I talked to a dear friend of mine one day about her frustration she was having with finding her place in ministry. She had heard all of the modern teaching about “purpose” and had read the seemingly endless amount of resources telling her the “5 steps to identifying your purpose/calling.” To most of us, it was actually rather obvious where her talents, passions, gifting and needs all intersected. Her passions, professional experience, even her college degree put her in the midst of international students and foreign people groups all the time. She preferred traditional foods from other cultures and even would rather go to the Arabic market to shop for her home. (They had better spices and higher quality produce, in her opinion.)
“The mission field," I said. "Why aren’t you going to the mission field? Is it because Black folk don’t do missions? Go shatter that stereotype!”
I was ready to go into the history of missionary work among Black people and how they pioneered missions work to foreign countries. I was ready to go full on Christian Black History month coupled with a clear call of the Gospel as a motivator to get her out there doing what it seemed like she was clearly called to do. But before I could go into my rant, she stopped me.
She shared with me the real reason that she didn’t want to do it. She wanted no part of the apparent American missions machine that seemed more about colonizing than proselytizing.
She had been on foreign missions trips, which is actually a rather rare occurrence among people of color, especially Black people today. What she had seen, every time, were foreigners rejecting the modest, traditional clothing of their culture and embracing the Western wear of khakis, button-up short-sleeved shirts, black shoes. She saw indigenous people embrace the Gospel and reject their indigenous cultural expression. She had the idea that the Gospel should lead people to repent of their sins, turn from their idols and follow God, but not for them to turn from their culture and embrace middle-American suburban forms of dress, music, and expression.
I had a similar conversation with a pastor friend of mine, Jorge Mendoza, only Jorge wasn’t in some foreign village once upon a time in a land far, far away. He was right here in America born to a strong Mexican heritage. Always proud of his “Chicano” roots and simultaneously enculturated by hip-hop culture, when he became a believer, things began to change for him. He changed his clothing style. He changed the style of music he enjoyed. His heroes began to look different. “I thought repentance meant repenting of everything, including my culture,” said Mendoza. He continued on to say, “I imbibed the culture I was in, which was white fundamentalism.”
I’ve seen so many people attempt to navigate the waters of being a minority in majority cultured churches. I’ve watched "hip-hop heads," skaters, Mexicans, Asians, and more try to navigate what it means to have their cultural expressions give glory to God without being made to feel like their culture has to be repented of. The African American doesn’t have to inherently repent of their outward emotional responses to God (nor does the Caucasian have to repent of his reflective silence).
Let’s take the time to examine what cultural preferences we are upholding as "right." Just because we like it doesn't mean it's righteous. There are some modest forms of dress my Indian neighbors wear that I would not wear unless I was trying to be a missionary to them. They don't have to repent of their clothes. Despite my dislike of the style of music, my White friends don't have to repent of their country music. (However if I could find a Scripture reference, I'd preach it regularly!)
Revelation 7 shows us that John saw something when he looked into Heaven:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (7:9-10)
In Heaven, John saw color! He saw color, culture, and language. These were used as diverse ways to worship and honor God in Heaven.
Let's find ways to welcome and celebrate diverse cultural expressions among believers. To fail to do so is to rob God of the varying forms of worship due His name. Let's stop asking people to assimilate into our own cultural preferences and invite people to let the Gospel do its work in their hearts and flourish within the cultural expressions and maximize the glory and honor that belongs to Him who sits on the Throne.