This blog is called "Honest Talk with God." In the summer of 2006, I was honest with God. Living just outside of Washington DC, I loved the diversity of the community. We had neighbors from Ghana, Jordan, England, China, and El Salvador. As a pastor, I helped ordain pastors from China and Ghana, I baptized people from Laos, Argentina, and Sudan, and I worked in ministry with people from truly exotic places like Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
You may read this and think, "big whoop!" To me, it was huge. Before going to Northern Virginia, I had prayed that God would bless me with friendships with people from backgrounds different than my own. At the end of my seminary life in 1997, I was painfully aware that almost all my friends were middle class white people. Don't get me wrong; I love middle class white people. But there are billions in the world who are not white and do not speak English as a first language and do not come from the economic and socially dominant Caucasian group. I felt my view of humanity and my relationship with God were both severely limited by the fact that my relationships didn't go beyond people who were like me.
So, life in Northern Virginia was a blessing that amazed me for 9 years. But in the summer of 2006, God was telling me it was time to leave that wonderful place and go somewhere I didn't think I wanted to go - North Carolina. I knew our family was headed to a wonderful church. I never worried about that. But I did not know that the beautiful diversity I so treasured in Arlington, VA would also be found in Chapel Hill. And I told God that. I told God I was happy and grateful to be called to serve an exciting church and I was grateful for the challenge. But, I was also worried that what I valued might no longer be a big part of my life. I was worried that God was calling me away from something (a diverse community) that helped shape. I told God and God just chuckled. I had no idea what was in store.
Was I ever in for a happy surprise! Over and over in North Carolina, I am blessed to meet people who have lived in Carrboro all their lives. These are wonderful people who show me God and I love them. And over and over in North Carolina, I am blessed to meet people who have lived on three different continents. No, it's not the same as Northern VA or DC, but it is just as enriching. And the while the diversity is different in shape than from in DC, it is just as beautiful in the South.
A story from this past Sunday illustrates well my experience.
In our 2 & 3 -year-old class, we had two children. The little boy is 2 and he is Ethiopian, adopted by an American family. The little girl is 3, and from a Burmese family who came to America as refugees, fleeing the oppressive military government in what is now Myanmar. This little girl comes to church with her sisters. She is quiet as a mouse and calm as can be - when she is with her older sisters.
On Sunday, the sisters tried to drop her in the class and then go on to their classes. She became inconsolable. She was weeping, crying, screaming, and kicking. Apparently, her confidence and calm are dependent on keeping her sister in sight. With adults she did not know, she was terrified. The poor thing could not calm down. Who knows what she has been through in her young life?
The teacher of that class and our children's minister are both great and both were admirable in their patience and love for this distraught girl. And one other person showed great compassion. The 2-year-old Ethiopian, calmly, lovingly, approached the crying girl and hugged her and stroked her and wordlessly loved her.
Ultimately, she would not calm down until we went and brought her sister. But, that thought of an Ethiopian boy expressing deep concern and genuine love for a panicked Burmese girl while in a Sunday school class in North Carolina brought to my mind one of my favorite scripture passages. People talk about having a life verse. This verse is one that has been a powerful motivating force in my life.
Revelation 7:9 - "After this I looked and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"