The Blessing of Diversity

Rice University's Kinder Research Institute has reported that "Houston, Texas is the most ethnically diverse city in America." (https://kinder.rice.edu/urbanedge/2019/05/14/not-only-houston-getting-more-diverse-residents-households-are-too) That's a pretty bold statement and I could expect that some residents of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York might take exception to this research conclusion. I do know that it was the most diverse city I have ever lived in! From 1984 to 1991, I pastored in southwest Houston and witnessed firsthand how Sharpstown was undergoing demographic and ethnic changes. At that time, the Houston I.S.D. was a reflection of this shift with 125 languages being spoken within its school population. Our children were in the minority attending their neighborhood schools that were approximately 40% Hispanics, 40% Asians and the other 20% divided among the Blacks and Whites.

Linking Hands and Hearts!
Image Credit: clipart-library.com

Our church was situated at Bellaire Boulevard and the SW Freeway. We had several ethnic groups that shared our facilities each weekend and Lord's Day. There was a Vietnamese congregation meeting in the chapel, and a Hispanic Bible study (primarily Cuban-speaking) as well as a Cambodian fellowship that met in the education building. We also had a small group of Messianic Christians who met in our building as well. Every so often we would host all the groups for a fellowship dinner featuring the ethnic foods from these diverse traditions. It was a special blessing for me to serve as Pastor of a church that welcomed so many from different parts of the world.

We also had a rich component of diversity within our English-speaking worship service. On any given Sunday, there were individuals and families from Nigeria, Liberia, Jamaica, as well as a delightful family from Great Britain in attendance. In time, many of these good and gifted people took leadership positions in our church. 

All of this blessed diversity was gathered within our three buildings and many under one roof in the same service each Sunday. It was a joy to walk the hallways before service time and to look out over the congregation from the pulpit as I was preaching to see so many "beautiful people" worshipping in one place from all races, unique traditions and diverse backgrounds. I felt privileged to serve such a multi-ethnic congregation!

The impact of diversity was felt in our home as well. Monique taught piano lessons for the first 15 years of her career before she would enter public education as a school teacher. She had students sitting at her piano in the front room for instruction each week from similar populations in our community with several from Southeast Asia and the Middle East. These children and young people were always diligent in their practice and preparations. Their parents were so supportive and would show up at the semi-annual recitals (at our church building!) with their proud and enthusiastic relatives and friends. Our family learned to respect this diversity and to appreciate the tremendous blessing of making friends from all over the world. 

When you read the New Testament, you see how the life experiences of Peter, Paul and Philip inform us of God's work among diverse peoples. In Romans, Paul would affirm God's global strategy for inclusion, "As the Scriptures tell us, 'Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.' Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him." (Romans 10:11-12, NLT).

This plan for inclusion can be seen clearly in the Book of Acts as cross-cultural evangelism takes place again and again. Philip, the deacon-evangelist, went to Samaria and preached the Gospel. The response was joyous and receptive, "Crowds listened intently... they were eager to hear his message." (Acts 8:6). From there, Philip encountered an Ethiopian official on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and shared the Good News of Christ with him. The man responded by requesting baptism as a testimony to his newly found faith and he went away rejoicing. (Acts 8:37-39).

Peter would receive a life-changing vision in Acts 10. He was directed to go to a house in Joppa where he would witness to a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. To enter the house of a Gentile was unthinkable for a Jew, but now Peter "crosses cultures" at God's command. Isn't it curious that it is a God-fearing Gentile who has to explain why Peter has entered his house because Peter isn't all that sure why he has been led to do this? I almost laughed to read what Cornelius clearly and succinctly said to Peter, "So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you." (Acts 10:33). Talk about receptivity and eagerness to hear the Gospel!

The great missionary to the Gentiles, the Apostle Paul, also received a vision on his second mission adventure. He had plans to retrace his steps from the first missionary journey, but God had other plans - cross-cultural evangelistic plans! God redirected Paul with a vivid invitation in a dream, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" (Acts 16:9). Again, God's man has to be, (and almost forcibly), redirected! While many translations say this was a man speaking in the vision, there are others who say it was a woman, namely Lydia, whose story unfolds in the next paragraphs of Scripture when she opens up her house for Paul to use as a base of operations for launching his European mission. Receptivity once again!

For too long, those who received the gospel tried to contain it to certain peoples and geographic regions, but God's mission to bring His message to the whole world cannot be contained. The Gospel, by God's design, is inclusive and expansive! It is not parochial! Rather, it is global and crosses all cultures with its life-transforming message. This is a Gospel for the whole world, every nation and all peoples whatever their diverse characteristics and backgrounds. 

Let's discover or perhaps, rediscover, the blessing of diversity. Inclusion is not something to be afraid of embracing! We are blessed as we welcome others! As the song reminds us, "God's got the whole world in His hands! You and me, brother and sister, in His hands!"

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent. 
Contact: drmjkeppler@gmail.com 

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