Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How The Help Helped Us Become (More) Bi-Cultural

On vacation in July, my wife and daughters all read The Help. and I'm man enough to say I read it too. Though all the main characters are women, it isn't 'just a chick book' but it's a rather a stimulating book about our recent past prior to and during the civil rights movement. Another pastor I respect wrote a great review I don't need to repeat.

I wanted to comment on the tag line for the movie. It's change begins with a whisper. But I think the result of 8 or 10 women in our English-speaking congregation reading and discussing The Help for their book club has revealed and spurred on some change. And it shows how we are making progress in our mission to be a justice-seeking, reconciling, bi-cultural, multi-ethnic church.

The Setting of Our Change
Sunday July 31, we got back from vacation to witness an historic Sunday for Crosspoint Encuentro Church. Our Pastor to Hispanics for the last few years, Hector Guzman, an immigrant from Mexico City, preached in Spanish to our English-speaking congregation for the first time. (He was translated by a 2nd generation Puerto Rican man in our church). He spoke as one who knows us well and who loves us crazy Americans but had some good corrections and some needed insight into our vision to be unified - one church two congregations. He was right on and we needed to hear from him!

The Background of Our Change
When we started 8 years ago, the vision was always for a multi-ethnic church. But, as you may know, I'm a white guy from Tennessee. I really had nothing in my family (except some racially-mixed adopted cousins but that is a whole other story) or in our staff to show visibly our desire to be not 'just another white church.' So we just kept holding the door open, telling all the people who visited (most of whom were white) that it's our vision and aspiration to be a church of many nations, races and languages.

So miraculously, three years into the church plant, God brought some bi-lingual people - the Mateos, Santiagos, Rodriguezes - and through them, six years in, the Lord sent us the Guzmans to start a second Spanish-speaking congregation.

The Problem with Change
It is a challenge to start being a bi-cultural church after its always been a mono-cultural church! We had been somewhat multi-cultural and multi-racial in our first six years but adding a second language requires a significant amount of  work and sacrifice so that we can truly be ONE church, instead of two churches that like each other.

Over the years we have held combined worship services. I spent three weeks at language school improving my Spanish. I attend all the Encuentro worship services I possibly can. In our English worship services, we sing one song a week with Spanish. Some of our people are making friends slowly during our education hour when both congregations are in the building together. We send a van around to pick up families. But it seems like we have a long way to go to be unified like a family in Christ.

The Help is Helping Us Change 
We are beyond whispering now! When these ladies read and discussed this book, I was told it led to some deep and perhaps surprising discussion! When Lisa Payne spoke to me after hearing Hector preach, I was shocked at what they had discussed the night before at their The Help discussion.

She said it made them ask, 'Do we do this same sort of thing today? Are we prejudicial in our treatment of Hispanics? What is it like to raise children in a sub-dominant culture?' Wow. Wow!

Only the gospel could have prepared all these English-speaking women (who are quite diverse themselves) to look at themselves and ask such an honest and hard questions!

And only pressing into the Gospel and Scripture and each others' lives will lead us to further answers about the issues. I am deeply excited about how The Help discussion is helping us make progress!

We Aren't All Better Now - But We are Changing at Different Speeds
And now more people are investing themselves in the questions, the issues and the struggle to be united as a diverse church. As your pastor, it's so encouraging to see!
  1. One Saturday after their The Help discussion, the ladies book club re-assembled to invite Hector and Cecy and me discuss issues immigrants face living under a dominant culture. The answers were not neat or easy. It makes us uncomfortable. But it was good. (more in future posts).
  2. Pastor Jose Mateo (who is a 2nd generation Puerto Rican) just joined our pastoral staff as a volunteer to develop Outreach and Discipleship in our two congregations. Though he thinks and speaks English mostly, he can bridge both cultures in a way that neither Hector nor I can.
  3. Sunday 4 people who's primary language is Spanish will lead 18 English-speakers in beginning to learn or improve their Spanish. Our hope is this will develop an appreciation for each other's lives, cultures, families, worship songs and maybe deeper friendships as we learn to obey the Lord together.
  4. Next month, in our bi-monthly combined worship service, Hector will preach instead of me.
  5. I posted a resolution some of us have made about welcoming immigrants into our church. Its posted here on this blog.
I wonder what else God will do with and through Crosspoint Encuentro as we continue following Him together?

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