By Kalie Lowrie and Analiz G. Schremmer
In heaven, people of every tongue, tribe and nation will worship together, yet we tend to separate ourselves out when congregate. At first glance, it may seem wrong to serve separately, but when you put yourself in the shoes of a recent immigrant, trying to navigate around a foreign culture and an unknown language, it makes perfect sense.
“If you go visit a church where you can’t understand the language, and the culture is confusing, how are you going to meet Christ?” asked Intercultural Ministries Director Patty Lane. “Even if you do somehow meet Christ, how are you going to get discipled when the message of Jesus isn’t communicated in a way that you understand? If it isn’t spoken in your heart language?”
Lane emphasized the importance of giving people the opportunity to serve God in a way that doesn’t feel like “a transplant of Americanism.”
Each of the churches below is reaching out to a specific ethnic group in Texas. Their ministries and missions work are as varied as their native languages and cultural backgrounds.
“These churches are all doing an amazing job serving their community not only here, but also overseas. A lot of them may come from places where the Gospel isn’t easily shared, so they don’t take that for granted and have used that freedom to reach out to people with the Gospel in places where they may otherwise not hear it.”
Caring for refugees as Burmese Americans
When Americans think of a diverse church, they probably think of a congregation where two, maybe three languages are spoken. But the members of Greater Houston Burmese Christian Fellowship speak more than 20 dialects. The church, which focuses on ministering to refugees, has a membership of more than 350. “Refugee ministry is very important because they are strangers to the land ... culturally, socially and emotionally,” said GHBCF Pastor Thong Lun. “No matter what kind of mindset they bring in, providing hospitality to refugees can change their minds and hearts. Whenever a new family or a newcomer visits our church for the first time, we give them rice, cooking supplies, clothes, etc. We try our best to show them that we love them, we care for them and we warmly welcome them.” GHBCF rents an apartment to serve as a mission point for their church and a place where partner organizations can offer ESL classes and host an after school program. In addition, Lun provides pastoral care by visiting homes to do Bible studies and offers guidance on things like navigating American culture and job applications.
Reaching indigenous tribes in the Philippines with the Gospel
Members of First Philippine Baptist Church of Houston were looking for a way to serve and prayed for the Lord’s guidance. “We asked, ‘To whom are you sending us and what are we supposed to be doing?,’” said Cecile Dagohoy, mission team leader. The Houston-based congregation is a self-described commuter church, with members travelling from across the city and suburbs for fellowship each week. Through a variety of circumstances and connections, the members felt called to the southernmost island of the Philippines. This summer, 26 members of the church traveled to the Filipino island to share the Gospel with two indigenous tribes - Mamanwaw and Bisayan. The people groups, who are primarily nomadic, walked four-to-six hours down a mountain to receive medical care, kits of food and school supplies from members of First Philippine Baptist Church and a partnering Filipino church from the area. While there, the group also helped build a community center, provided drug rehabilitation training and hosted a pastors’ conference. “We see the results of being faithful to His call,” Dagohoy said. “We realize who He is – He is able and that is powerful. The realization makes for a very dynamic church.”
Uniting Eastern Europeans in service and love
River of Life Church in Plano has a congregation that consists of people groups that are not always as amicable oversees. The 50-person congregation, which meets at the Hunter’s Glen Baptist Church building, hosts its gatherings in Russian. Members are immigrants or refugees from Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Estonia, Armenia, Georgia and Russia among others. Despite some political conflicts overseas, the congregation members are connected by language, faith and family. The church focuses on what Russian speakers have in common by hosting outreaches that serve families, such as an egg hunt in Easter and a summer camp for children. “What a beautiful picture of God’s Kingdom and His Church when we all are working together to see people of all nations and tribes get to know Him whether here, in North Texas, or overseas,” said River of Life Pastor Leonid Regheta, who also serves as director of Texas Baptists’ Project:Start Refugee Resource Center.
Creating a network of Nepali-speaking believers
Pastor Bhadra Rai, from the Canaan Bhutanese Church in Houston, had a vision to build a worldwide leadership network of Nepali-speaking Christians. While his congregation ministers to Bhutanese Nepali people in their community, he wanted to join together like-minded pastors and leaders around the world to provide encouragement and support. Rai desired to create a platform for ministers to discuss contemporary issues facing Nepali-speaking Christians and to build a virtual network to connect and partner for Kingdom work. In March, the Global Nepali-Speaking Fellowship was held in Siliguri, India, drawing pastors from 13 different countries. “Every church has its vision in one way or another to strengthen the believers in faith in Christ and to spread the Good News,” Rai said. “In the same way, we were able to host the Global Nepali-speaking Conference to empower the Nepali-speaking leaders around the Globe. My church and I were encouraged by this event to continue this work in future.”