Welcoming Communities/ Who is my neighbour
Part 4-Diversity and Unity
by Rev Meewon Yang
I remember being invited by a church to facilitate a workshop on becoming a welcoming multicultural church. An Anglo-Australian man said to me, ‘We don’t know what to do when someone comes to church who can’t speak English well. It is uncomfortable. I wish they can come to our church after they have become fluent in English’.
Diversity can be expressed in so many different ways – across race (culture and language), age, gender, and even across geographic or income status, and can often make us feel out of our comfort zone, leaving us grasping to know how to act or engage.
When I think about diversity and unity in community, I think of hospitality. The hospitality of God helps us to welcome others that may be different (diverse) from us. God welcomes us as we are, and so, we welcome others.
Just thinking about my own experience of when I came to Australia, I received hospitality across cultural and language boundaries, and it has shown me how hospitality and welcome provides space for creative and lifegiving diversity and in turn, unity.
Two themes are important:
1. Empowering diverse voices
How can we empower the voices of people from diverse backgrounds? We do this by listening to their experiences and respecting their unique identities. But this does not happen naturally. We need to do this intentionally.
This kind of listening does not happen when the dominant culture simply invites the other to share. It happens when we really listen, when we offer ourselves to them, when we are prepared to be shaped by them, and in some ways, they become the host.
If we seek to do this, the relationship changes and new voices are heard. We relinquish the power of language and enable new voices to break through. May I say boldly – when you give up your power, you make space for different voices to be heard.
We see this happening at our BUV Ignite Conference for multicultural youth & young adults. Young people of many different cultural backgrounds share their experiences, explore their cultural identity and gain confidence as they are heard, and so build a wider network of intercultural relationships.
2. Encounter different perspectives
Let us take a look at Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite Woman in Matt 15:21-28. She is from an outsider culture, powerless, yet with desires, needs, hopes and dreams. Initially she is portrayed in the story as the ‘other’, the stranger, the ‘dog’!
Yet, through her encounter and robust conversation with Jesus, she has a profound impact on the direction of Jesus’ ministry and is declared a person of great faith.
Mattia Preti (Il Cavalier Calabrese), Christ and the Canaanite Woman, c. 1665-70
The TransFormation course at Whitley has created incredible opportunities for people from different cultures to grow. They interact with one another and become friends.
They grow in confidence and learn from these conversations and perspectives. Women and men, young and old, people of different backgrounds all grow together in learning.
As I reflect on this opportunity to grow closer, I remember that Paul says, that just as Christ has welcomed us so we are to welcome others (Romans 15:7) and embrace diversity and unity in God, and within our diverse Australian community and churches.
Our faith grows when we are confronted with different ideas, different experiences, different views and new ways of seeing God at work. Our limited beliefs and prejudices can be transformed into new ways of seeing the world, and ourselves. There will be new compassion for others, new understanding about ourselves, and a new understanding and experience of God’s grace.
Let’s pray together –
Lord, thank you that you have made each and every person in this world unique and in your image. Thank you that you love and celebrate diversity – all races, cultures, languages, genders, ages and abilities. We ask that you would help us to have your eyes to see and your ears to hear those who are different from us. Help us to be open to the voice of God in the other. We now confess those things that have restrained from welcoming others, and ask that you would grow us in unity toward our neighbour.
Questions for reflection:
Are there barriers for minority groups to be welcomed in your community?
What needs to happen in your church to empower diverse voices?
How do we create conversations from different cultural perspectives?
Rev Meewon Yang
BUV Multicultural Consultant