Principle 7: They Will Renew the Ruined Cities
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.1 (Isaiah 61:1-4, emphasis added)
“What is this all about?”
I have had the privilege of helping with many short-term missions trips to various locations in the U.S. and around the world. All of the trips have been great — but, the spring break trip my wife and I helped to lead to the Middle East in the spring of 2002 sticks out in my mind as an especially enjoyable and powerful experience. Our team was comprised of NYC college professors and students from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds: black, white, asian, latino, etc. We had the joy of experiencing new cultures in the Middle East as well as new cultures within our own team. It was a blast!
It was also one of the most effective missions teams I have been a part of. They acclimated amazingly well to their new cultural surroundings and jumped right in to engaging local young adults in conversation. They didn’t seem to wrestle with the culture shock and “why do they do it that way?” mentality that are common with most teams. They were natural missionaries! They were very comfortable and competent in ministering cross-culturally because they had already strengthened their cross-cultural muscles living in the diverse environment of New York City. I still think of that experience as one of the most clear examples of how living out multi-ethnic community can equip us to be more effective ministers of the Gospel.
Another powerful part of the experience was seeing how the Middle Eastern young adults were impacted by the diversity and unity on our team. They were well aware of the ethnic tensions within the U.S. (I’m always fascinated by how people outside of the U.S. often know more about American history and culture than Americans do.) They were dumbfounded to see such an ethnically-diverse group traveling, laughing, and living together. Some of them made comments about it and nearly everyone had this “What is this all about?” look on their face. What an awesome testimony for Christ! It made for an easy transition into conversations about Jesus and the Gospel. It was vivid example of why Christ prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” 2
My prayer is that one day a movement of Christians living out multi-ethnic community will cause a “What is this all about?” wave to sweep across our country. Just imagine what would happen if multi-ethnic communities of Christians lived out:
- the unique power and beauty of multi-ethnic community
- a new type of ethnic “integration” that goes beyond secular models and displays the intimacy of the Trinity
- the power of abiding in Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit
- a commitment to biblical justice and sharing power
- a community which is committed to sharing their resources and lives with one another
- a supernatural, Christ-like love for one another
Heads would turn and then hearts would turn. Millions of people would know that Jesus was sent by God and that He loves them even as He loves Jesus (John 17:23) – how else could they explain it? I believe it would lead to the greatest spiritual renewal our country has ever experienced.
Turning the train
But, sadly, that is not the direction we are currently heading. Like a train barreling down the tracks, the majority of the American church continues to speed ahead under the false idea that working toward multi-ethnic community is unnecessary, a distraction, or a “nice bonus” rather than an essential part of living out Christ’s call to love our neighbor (John 13:34-35) and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). I have found that many Christian leaders express a desire for their church or organization to become more multi-ethnic but few are investing the time, energy, and financial resources necessary to see it happen.
I shudder to think what the future will hold if the American church continues on our current path. The troubling reality is that the enormous damage we have experienced so far pales in comparison to what will result if the church continues to be divided by ethnicity in the decades to come. The world is shrinking rapidly and becoming more urban and multi-ethnic. Just a few days ago, a U.S. Census Bureau News Release declared that whites will no longer be in the majority by 2042 (this is eight years ahead of previous projections) and that by 2023 minorities will comprise more than half of all children. Nearly every major institution in our society is taking major steps to adjust to the ethnic diversity that is fast approaching, except one: the church.
A speeding train cannot be turned on a dime — and neither can the Christian church. History has shown that attempts to instantly turn the train will simply be run over with the momentum of centuries of division, prejudice, and injustice. But the train can be turned through God’s power flowing through the prayers, patience, and intentional efforts of millions of American Christians. Other Christians who have gone before us have taken courageous steps and made enormous sacrifices to help begin the turning process. Now, it is our turn. We must commit to a long-term approach that realizes the power and importance of small, incremental changes. It may not seem like we are making much progress, but if we remain faithful we will eventually be able to look back and see a curve in the tracks. We have seen some encouraging progress over the last ten years — but, there is still long way to go!
Are you in?
In the introduction I wrote that this series isn’t just about presenting information. It is about inviting you to be a part of a growing movement of Christians who are pursuing biblical, multi-ethnic community. So, are you in? Do you want to see more of multi-ethnic community in your life and in the Christian organizations you are a part of? Are you willing to invest the prayer, time, and energy that it will take to see that happen? If so, I encourage you to take the following steps:
- Pray and ask God to show you what role you can play.
- Seek out a group of people who share your desire and begin to pray regularly for more of multi-ethnic community.
- Learn. Learn. Learn. — check all of the ways we can help
- Put what you are learning into action by prayerfully seeking out cross-cultural relationships, multi-ethnic community, and opportunities where you can help bring about systemic change.