Hi everyone. Rob here.
As human beings we tend to be tribal. We’re attracted to people like us. Our friends speak the same language, share a similar standard of living, of education and values. But to live tribally means to shut yourself out from reality. The world is made up of many tribes and tongues, and the bible tells us that in eternity we will all worship together. This means that the deepest places of our hearts, the place where God has set eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11), desires a life free from tribalism and cultural fences. Yet, we also know that to live that kind of life now means going beyond your comfort zone to a major degree. Immigrants and refugees are some of the bravest people you will meet because they are willing to jump the fence.
We held a lunch for our new people on Sunday. Most of them were immigrants. They chose to come to a new land, overcoming the barriers of language, cultural mores and food issues to make a home here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. As a church the big issue is, how do we echo eternity by creating a home where everyone is at home? Like everything the answer begins with our own hearts. Is my heart a place that’s spacious enough to hold people who are far different to me, who can be hard to communicate with and see the world very differently from my Western viewpoint? This is the reality of God’s heart. There’s room for everyone. If our hearts align with God’s heart then our churches and our homes will as well. Then we’ll learn from each other and grow into the diverse unity that eternity promises.
Unfortunately the tribal instinct is strong and the work needed to break it can feel too hard. I suspect that it’s because we assume it won’t be hard, or we expect the stranger to make the adjustments, not us. I suspect we don’t often pray before our interactions and don’t allow the Spirit to lead and guide us. I only suspect this because that’s too often been me. I like my interactions to echo how I relate to others. I like communicating within my comfort zone.
And yet. And yet God doesn’t let me stay there. I’ve been prompted in the past to dive into how other cultures see God and the story of Jesus. I pastor a multi-cultural church. I’ve travelled and been on a mission trip. I’ve stayed on a marae and loved it. I’ve had my eyes opened to entrenched racism, white and male privilege and the joy of worshipping in a fellowship where I didn’t understand a thing except a mutual love of Jesus. For our hearts to be enlarged they have to be open. The eyes of our heart have to be opened to the reality that we are better together and God knows it.
So we need to do the prayer work. We need to commit our cross-cultural conversations to God’s Spirit and allow him to do the necessary humbling work in us that helps us see the other as God’s image and an essential part of Christ’s body. Racism and xenophobia are about as far from God’s heart as you can get so we all need to repent of the big and small ways that we’ve participated in them. May God heal us and unite us. May we learn from each other and may we grow better together.
Grace and peace.