Unity in Diversity
Kevin Gushiken is the teaching pastor of Harvard Avenue Evangelical Free Church in Villa Park, Illinois. For years the church was predominantly Caucasian. But eight years ago the congregation merged with a neighboring Spanish-speaking congregation. Around the same time, the church experienced an influx of African-Americans, Filipinos, and Indians. Leadership Journal's Paul Pastor talked with Gushiken about how the church pursues a common vision while striving to honor the diversity of its members.
Did you always intend to be a multiethnic church?
Not necessarily, but I've always had a desire for racial reconciliation. I'm biracial—Asian and Caucasian. Growing up I saw racial reconciliation in the home, different ethnic groups coming together. I didn't see until much later how important that was when, as a church, we started becoming more multiethnic.
You wrote that multiethnic ministry "just happened" for Harvard Avenue. But did you do anything early on that helped you become more diverse?
We started thinking about the community and we became interested in holistic ministry. We started a vibrant food pantry and a ministry helped the homeless. Our local community is very diverse. As we started to pray for our community and look carefully at our neighbors, people started to hear about the church as a place of love and grace in the neighborhood. When they came they found it to be a safe place.
Those more holistic ministries prepared our church's heart to grow in diversity. We grew in our love for our local community, and that began to spill over. So when people from differing backgrounds came, we were already praying to be able to minister to these people well. We loved and accepted them, and they felt comfortable. No one made an issue that we have differences, because God had been working on our hearts beforehand.
What's been the hardest thing for the church in transitioning into more diversity?
One difficulty is the cultural misunderstandings that arise. I'll tell you about a challenge from the worship team. We have a Caucasian lady and a Filipino lady on the worship team. We thought we'd make it mix, but the Caucasian woman was having difficulties with the Filipino. She was trying to go and talk to her directly, but the Filipino lady was being evasive. She didn't want to address it. Eventually, the Caucasian lady came to us and said, "I want to resolve this, but this person doesn't want to."
My wife and I started talking to them about cultural differences in conflict. We explained that the Caucasian wants to be direct and deal with it. But the Filipino's cultural value is to save face. She believed the best way to resolve the conflict was to keep the relationship without talking about it. It's a cultural disconnect. We began to do some cultural training. In the end, they reconciled and each culture was able to be honored and preserved—even if both had to compromise. It worked out beautifully.
So that is a huge challenge—investing the time and energy to work through things with people. It's tough sometimes to do pastoral care being both culturally sensitive and faithful to what Christ wants us to do. It has taken a lot more time and patience than ministering to a homogenous church. But I think it's helped us become a closer community as a result.