Every Nation, Tribe, People, & Language

“The mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.'” ~Isaiah 2:2-3

“There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…And they cried out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'” ~Revelation 7:9-10

You know my dream is to ultimately see our church body at Legacy accurately reflect the uniting force of the Gospel. My vision is that all our Spanish-speaking members and all our deaf members come together to worship our Lord in the same assembly on Sundays. Full integration. Not segregation. The birth, life, teachings, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus breaks down all the barriers between us. It destroys the things that separate us. In Christ there are no divisions, no walls. We’re one. We’re equal. We’re all in the same family. And the family should model that.

So, how do we do this? Is it impossible? Do we keep our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters out in the fellowship hall or tucked away in an upstairs classroom? Or do we sacrifice and bend and give and do whatever it takes to bring them fully into the family?

One of the cover stories in the July Christian Chronicle, “Are Churches Reaching New Americans?” chronicles the efforts of several churches to unite their English and Spanish speaking members into one united body. The trick, it seems, is to realize that language is not a barrier. It’s not easy. It presents challenges. But it’s not impossible.

Daniel Rodriguez, a professor of religion and Hispanic studies at Pepperdine, puts his finger on the fallacy of the language issue. “The fastest growing churches have realized that language is not a barrier. They have recognized how to reach the grandmother who speaks only Spanish and her grandchildren who speak English.”

The Inland Valley Church of Christ in California has about 120 members, 50 of whom speak primarily Spanish. But most everything they do in their assemblies is in English. They provide headsets and live translation. The lyrics to the songs appear on the screens in both languages. One of the Inland Valley ministers, Tom Allen, says, “As we interact, we come to care for each other. When people love each other, they’ll accommodate.”

Wow. That’s the key, right? Instead of focusing on the little differences among us, zeroing in on the huge eternal things we have in common through the blood of Christ Jesus.

I know at the North Davis Church in Arlington, our Lord’s Supper time was bilingual. A prayer and/or Scripture reading in English and in Spanish. Both. Every time. Worshiping together around the common table. Yes.

The foreign-born population in the U.S. is reaching 15-percent. More than one million legal immigrants earn U.S. citizenship every year. Most Hispanic people in Texas my age or younger, and virtually all people the age of my children and younger, speak both English and Spanish. Language is not the barrier.

Is it custom? Is it culture? Is it fear? What is it? I hate to think our schools and our government buildings and our restaurants and our soccer teams and our Wal-Marts and our media can integrate and bring people together better than our Gospel.

Peace,

Allan

8 Comments

  1. Rob's Dad

    Love it – make sure the doors are truly open. You can work around the language stuff however it is much harder to work around the culture and customs. Mention Church of Christ to many (heck, let’s light it up – most)people and they will give you the fish eye. They have a fear and a view of CofC that is 180 degrees from that held by most of the members of Legacy. They are hard-pressed to ever give Legacy a chance. Continue on and look at that most prized demographic of 34-54 year olds – how many grew up CofC and stayed there? How many of them grew up in a different church and then outside of marriage actually joined a CofC congregation? Given the dispersion of churches and absence of a unifying board ala our Baptist or Lutheran brothers, I thinking these questions are probably rhetorical. Or at best, would only apply to individual churches which would be hard to apply.

    Think back to some of those publicly declared sins from last Wed night and perhaps some of those may give a key to how to really fling open the doors.

  2. Allan

    I might say, generally, it’s only the folks who are 54 or older who have any preconceived notions about CofC. Most folks younger than that don’t care. And I’d be surprised if any of our Hispanic neighbors know anything about CofC. The fields are white!! Wait….you know what I mean.

    In a Bible study here this morning it was mentioned by a prominent Legacy leader (name-dropping, sortof)that the economic barrier is much bigger than the language wall. Wow. And that’s ALL on us!

  3. Brittany

    hey allan, loved the post. living in miami we now go to a church (sunset church of christ) that has really found a great way to handle such a diverse group. we have our english service, then bible classes (some are integrated, some are seperate), then we have fellowship time (coffee & donuts) in the fellowship hall for everyone to catch up, then the spanish congregation has their assembly (sometimes their numbers are higher than first service!). BUT- once a month we have a bilingual service… probably my absolute favorite sunday of the month. from the very beginning of worship, EVERYTHING is done in both languages. prayers are two sentences in english, then translated to spanish, and so on. scripture readings are in spanish, then read in english. the preacher can speak both languages usually, or a translator is brought on stage. my absolute favorite is the singing… we find songs that both spanish and english members know, and we’ll sing the first verse in english, the second verse in spanish, and so on! next song we’ll sing the first verse in spanish, second verse in english, etc. i guess people in miami are a little more bilingual than some people in NRH might be… but what a blessing to learn not only a language to help reach out, but also a way that Hispanics and Cubans seem to have SO much passion and heart in their worship service that really carries over to us. we are definitely blessed by it and i think any congregation would be. (and one more thing… hearing prayers in english and spanish (and sign language) is the most inspiring thing to hear. it’s so amazing that our God understands it all…)

  4. Allan

    Cherish that, girl. Y’all are on the front lines in God’s work of salvation. It sounds like Day of Pentecost every week! I can’t imagine anything more uplifting and inspiring than hearing the same songs and prayers lifted up to our Father in different languages. What a strong statement and portrait that God’s love and God’s Kingdom is worldwide, across borders and boundaries, from age to age. Beautiful. Amen.

  5. Rob's Dad

    Have to disagree with you on the perception and age point. I’ve seen it at work and in grad school too many times with people that are well short of the 50 mark.

    I would agree with that prominent Legacy leader (bet that really makes them proud) on the ecomnomic point.

    It’s not just the fields that are white.

  6. Allan

    Excellent.

  7. ManuelCalderonSpanishPreacher

    I can say many things…

    But you presented the topic so well…

    This is where we’re moving towards, step by step to show the world that the Gospel of Christ unites all of us, black and white, Hispanic and Americans, Spanish, Deaf and English speakers. And we as a family (Legacy) will show our community that we care for every one of them and that we can all live together, worship together and love God together at one voice, one heart and one spirit!

    You and I will preach this Gospel of unity for days, months and years to come!

    At the end of the day, we will be together in heaven with the Lord so why not to start enjoying that now!

    Blessing!
    Manuel Calderon (Your Spanish Servant)

  8. Jim Gardner

    Lar,

    I’m with you, but in areas where the diversity is broader, the challenge is heightened. In cities where two languages dominate, I’m with you. In Fresno where there are 86 different language groups, it’s harder. Since we have reached six and have assemblies in six different languages, it makes the integration much more difficult.

    What we’ve discovered is the first generation immigrants are wedded to their culture and their language. But the second and third generations, many of whom were taught in English schools and work in jobs where English is the norm, have moved into the English-speaking assembly. I foresee a time in our ministry when the Eastern language assemblies basically die off as their posterity is reared in an English-speaking environment.

    I don’t foresee that happening, though, with Spanish. And that’s why I like and agree with your thoughts.

    One final tidbit: in our Friend Speak ministry, the immigrant women are excited and devoted to learning English. Their husbands want no part of it. It’s an interesting dynamic.

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