.
          
However, we need more than contentment. Our lives are meant to be full of joy, and joy is far more consistent, reliable, durable, stable, and fruitful. Joy is rooted in “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” and “guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Contentment and joy both reside in our hearts and minds, but contentment is there in a relationship that relies on temporary things, conditions, promises, and results, while joy is established on eternal values. When the title to our hearts and minds is in the hands of Jesus, our part in maintaining joy is trust and faith.

The Bible says, “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). God empowers us to be joyful not on the basis of a temporary agreement or arrangement. His Holy Spirit faithfully fulfills the mission of pouring — not dropping — His love into our hearts; the love that generates, feeds, and grows real joy in us. 

“It is Jesus, the vine, that produces fruit; and we, the branches, bear the fruit, including the fruit of joy.” — Billy Graham 

 

2018 World Cup

Hello, readers, and greetings from the 2018 World Cup!  Our family has been saving and planning this vacation for five years now and we are ecstatic.  We have tickets to two games and are hoping to obtain tickets to a third while we are in Russia.  We arrived yesterday (June 25) in Moscow, and we are recovering from some jetlag before we attend our first game today (France v. Denmark)! 

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In the last month, some friends and acquaintances have asked why we would dedicate the time and money to go to Russia and attend the World Cup, especially if the United States did not qualify this time (I am still embarrassed about that to be honest!).  Others have wondered why I occasionally write about sports in this blog that normally is dedicated to missions, leadership, etc.  The futbol (soccer) fans who read this understand completely, so I do not need to persuade you all.  But to the others, here are the reasons the World Cup is so important to me, and why we have written about it in this blog for three straight cycles (2010, 2014, and 2018): 

  1. Culture – and cultures – fascinate me. While in the London airport we were with people from seven different countries all going to the World Cup.  We all look different, speak different languages, and have different customs for sure.  But there is a respect – and even appreciation – for differences here that can prove instructive in a world of so much ethnocentrism.  How can we learn from each other? How do these other people enrich my life and understanding?
  2. Passion, passion, passion. A life without passion is a sad existence!  I confess that I have a hard time comprehending how people can float through life without urgency or excitement.  And admit it: the World Cup is THE place to find fans and players and coaches that are crazy about futbol and their country! Did you see the Brazilian coach who celebrated so hard that he tripped all over himself after a late goal against Costa Rica? Or what about the Panamanians celebrating their first-ever goal in the World Cup, even when they lost the game 6-1? Did you know that Mexico’s goal against Germany arguably caused an earthquake in Mexico City due to the euphoria in that mega-city? Yeah, passion.
  3. Sports can be a microcosm of life. Sports are results-based.  If you succeed, you are rewarded; if you underachieve, there are consequences. This is not to say that the most talented team always wins; sometimes the most well-prepared underdogs can pull off some stunners (See: Iceland v. Argentina). But even that gives us a lesson. There are so many things I have learned from sports about teamwork, perseverance, leadership, and integrity.  The World Cup will bring out the best and the worst in many players and fans and coaches.  It puts a magnifying glass on our character.

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Those are just three of the many reasons that I write about sports and the World Cup in a blog that hopes to help Transform the Globe.  I could go on and on, but it is now time for me to head to the stadium – who knows what cool things we will experience there and in the next week!

Mission Briefing: Culture Shock

By Howard Culbertson

People often think the feelings arising in encounters with strange foods or customs constitute “culture shock.” In reality, those brief moments of discomfort are not what anthropologists mean by culture shock.

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Anthropologists and psychologists use “culture shock” to describe the confusion, doubt and nervousness common to people who have recently begun living cross-culturally and who are also experiencing one or more of the following:

  • Exaggerated homesickness
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Loss of sense of humor
  • Avoiding contact with local people by spending hours on email, the Internet and social media
  • Suffering psychosomatic illnesses
  • Frequent feelings of boredom or apathy
  • Inexplicable bouts of weeping
  • Eating compulsively
  • Diminished ability to work effectively
  • High level of irritability
  • Hostility towards people of host culture
  • Jingoism or super patriotism
  • Stereotyping of people of host culture
  • Exaggerated attention to cleanliness

Real culture shock is thus more deep-seated than the momentary discomfort felt when confronting strange things to eat or unfamiliar social norms. What anthropologists call culture shock grows out of a long period of coping with unfamiliar ways of doing, organizing, perceiving and valuing things. Indeed, because people experience culture shock symptoms over a period of time rather than in one isolated event, some anthropologists say “cycle of adjustment” rather than “culture shock.”

Culture shock symptoms appear quite prominent in some people and less so in others. Nonetheless, the cycle of adjustment (or culture shock) –– honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance –– is inevitable.  Though culture shock is not a medical condition, the psychological disorientation, the withdrawal and excessive sleeping can be compared to organisms going into physical shock after a trauma.

Culture shock symptoms may come and go over a period of time. Describing her experiences in Senegal, missionary Linda Louw said, “I thought culture shock was something that you got through and it was done, but it just keeps coming.”

The sense of unease and heightened irritability common in the frustration stage can be triggered by small things. The adjustment stage usually does not kick in until a person has become familiar with and increasingly comfortable in a new culture.

Fortunately, the effects of culture shock can be somewhat mitigated. Here are half a dozen coping suggestions:

  • Realize what is happening to you and why.
  • Remind yourself that this happens to every expatriate to one degree or another and that people do regularly survive it.
  • Refuse to succumb to the desire to withdraw from people. Choose instead to engage with those of your host culture.
  • Get involved in a hobby that involves in some way the place where you serve.
  • Be bold about reaching out to people in your host culture to build a support network of confidants, including enlisting individuals to help in improving your language and cultural acquisition.
  • Consciously cultivate your curiosity about the wildlife, geography, plant life, history, literature, foods, social norms, folk tales, children’s stories, proverbs, legends and fables of the place where you serve.

This article was originally published at: Engage Magazine

 

Mission Briefing: Contextualization

By Howard Culbertson

When believers from one culture introduce the “unchanging gospel” to people of another culture, how do they keep the Good News from being dismissed as a foreign import? The short answer is one word: Contextualization.

When Christianity moves from one culture to another, there is danger that it will be thought of as belonging in the first culture, but very much out of place in the second one. The chances of that happening can be lessened if the Gospel will be proclaimed and lived out in culturally understandable ways. That process of meaningfully connecting biblical revelation to a specific culture is called “contextualization.”

Missiologist Darrell Whiteman said it this way: “Contextualization attempts to communicate the Gospel in word and deed and to establish the church in ways that make sense to people within their local cultural context.”

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Having the gospel “make sense” to people of a culture does not, of course, mean everyone will rush to embrace it. People must decide if they are willing to make the changes necessary for Jesus to be their Savior and Lord. That does not mean, of course, that people must abandon their ethnic or cultural identify to follow Jesus. Authentic contextualization is based on the premise that when people allow Christ’s transforming power into their lives, they will be even better Nicaraguans or Japanese or Bulgarians or Navajos than they were before.

Contextualization does not mean robbing the Gospel of its essence or “watering it down” to make it more palatable. On the contrary, good contextualization renders expressions of the “unchanging Gospel” more faithful to Scripture than they would otherwise be. Holy-Sprit-led contextualization allows Scripture to be as powerful and transformative in each cultural context as it can possibly be.

Proper contextualization moves gospel proclamation past a sense of foreignness to allow each people group to hear God say: “This is my design for you.” Contextualization allows people of a culture to see that Yahweh, Creator of the universe who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, loves them and wants a relationship with them.

In tangible terms, contextualization involves the wording of theological expressions as well as things like sermon illustrations, music styles, artwork, decision-making, lifestyle choices, church programs and schedules, modes of preaching and teaching, the process of discipleship, evangelistic outreach, leadership selection and even architecture.

It must be clear says missions professor Zane Pratt, that the ultimate purpose of contextualization “is not comfort, but clarity.” Thus, authentic contextualization does not involve the softening or white-washing of Jesus’ radical commands. Indeed, contextualization enables the Gospel to be offensive to each culture for exactly the right reasons. Whiteman has said that good contextualization makes sure that the Gospel “engages people at the level of their deepest needs.”

Authentic contextualization must travel on two rails. One rail is an unwavering faithfulness to Scripture. The other rail is that of communicating and living out the Word of the Lord in ways that are familiar to people in a particular cultural context.

This article was originally posted at: Engage Magazine

15 Things I Want To Tell My Third Culture Kids

By Rachel Pieh Jones

I get to visit two of our Third Culture Kids in four days. And then in eleven days they will be ‘home’ for thirty days. Life is good. Until forty-five days from now. No, it will be good then too, just quieter and slightly more teary.

Part of me hesitates to hit the publish button today, it feels private. Is the internet the place for these things? But part of me thinks I’m not the only parent overwhelmed and honored and pumped up about raising TCKs. And this part of me wants to acknowledge that alongside other parents and our kids and to share in all the emotions of it. So here is some of what I want to say, and have said, to my own TCKs…

  1. You are the coolest kids on the planet. You cliff-jump and climb up and then down into active volcanoes. You flew internationally on your own before becoming a teenager. You sleep under the stars on the beach and know how to pee on a toilet or in a hole or behind a bush or where-there-is-no-bush.
  2. I know it is hard. I watched you, proud and teary, the first day of school when you didn’t know how to count to ten in French and on the first day of school in America when you didn’t know how to eat lunch in a cafeteria. I see your moments of hesitation when kids talk about something you don’t understand. I saw your shoulders droop that day you wore your traditional Djiboutian dress to church and then, once you saw how other kids were dressed, asked if you could take it off. I hear all three of you refer to a different place as home. 
  3. I don’t know what it is like. I know what it is like to parent a TCK but I don’t know what it is like to be a TCK. I’ve read books and listened to talks and attended seminars but you are forging a path I have not walked. I’ve got your back and I’ve got a box full of Kleenex and an ache in my belly from our shared laughter. I do not know what your particular journey is like but I will hold your hand, fierce, until the very end. 
  4. I am sorry for the things this life has taken from you. The names of all the friends you have said good-bye to are branded in my mind. Grandparents and cousins at your birthday parties and school events. The feeling of belonging to a specific place, house, culture, language. A mom who can be a parent chaperone without having an accent. Sports and musical and academic activities at which you naturally excel but will never fully experience. 
  5. I am thrilled for the things this life has given you. Adventure and a wide-cracked-open worldview. The opportunity to trust God when nothing around makes sense or when everything around makes sense. Friends all over the world of diverse faith and languages and skin colors and food preferences and economic levels. Multiple language fluency. Creativity and the intrinsic ability to look outside the box, to see from another person’s perspective. Real gratitude, stemming from an understanding that things are fleeting, gratitude for relationships and for time spent in togetherness. Adaptability. Courage. Courage. Courage. 

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  6. I want to hear from you. Tell me how hard it is, tell me the things you love, the things you wish were different, the things you would never change. I need to hear from you what it is like, I need you to be honest with me about the goods and the bads and then I need you to let me hold you. And I need you to hold me. 
  7. I cry for the choices we’ve made. And then I defend them with passion. It isn’t easy to parent a TCK, or any kind of kid, and I have wept tear-stains into our couches and our pillows and the shoulders of dad’s t-shirts. Sometimes I wonder if we have been crazy or irresponsible. But then I look at you and I cry again, good tears, because you are beautiful and complicated and deep and these choices have been part of forming you into you. 
  8. You are strong. You’ve been through evacuations and international moves and medical crises and hellos and goodbyes. You have tried new and scary things. You have laughed and cried but I haven’t heard you whine and complain. You have more than embraced life. 
  9. You are unique. No one else in the world has your story. And yet, you are part of an amazing community of people with stories similar to yours and stories different from yours, whom you can listen to and learn from. An oldie but a goodie. 
  10. You have built awesome memories. Remember the time you camped at Arta Plage and the flood came and the French military rescued you? Remember the time you carried baby God through the neighborhood in Balbala, head of a train of singing and clapping families? Remember meeting the Harlem Globe Trotters?
  11. You have grief. And that is okay, mom and dad are not afraid of it and we want carry it with you. 
  12. You are creative. 
  13. You are empathetic. 
  14. You are wise. 
  15. I am beyond proud of you.

You know that book, I Love You to the Moon? Well, I love you to Somaliland. And Kenya. And France. And Djibouti. And Minnesota. And anywhere else. And back.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.djiboutijones.com/2013/03/1-things-i-want-to-tell-my-third-culture-kids/

Why Multiculturalism Is a Must for the Church

By Ashlee Holmes

It’s time to get serious about diversity in the body of Christ.

There’s a fine, gray-ish line between things in life that are nice and things that are absolutely necessary.

Cable TV and Wi-Fi access? Nice, but not necessary. No-chip manicure with shellac polish? Nice, but not necessary. My iPhone 5? Nice—and embarrassingly crucial to my sanity—but ultimately, not necessary.

There are plenty of choices we make on a daily basis that can be categorized as either nice or necessary, but what about when it comes to more weighty topics—like multiculturalism in the church, for instance?

First off, let’s talk about what multiculturalism is and is not. The dictionary talks about multiculturalism as being “the preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society.”

I like that word: preservation. To preserve means to keep alive or in existence, to keep safe from harm or injury, to maintain, to retain. So to only tolerate and blindly accept people of many colors (or to be multicolored) isn’t enough. A person’s culture and experience must be kept safe and alive. It must be threaded so flawlessly into the human tapestry that others start to learn and eventually grow from the truth of someone else’s identity.

Multiculturalism means inviting someone to be fully oneself, unapologetically, and actively celebrating the difference. “Multicolored” leaves gaps and disconnection. “Multicultural” builds bridges and elicits celebration.

Interestingly enough, my first bout of wrestling with the value of multiculturalism didn’t start in the church. It started the day a little girl in my after-school program innocently asked me if I took showers because my skin was so dark, and it continued the day a girl on my club track team asked me why I talked so “white.”

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So my wrestling with this value didn’t start in a community context at all; it started with me. Why was it puzzling to others that I was so different? What was so threatening—if anything—about my dark skin and dialect? I didn’t have answers to those questions at that time, but I knew I felt singled out and uncomfortable.

I was uncomfortable being myself around my white friends, and I was uncomfortable being myself around my black friends. There was a huge, painfully daunting gap between me and people with whom I so desperately wanted to engage in friendship and community. I internally apologized for my uniqueness and decided to become whoever I needed to become in order to be accepted. The idea of fitting in, then, wasn’t just nice to me; it was necessary.

Anyone feeling out of place experiences some level of discomfort when they’re the “other.” What I realized later in life, however, was that discomfort was actually good for me. Not only was I forced to seek my true identity in Christ—an identity formed on much more than the color of my skin—but I also took inventory of the people I’d chosen to surround myself with, and the inventory was beautiful.

I realized my life was richer and more wonderfully complex because of others’ uniqueness and truth in which I’d chosen to engage. Over time, I resolved that sacrificing my comfort for the sake of that beautiful advantage wasn’t just nice; it was necessary to my walk with God and a deeper understanding of how His Kingdom worked.

I truly believe God feels the same way about His Church. A simple, yet profound display of this sentiment is found in the Gospel of Luke, when Simon of Cyrene was made to carry Jesus’ cross. Cyrene was a city in Libya, a country in Northern Africa. An African carried Jesus’ cross.

Not much is mentioned about Simon of Cyrene, but metaphorically, his being singled out and uncomfortable says something to me about the heart of God: that everyone—regardless of race or ethnicity—has a vital role to play in the Gospel story.

Though uncomfortable at times, the pursuit of multiculturalism in the Church isn’t just nice—it’s necessary. We ultimately develop richer, more wonderfully complex views of God and a deeper love and appreciation for one another when we choose to actively participate in one another’s stories that are different from our own, that originate from different places.

My hope for the Church is that congregations and communities become more challenged—more uncomfortable, even—in wrestling with the idea of welcoming not just color, but culture, and that expressions of worship, teaching, evangelism and discipleship would be influenced by multiculturalism so richly that Christ in all of His beauty may be known more fully by many.