When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the early church on the day of Pentecost, the people were caught up in God’s mission to reach the nations. Their hearts overflowed with joy as they boldly declared the wonders of God to people who came from other lands. It felt like Pentecost came early this year for the 50 delegates who gathered recently for the national Cross-Cultural Conference, ‘Moving into the neighbourhood’.
It was a blessing to be together with others who long for the Lord to be honoured among the nations.
At the very outset, it was clear that people came with soft hearts to hear new direction, and for many, the presence of the Lord was palpable.
Just as it was said of the tribe of Issachar that they ‘understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take’ (1 Chronicles 12:32), the Lord was opening our understanding to see that he is out in the neighbourhood and wants us to join him.
For a people whose focus has been meeting with the Lord in church buildings for generations, this is a new way of thinking.
Like the busy fishermen on the shores of Galilee who heard the call to follow Jesus, each conference session challenged our priorities, and I suspect a few nets were being discarded.
Some of you could not attend the conference, so let me try and describe the atmosphere.
At these times when the Lord is challenging us with a new direction (like the day of Pentecost), there is a grace that helps us respond. Certain things happen when he is present.
I could see souls being restored as the Lord’s joy flowed among us, and at times, we just overflowed with laughter.
At other times, we experienced the type of awe that moistens dry eyes and softens hearts.
So, you might be asking, what actually happened at the conference?
For about half of the session time, we looked at ways our congregations can become more welcoming for visitors and various ways our congregations can connect across lines of ethnicity and language to reflect something of the ultimate heavenly worship (every tribe and tongue).
The other half of our time was dedicated to understanding people who are often outsiders and building empathy for those who are newcomers to our country.
It was breathtaking to hear from delegates who have come to us from other locations and to walk in their shoes for a time. I will long remember hearing our dear Maha pray in her Tamil language – a woman newly converted from Hinduism and praying from first love (a Pentecost moment).
It was during this time we explored ways to love Muslim people better, and we heard from a diminutive Salvation Army officer Karen Elkington, who works among asylum seekers (a big heart inside a small body).
Finally, we donned chef’s hats and searched for ways to become the bread of life for our hungry neighbours.
The mission heart of the LCA is beating a little stronger this Pentecost season!
The full conference report can be found on the Cross-Cultural Ministry webpage.
Craig Heidenreich is the LCANZ’s Cross-Cultural Ministry Facilitator.