Back in the dark ages when my husband and I were appointed as missionaries, we were unique. Well, let me rephrase that: he was unique, I was not. However, because I got to walk beside this wonderful Egyptian-American in ministry, I had a front-row seat to some amazing things God was not just doing but teaching me about Body Life.
We were not the only “unique” couple in our group that year, but were privileged to have our picture taken with a lovely Korean-American couple, who were also leaving to serve overseas. The title of the article written about us conveyed the idea that our organization was seeing “ethnic” peoples sent out as missionaries.
This was not in the 1800s, mind you, but the 1990s.
Looking back at it some thirty years later, it seems funny, as our “American” culture has grown exponentially diverse in those years, but it was a novelty then. I’m happy that I was on the cutting edge of what would prove to be a growing trend.
The list of missionaries from my denomination, whether within our nation or beyond our borders, has also changed. No longer are names obviously from the majority of our population, but they contain the beautiful and sometimes difficult to pronounce names of those who have immigrated to the states or were born into immigrant families and now are serving for the cause of Christ.
I thank the Lord when I cannot pronounce the name of one of our missionaries, because it reminds me that he’s all about shaking up the nations for the benefit of his Kingdom.
It’s helpful to think of the Body of Christ, not just as your local church, but as the Church national and universal. Think about the work of missions as you read these words from Paul to the church in Corinth:
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.*
Try inserting words like this: “Because I am not an Arabic-speaker, I do not belong to the body,” or “if the whole body were English speakers, where would the Spanish speakers be?” As it is, we are many nationalities and languages, but one body.
I watched my Arabic-speaking husband reach Muslims in a way that most Americans only dreamed of doing. God had definitely placed him in the Body of Kingdom workers for a specific task. That however, did not mean, that me or another “ordinary” American missionary should say we “don’t belong to the body,” because God had a role for us as well.
Many times, I shared with my American colleagues the important role that many of them had in discipleship. This actually, became my own part in the work we did in the Middle East, discipling women who came to faith. Because I had come from a background of consistent Bible study and teaching, I was able to stay the course in helping new believers grow in their faith, teaching them the discipline of daily Bible study and prayer.
In this way, the sower and the reaper can be glad together. All the workers in the harvest are of equal value.
Finding yourself working side-by-side with a person of another nationality or ethnic group has its own challenges, yet when harmony is found, it provides a wonderful picture of the Body of Christ universal and eternal.
I pray that both workers and prayer warriors will embrace the diversity we have in Christ and pray for unity in heart and mind as we serve our Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Grace and Peace
*1 Corinthians 12:15-20 (NIV)