Last week I was part of a meeting with our church Leadership Board and the mission developer who will be starting a new worship service and ministry in our building. We worked out the nuts and bolts of the agreement, figured out who was responsible for what, who is accountable to whom, how we will support each other and what our next steps are. We talked about many of the practical details that need to be worked out. We also heard a little bit of the mission developer's vision and passion.
The new ministry will be called Tapestry. It will be bilingual and seeks to welcome people into community across cultures and language.
As we were talking, I thought back many years, to the time long ago when I served as a missionary teacher in Japan. I taught English as a second language to Junior and Senior High School boys at a school affiliated with my denomination. At the same time, I worked to get better at speaking Japanese, and better at teaching English. I worshipped at a local Japanese congregation, and taught some Bible studies in English, too.
There was one in particular, every Monday night. It had been going on for centuries, it seemed. All of the people who attended it were pretty fluent in English, and serious about their faith. They were all ages, and some had been attending for many years. The Monday night English Bible study took place at one of the large missionary houses across the street from the boys' school. All of the short-term missionaries took turns leading it. We worked our way through various Books of the Bible.
One thing we always did, every single week, before we started reading the assigned scripture reading, was ask a particular question, a question to make people think, but also a question to give everyone a chance to speak. I remember one week, it was my turn to lead. We were studying Acts 2, the story of Pentecost, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. My question was "Do you believe in ghosts?"
Some people said 'no.' Some people said 'yes'. Some said 'maybe'.
A funny thing happened the second year I was leading the Monday night English Bible study.
A young exchange student from Australia found us, and began attending the Bible study.
After a few weeks a couple more students, one from Germany and the other from Austria, also found our Bible study and became part of the conversation. A little later a student from Central America also found us.
It was now the International Bible Study, with all of these voices and different perspectives, all gathered in a missionary's living room, having conversations.
All of my memories are old and fuzzy now, but I still remember gathering in the living room, and the students who came, from different parts of the world. I remember thinking that the Kingdom of God is like this, and how seldom we see it, and how hard it is. I remember thinking that we were all strangers, in one way or another. The Japanese Christians because they were practicing a language and a faith not native to them, and the exchange students because they were sojourning in a strange land. We were all strangers and sojourners, in one way or another, learning new geography, new languages, new practices. Some of us believed in ghosts. Some did not. Some said 'maybe'. But the Holy Spirit was weaving us together, just for a short time, and forever.
I wanted the church to be like that.
So I was sitting in the church meeting last week, hearing the nuts and bolts and the visions and the dreams for this new ministry. All of them are important. I heard the visions and the dreams of the mission developer, who also taught English as a Second Language but also taught Spanish at a local high school. "The hallways were integrated, but the classrooms were not," she shared. But what if we did not stay separate? What would it take? I suspect it would be wonderful, and painful, and stumbling, like living in a foreign country, with all of the loneliness that comes along with the adventures and new experiences.
Still. Even so. I want the church to be like that.