It took over 22 hours of travel to get there and upon arrival the heat literally took my breath away. Yet having the opportunity to witness the reconciling gospel at work at The River of Life AG (http://www.theriveroflifeassembly.org) in Mumbai, India was well worth the trip. I was invited to preach by the lead pastor, Rev. Vivek Dindorkar, after he had heard about the work of reconciliation the Lord is doing at Peoples Church Cincinnati and my time on staff there. I traveled with a pastor named Andrew Stern and a member from his church. Andrew lives in St. Louis and has been called to the ministry of reconciliation at a church named New City Fellowship (http://newcity.org), which has been an intentionally multi-ethnic church since the mid-80’s. They are a Presbyterian Church (PCA) that has been in relationship with Pastor Vivek and The River of Life Assembly of God for over eight years because of their common belief in a Rev. 7:9 church, which shows that the ministry of reconciliation will even bridge denominational divides.
I prepared a message from John 17:20-23 to encourage the church; yet when I walked up to the podium to begin my sermon, I was the one who was encouraged. In the congregation were Sub-Sahara Africans, Japanese, Korean, Indians from the Northeastern part of the country (they look ethnically Mongolian) and of course Indians of all shades. They all worshiped together in English, but for every person there English was their second language. They sacrificed worship in their native tongue so that they could worship together as one and invite others to worship with them. I imagine that the first century church worshipped in Greek for the very same reason, despite being from all over the Middle East and Mediterranean.
Pastor Vivek and his wife Adeleine began The River of Life Assembly in 1999 and only had modest success growing for the first 6 years. In India it is illegal to openly proselytize and pastors are often put in jail for converting Hindus so it is hard to advertise or go out to reach people. However, in 2005 people began to hear about a church that welcomes all ethnicities and castes of people. From that point on the church began to grow rapidly. People began to come to Christ because the gospel of Jesus loving everyone was clearly seen and new believers told their family and friends that there is a place where God loves them. The church is now holding three different services in two locations, with over 600 in attendance and is planting churches in other states. A 600-member church in a city where only 4% of the population is Christian is like a mega church in the US (Especially because a vast majority of the Christians are Catholic, and the church is under persecution by the government and other religions).
I have heard this story many times in the U.S., God pouring his blessing on a church where the gospel of reconciliation is preached and lived. And, it was amazing to see how God is doing the same thing in a country half-way around the world. God is definitely moving His church on Earth to look like the church in Heaven, and I feel privileged to be a part of the multi-ethnic church movement in the U.S. and now India. To God be the glory.
So you want to see greater diversity in your group or church but feel that you are stuck. You’ve read the articles here and elsewhere and think to yourself, “Yes that is all right and good, but I can’t get people of color to come here, because there are no people of color here.” This can be a very true reality on your journey from homogeneity to multi-ethnicity.
It’s human nature; we like to be with people like us. On top of that, our country’s history of racism and discrimination has made it difficult for people of color to feel comfortable, and at times, even safe being the “only one” in a room of majority people. So what do you do if you don’t have enough people to attract more people?
Well, you need some pioneers. The history of everything that has ever been accomplished includes those who left their place of comfort and safety to accomplish a greater vision. Think of the Civil Rights Movement, the Protestant Reformation, the modern and ancient missions movements and even the incarnation itself. Jesus left his place of security and benefit in obedience to the Father’s plan to bring salvation to all nations of the earth. Wow, what an example!
"Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death--
even death on a cross!"
These are the kind of pioneers you need and most likely they are not just going to show up on your doorstep, or at your service, and say, “I am here to be a pioneer in this group to help you become God’s vision of church like heaven on earth--no matter the cost to me personally.” Pioneers respond to a call, so if you need them, make the call.
What does this mean? It means you first need to pray. Yes, pray. There are so many reasons that this is the right and best place to start. One, you really need God help because you may not even have someone to make a call to. Secondly, you want to make sure you end up with the right pioneer. Nothing kills something faster than having the wrong people at the start. You need those who, first of all, are committed to Jesus, then committed to the vision of church of heaven on earth. So pray, pray, pray. Pray specifically and then keep your eyes and ears open.
Next, make sure that while you are praying, you are also studying and teaching. You need to study so you know well the theology of kingdom diversity and you can make a Biblical call to be a part of bringing God’s kingdom to your campus/city. Also you need to teach your current congregation to prepare them for the changes that will eventually take place.
Lastly, you need to make the call. Do so with passion and vision. Do not be ashamed and do not feel the need to “sugar coat” things. Hey, people of color know the reality of segregation. They are mostly excited to find those in the body of Christ who are broken hearted about it too. So tell it like it is and then ask them to help you fulfill the vision God has put on your heart. They may so no, but they may say yes. And once you have some pioneers, your journey can begin in earnest.