This is a concluding article in a series on the multi-cultural dimension of contemporary UK context.
From a recent past of British mono-ethnicism, the barriers of culture, language and other religious beliefs may sound very challenging, but we are not left alone in trying to reach increasingly multi-cultural communities. God is placing people among us, so that together we can make an effective impact with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Lessons from the Early Church
As things developed from an exclusively Jewish start, the Acts 13 leadership list shows an evident ethnic mix necessitated by the multi-cultural city of Antioch. The Holy Spirit pulls in an “outsider” Paul and designates him as apostle to the Gentiles; not Peter, despite the Acts 10 persuasion of Peter to formally open the door to the Gentiles. Paul held dual citizenship (a Jew with full rabbinic university training yet also a Roman citizen of provincial upbringing) and was comfortable working in a multi-racial team (Acts 20:4). Timothy was a “third culture kid” of mixed parentage, comfortable with Jew or Greek. Then there was the role of the Jewish Diaspora, a mixture of forced and economic migration which not only laid foundations in terms of the Torah, synagogues and knowledge of God, but people who were already culturally adjusted and multi-lingual. Apostles as dedicated church planters worked closely with migrating business folk such as Priscila and Aquila. God has always been one step ahead in terms of ensuring His community is truly reflective and making best use of the world’s diversity. Are we?
Here are some ways the wider church can help us in the witness to Christ and growth of His church in UK today.
- Receiving missionaries from other countries Charles has been working for 19 years as a missionary in UK, with both local churches and the evangelists’ association Counties playing a part. In addition to evangelistic work in the multicultural mix of east London, he has a specific heart for young people of immigrant families (African, Asian and Eastern European), many now thoroughly British in terms of their schooling and teenage experience. Some are continuing in the enthusiastic practice of the Christian faith seen in their parents, but others, along with typical British youth culture, have dwindling interest in the Christian faith. Charles, with his own journey in cross-cultural mission from Ghana to UK, is well placed to encourage, challenge and mentor such young people in the pathways of effective cross-cultural mission here in the UK. Are we helping these incoming missionaries?
- Integrating refugees into local church Issayas made the long journey here as a refugee from Eritrea and worked through the lengthy process of re-qualifying as an accountant in the UK to become fully employable again. He has been helped greatly by becoming an active member in a Welsh-culture local church, and been a help in sensitising the members of that church to the realities of refugee experience and the challenges of cross-cultural communication. Alongside that has been his involvement in an Eritrean church in the area. A valuable way of helping those of his own people to settle into an alien land, to recover and grow in their faith, but also to nurture them in making direct contributions to indigenous church life and mission in the UK.
- Missionaries returning from overseas Emma, while serving overseas, met and married Ayham from Syria. Now, after some challenging adjustments, they are settled in Wales and raising a third-culture family, fellowshipping in a British-culture church as well as supporting an Arabic-speaking fellowship. Emma and Ayham are a couple that bring significant understanding and experience to those seeking to reach Middle Eastern origin people or those with a Muslim background in our own localities. They said, “We want to encourage people to be part of a local British congregation, but also provide a place for evangelism, teaching, worship and fellowship in the Arabic heart language.” How can we make better use of those we previously sent out into cross-cultural mission, now living back among us?
- Partnering with oversees people and churches Ramon came from Brazil with his family in 2004 and still serves as a pastor in Grosvenor Chapel, Barnstable. God had laid a call in Ramon’s heart in 1990 about serving in mission in the UK. Graham, a leader from Grosvenor, met Ramon while on sabbatical in Brazil, and relationships were built over time. Ramon was invited to serve for a year at Grosvenor, to improve his English and bring his experience of growing an effective large church in Brazil. This led to a long term appointment and being part of the team helping a rural town church thrive and be an effective support of other churches in the area. He had to learn to adapt methodologies from typical city-fast Brazilian style to a slower rural pace, but discipleship is the unchanging Jesus way of doing things. He has helped in mentoring house group leaders, which has led to the development of over 30 house groups within Grosvenor, based on his experience of his San Paulo church that did not have a building in which to meet. Ramon values the exchange of cultural experience; the learning and giving, but it does require openness, as he says, “Do not get stuck because of culture differences, but be open to accept and receive the spiritual inputs brought from someone who comes from a different culture”. The key dimension here is that through building relationships and partnering with overseas churches and individuals, a calling can be recognised and a worker brought from overseas with the full support of both the sending and calling churches.
- Partnering better with those on our doorstep Overseas students, multi-national company employees, migrant workers, multi-cultural marriages, and third culture kids – time in this article has not allowed for testimony from the many believers who live and work in our country, who are gifted and experienced in understanding and working in multiple cultures. Are we recognising and appreciating them? Are we making best use of all they can bring to enrich local church life and witness?
Some key ways forward
As UK churches we need to learn and benefit from those the Lord is bringing to us, who come with a greater confidence in the Gospel, courage in evangelism and determination in prayer. Can we humbly acknowledge that we need help in these areas?
» Seek out Christians in your area who are from the same backgrounds or language of the significant ethnic minority (or majority!) groups in your area. They may be fellowshipping with other churches or live further afield in your town or city. Discuss with them the issues these articles have raised. What can you learn from them? How could you work together in key activities going forward?
» Consult with Christians who are nationals in those countries, to learn how best to witness in those cultural contexts. Build partnerships with churches in those countries. Consider worker exchanges, short visits (both ways) that may lead to longer term partnerships.
» Church Growth Trust partners with mission agencies such as Echoes International (echoes.org.uk) and GLO (glo-europe.org), who have longstanding relationships with many of these countries. Connect with these service groups to explore ways of receiving missionaries from those countries who can help us as UK churches to engage more effectively in cross-cultural mission on our own doorsteps.
Mark and his wife Shirley served as missionaries in Zambia for 20 years engaging in Bible teaching and church/community development projects. From 2003 Mark worked at Tilsley College, Scotland, recently leaving his role as Principal to continue serving with GLO Europe as the Training Director and Coordinator of a national training network. Mark and Shirley are now based in London at Highgate International Church.