One of the most formative church bodies I’ve been part of met in a nearly windowless old post office in central Kentucky. Cristo Reina was a majority-Latino congregation pastored by a team of Mexican and Mexican American seminary students, a warm and passionate trio ministering to a community that, at the time, had been mostly overlooked by other churches.
Sermons were in Spanish, of course, occasionally translated for English-speaking guests. Communal meals followed every service. The worship team, for which I often played drums, was young and flew always by the seat of its pants. Despite this, in those moments when musicians and congregants managed to settle into the same key, the singing could give chills. Many in our little church body were undocumented farm workers advancing through their weeks one barn accident or traffic stop away from ruin; when they laid their burdens at the foot of the cross, the earth shook.
The church is long gone now. But my brief sojourn there—probably less than two years—was the only time in my church life that I, as a white man, experienced in some small way what it is to be in the minority. To be sure, outside those concrete-block walls, I was a privileged member of the cultural majority, with US citizenship to boot. But inside, Cristo Reina didn’t feel exactly like “home.” I spoke its language, but not perfectly. I liked pozole and menudo, but would never crave them. The church was not structured around people like me, around my worship tastes or preaching preferences or busy schedule. And rightly so. Who was I, in that context, to deserve any attention at all?
Remarkable to me, however, is that the leadership never saw things that way. Like Christ pausing amid far bigger worries to look into the eyes of a woman who had touched his cloak (Matt. 9:22), time and again they would pause from putting out fires and step aside with people like me to ask questions and listen, to admonish and encourage and pray. They were, in the truest sense, my pastors.
Anyone who takes Scripture seriously must also embrace its promise of a coming multiethnic worship community comprising “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev. 7:9). In the meanwhile, multiethnic churches will be messy, will often be difficult, and for some today, may even feel impossible. But done right, they offer an environment like none other to model the ways God’s love for his people transcends social status, power structures, and credentials. As Korie Little Edwards, arguably today’s preeminent scholar on multiracial churches, writes in this month’s coverage of the topic, they can be “places where every person’s belovedness is embraced and celebrated.”
Andy Olsen is print managing editor of Christianity Today. Follow him on Twitter @AndyROlsen.
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