By Eric & Stacy Rafferty
[This is the start of a four part series on multiethnicity in the missional church. Unfortunately when we look at many of our churches, even missional ones, there is not much diversity among them. This series hopes to prophetically challenge the church and its leaders to cross cultures and build multiethnic communities!]
If you can’t tell from our tiny little picture, we come from different worlds. While a White guy from Nebraska falling in love with a Mexican American girl from East LA sounds like the start of a romantic comedy (and a lot of the time it is hilarious), our cross-cultural relationship and the broader context of multiethnic community have been the deep waters of God’s discipling work in our lives.
Multiethnic community is where God called us each to jump ship and follow him in a new direction. It’s where He exposes our sin, selfishness, and cultural blinders every day. And it’s where God has revealed something of what his Kingdom is like.
Multiethnicity has become for us something more than just another value that Christians are supposed to care about. It has become a picture of the Kingdom at work in a community on mission together.
Here’s our story:
I grew up going to pretty diverse schools, graduating from a high school of about 2500 that was nearly half and half Black and White. But for being around such a diverse community, somehow all of my close friends looked a lot like me. You can probably picture the common scene of a cafeteria with tables divided along ethnic lines. At my high school there were actually two different cafeterias and which one you sat in depended on your skin color.
I didn’t really even notice that I had surrounded myself with people of my own culture. I didn’t notice that my friends were all White, that my church was all White, or that I sat in the cafeteria where the White kids sat. That was just the standard in my city.
As we’ve been planting a multiethnic community among college students in Omaha I hear this same story from students of all different backgrounds. If you were a Latino growing up in South Omaha you could easily and naturally surround yourself with other Latinos. If you were an African American growing up in North Omaha you wouldn’t necessarily have to interact with peers of different cultures.
I headed off to college in California unaware that God would open my eyes to see the world in a radically different way…
As a Mexican American growing up in Los Angeles I also had the choice to surround myself with people like me. But pretty early on in my life I saw how far fear and mistrust can divide a community. My neighborhood was mostly Latino, but my older siblings grew up playing with African American kids from the next block over. Crossing cultural boundaries was costly for my family.
Gangs were just part of the background noise in my community and there was constantly tension between Black and Latino gangs. At a certain point, a line was drawn in the sand and my older siblings were pressured to choose a side between their Black and Latino friends. When pushed into a corner, they sided with their Black friends and it resulted in an escalation of violence including about a year of drive by shootings on my block, even at my house.
From a young age I knew that racism and division were real and evil and tore communities apart. So when I started junior high and then high school I made an intentional choice to build friendships with students from other cultures.
Multiethnic community at college
You just met freshmen Eric and Stacy as we were about to begin the most transformational season of our lives. Coming into college we both joined a multiethnic chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and while we were obviously coming from very different places, we both found a diverse family that God used to disciple us deeply.
We learned to extend and receive grace as we misunderstood and offended one another, said insensitive things, and grew to take the posture of cross-cultural learners. We saw beautiful expressions of the Kingdom of God in each other’s cultures, worship styles, and families. And maybe most significantly of all we learned to be the body of Christ; to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)
We rejoiced and threw a party when a group of Japanese sisters made decisions to follow Christ. We rejoiced when a missional community was planted with the focus of developing young Latino leaders. The whole body rejoiced when we recognized God at work in one part of the body.
And we mourned when a part of the body struggled. We mourned (and got angry) when a Korean American leader in our community was harassed in her dorms for her race. We wept as a community when one member of our community had to say goodbye to her brother who was being unjustly deported. I, Eric, remember sitting in the visiting area of a prison with her and watching her weep as she said goodbye to him. I don’t think any experience has taught me more about the heart of God for all people.
We grew as disciples in community as we learned to really see other people and cultures. We learned to see differences and to find our place in bringing about the revealing of the Kingdom of God.
More than a value
We need prophetic voices in communities to remind us of the things that are close to the heart of God. Multiethnicity is close to the heart of God.
Look at how the Church was born in Acts 2:5 when at least fifteen different nationalities of people heard the gospel in their heart languages!
Look at Acts 10 where God called Peter to cross cultural barriers and form a friendship with a Roman Centurion.
And look at Revelation 7:9 and the multiethnic community of the people of God who will worship together for eternity!
God’s heart is for every people group in our cities, on our college campuses and in our world. Multiethnic communities carry an apostolic vision for reaching all people and a prophetic vision to reveal the Kingdom of God.
This is not at all to say that a network of communities that each carry a different strategic focus for a particular ethnic group can’t reveal this same picture of multiethnicity in God’s Kingdom. This is not to advocate any particular strategy at all! But just to say that God’s Kingdom is revealed when the body of Christ carries the heart of God for the whole body of Christ.
Where do you see yourself in this story?
What does the body of Christ look like in your community?
Who are the people groups in your community that you could build friendship with for the sake of revealing the Kingdom of God?
[This is part of the series "Multi-Ethnicity in the Missional Church". Read the other posts here]