The world has become unified in a strange sort of way in recent days. People from every ethnic and socio-economic background are all dealing with the same life-threatening virus. And in the midst of this crisis, we have seen people coming together to help each other.
First responders and medical personnel are seeking to help people – regardless of their racial background, age, or social status. Neighbors are connecting with neighbors – regardless of their differences. Younger adults are helping older adults by delivering groceries and medicine. In our town, people of all ages are placing teddy bears in their windows so children can ride by in their cars and go on a bear hunt. There are also global efforts to help in which people are sending needed to supplies to people on the other side of the world. People are reaching out to help people. Differences don’t matter.
In times of crisis, we find ourselves unified as people, rather than divided. We want to connect and help each other however we can. We aren’t concerning ourselves with whether the people we are reaching out to are from the same ethnic background or social class as us. We are just seeking to come together as humanity and help one another.
So, the question that comes to my mind is, why don’t churches – who have the answer to people’s greatest needs – seek to reach across ethnic and class barriers to reach all people? Granted, some churches do, but far too many churches today look very homogeneous. They are comprised of people from mostly the same racial and economic background. There isn’t much diversity ethnically or socially.
But when we consider how Jesus lived out His time on earth, we see Him reaching out to people of various ethnicities and social classes. In fact, He went against accepted social norms of the time in order to connect with people. Living like Jesus means reaching across racial, generational, and socio-economic lines to reach all people.
Jesus talked to the Samaritan women at the well – something that was considered socially unacceptable at that time. He touched lepers – another social taboo. He ate with tax collectors and sinners – people who had bad reputations. Jesus ate with the wealthy and the poor. He talked to men and women, and He told the disciples to let the children come to Him. He healed people of Jewish decent and those from other ethnic backgrounds. In short, Jesus engaged in multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-class ministry. And so, should we.
Our churches should reflect what we read about in Revelation 7:9 when John conveys, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” In each local congregation, our church should be a reflection of the ethnic, generational, and socio-economic diversity of our community. The only way we will see that diversity in our churches, is if we as individuals are reaching out across racial, generational, and social barriers within our communities.
As Christ-followers, our identity is foremost in Christ, regardless of our gender, ethnicity, age, or social background. I am a middle-aged, white, female, from a middle-class background. But my identity is in Jesus Christ. I am a child of God and an heir with Christ. When we focus on our identity as Christians, all the other identifying factors in our lives pale in comparison. We are to be people reaching out to people – sinners saved by grace reaching out to other sinners who need to be saved by grace.
When we are willing to reach past racial, generational, and socio-economic differences, we speak to the power of the gospel to reconcile people. The love of Christ brings together people from every background. Not only does it bring us together, it unifies us into one family – the family of God. That family is beautiful because of its diversity. We should celebrate the mosaic of cultures within it. If we are going to live like Jesus, we must be reconcilers, pointing people to the unity that exists among the body of Christ and breaking down unbiblical cultural norms to see that potential become reality.
I’m reminded of some heroes of the faith who bridged seemingly irreconcilable differences to reach people with the gospel. Heroes like Jim and Elisabeth Elliott, who went to Ecuador in the early 1950s to reach out to the Waodani tribe with the love of Christ. As Jim and several other missionaries tried to make contact with the native people, they were viciously speared to death. Unbelievably, even after the native people killed Jim and his friends, Elisabeth continued to reach out to them and eventually went to live with them, along with her young daughter, Valerie. Many of the Waodani people came to Christ as a result of these missionary efforts and even became like family to Elisabeth and Valerie. As a result of the life-changing work of God, decades of tribal killings came to an end. Only the reconciling power of the gospel could bring about such forgiveness and love.
Another such hero of the faith is Celestin Musekura, a pastor who served in Rwanda in the midst of the genocide in the last 1990s. As Celestin preached about the need for forgiveness between the Hutus and the Tutsis, his own faith was challenged in an unimaginable way. Five members of his own family and 70 members of his church were killed in revenge killings. Celestin had to decide if he would live out what he had been preaching. When he came face to face with the killers, God challenged him that he must forgive them. Through the power of God’s love and forgiveness, Celestin chose to forgive, and through the process of forgiving, he realized that he became free from the burden of anger and bitterness. Today, Celestin continues leads the African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) which helps to train pastors to disciple their people as well as assisting in various ways within the community and government. His life and ministry are a powerful example of the reconciling power of the gospel.So, the challenge that faces us is whether or not we will reach across the lines of difference in our communities to reach people with the love of God. We have Jesus as our example, as well as other Christians throughout history. Our hearts should long to see a local reflection of the diversity of God’s Kingdom, a beautiful mosaic of ethnic, social, and generational differences. How wonderful it will be if we can emerge on the other side of this global pandemic with a greater burden for and intentionality about reaching the nations with the gospel – both globally and locally. Ask the Lord of the harvest to help you live in such a way that God’s love at work in you reaches across racial and socio-economic barriers to display the reconciling power of the gospel throughout your community.