Culture is a strong part of people's lives. It influences their views, their values, their humor, their hopes, their loyalties, and their worries and fears. If you are from New Mexico or Montana, if your parents are Cambodian, French Canadian, or Native American, if you are Japanese, Chinese African-American, Central American or Hispanic, if you are Methodist or not , if you are a mixture of cultures your culture has affected you. So when you are working with people and building relationships with them, it helps to have some perspective and understanding of their cultures.
But as we explore culture, it's also important to remember how much we have in common. A person who grew up in Tibet, will probably see the world very differently than someone who grew up in Manhattan--but both people know what it is like to wake up in the morning and look forward to the adventures that of the day. We are all human beings. We all love deeply, want to learn, have hopes and dreams, and have experienced pain and fear. God calls us to be ONE in Him.
Although every person is unique, some of us have been mistreated or oppressed because we are a member of a particular group. If we ignore these present-day or historical differences, we may fail to understand the needs of those individuals. Often people are afraid that recognizing differences will divide people from each other. However, learning about cultural differences can actually bring people closer together, because it can reveal important parts of each other’s lives. It can show us how much we have in common as human beings. Culture is diversity in action. We serve a living God full of different cultures. Let's never forget the bible verse that pulls us to a culture diversity:
Go therefore and make disciples of ALL nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Our Wednesday vespers group has been examining the instructions Jesus gave his Disciples when he gave them "The Great Commission".
The great commission is "Go and make Disciples of all nations." These words are found in the final two verse of Matthew as Jesus is leaving behind his purpose for his followers. In the book of Mark his final instructions to them are slightly different as he states, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." So with these instructions comes the task of leaving the comfortable surroundings of the inner circle and going to the outer community - the outer circle. The going part is easily understood. We cannot remain in the same location to do this. The making Disciples part and preaching the Good News part is where we might get a bit troubled with the how. The who, where, what, and why is apparent. Simply put everyone, everywhere, introducing Gods Amazing Grace, because Jesus said so!
So back to the how and back to the vespers group. I was asked to lead the group on how we go about doing this. How we go about sharing the love and life of Jesus to others. Possibly sharing our faith journey, our personal relationship with Jesus, our own personal introduction to God's amazing grace, with our neighbor or a stranger. First, we discussed how to greet our neighbors. Getting out and about is the starting point. We must first greet them and meet them before any other information is exchanged. Smiling and small talk is the first step. We talked about finding common ground or a joint interest and keeping the initial contact casual and friendly.
The scriptural example for bible based greetings that I chose that night was that of when the angel first met Mary, (Luke 1:28-29) And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. What I like about this greeting is that it is highly complimentary. It is soothing and yet surprising. Mary was not expecting this interaction at all. Mary was thrown off guard. We must be mindful that our greetings to our neighbors may catch them off guard as well, and allow for the greeting to sink in before continuing further with a conversation. To me this means we may need to have several greetings before we ever have a meaningful talk. We must get to know one another, make a connection to one another, be present as Pastor Fay explained. Pastor Israel remarked we need to be "In the spirit" and be aware that we are "sent by God" when making connections, and bonding with others.
There were several exchanges of how we ourselves have been approached and greeted by believers only to be offended and discouraged that the conversation was not endearing. For numerous reasons the greeting, motivation, and content from some believers was invasive and rote. Leading us to feel the messenger was impersonal. We also had a time of one on one conversation to ask and answer the questions like "How do we like to be greeted at church? What was our first visit like and were we okay with the greeting we received?" Trying to remember what it was like for us to be the new person is necessary when approaching the visitor or the stranger in our daily activities.
Other insights and tips were to use quick openers based on non judgmental observations of interests, i.e. pets, children, hobbies, etc. Share who you are before asking about them. Introduce yourself! Let the introduction progress naturally. Allow the neighbor to extend the conversation. If they are interested in continuing the conversation leave it in their hands.
Just because we have opportunities to meet new neighbors doesn't make it easy to do. We find out that some of us are shy, while others are concerned about privacy-both our neighbors and ourselves.
It appears we have just opened the can on this topic and need more conversations and practical experience to achieve a confidence in going out and making friends in the name of Jesus as we introduce Gods Amazing Grace to the Nations.
Come join us for our next vespers meeting every Wednesday evening, it will allow us to practice our hospitality and greetings as well as our faith sharing with others. God bless!
It's awesome to hear different voices and languages coming together in the name of Christ! We held a joint service in English and Spanish today.
We also recognized our Sunday school teachers for the year. We are a small (but growing) congregation and it is amazing to see more than a dozen teachers committed to teaching adult and children Sunday school classes.
We also had a member of our congregation share that she stopped to help someone on the side of the road this week, because of what she learned at our Wednesday Vespers service about helping others. It's great to see God working through our services!
The refugee crisis in Europe was on the minds of everyone in the congregation this Sunday. We all remember the images this week of the little boy whose body washed up on the shore of a Turkish beach. The sermon this week was based on Mark 7:24-37. The passage is about Jesus healing gentiles - people whom those around Jesus would not want to associate with. The message reminded us that as Christians we are called to provide our help and support everywhere in the world. Although it is important to take care of those in need in our own communities, it is also important for Christians to be ready to respond with love when tragedies such as a refugee crisis emerge in the world.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is already actively engaged in helping migrant families with emergency food vouchers and other supplies. You can donate to UMCOR to support relief efforts any time and 100% of your donation will go towards relief programs.
Please pray for all refugees who are affected by the ravages of war.
Wednesday Vespers this week covered the topic of evangelism. Jesus commanded his disciples in Matthew 28 to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" yet many of us are less than enthusiastic about evangelism. Many of us assume that evangelism is someone else's job. Why? What is evangelism in the first place?
Evangelism is about sharing God's love with those around you. Two participants in vespers tonight shared exactly what this means. One person shared a recent experience he and his wife had in an airport while waiting for a delayed flight. A woman who could not speak English very well needed assistance. Fortunately, his wife spoke the same language as the person needing assistance so the couple was able to provide someone who was a world away from home with very little English language skills. The couple ended up eating lunch with the same woman and the woman noticed when the couple paused to pray before their meal. The woman made a connection between the couple's generosity and their Christian faith and this led to a conversation about faith and church.
Another participant in vespers, a member of our church, shared a story about stopping to help a man who was injured on the side of the road. The person had suffered some kind of trauma to his head and was in no condition to walk. The church member assisted the man with his injuries and provided him a ride home. The church member provided this assistance in the middle of the workday on his way to visit a client. Of course, this incident made the church member late for his appointment. Surprisingly the client remarked about how busy he was that day and was happy that the meeting started late!
These two stories demonstrate the essence of evangelism. It is about paying attention to the circumstances and the people that God puts into our lives. Next we have to show, like Christ, that we genuinely care about that person. In other words, we have to form an authentic relationship with our friends, neighbors, and others we come into contact with on a daily basis. Then when that person is ready we may have the opportunity to share our faith with others.
If you are interested in reading more about forming authentic relationships with your neighbors, check out Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships by Bob Farr, Doug Anderson, and Kay Kotan.