By Alice Kinyua
NZCMS Intercultural Ministry Enabler
There is an image that I find mind-boggling, described in Revelation 7:9-10
“After this, I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Here is where my imagination fails me – What did this sound like? Was it a recital or a song? Was it rehearsed or spontaneous? Did they wave the palm branches or hold them still? Did they lay them down on the ground or use them in a flawless coordinated dance? What did the words sound like?
It is easy to think that every one of those voices sounded like what it says in my English Bible. But the words and the rhythm change when I read them in Kiswahili or in Kiembu or in French or in Spanish. When thousands of languages come together and burst into song, how does that sound?!
I don’t know, but I can imagine one thing: it was glorious! It was so glorious that the angels responded in worship! They fell down saying:
“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!”
The Culmination of Pentecost
I think this scene in Revelation is the culmination of the miracle that happened on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came down on the believers and immediately they started speaking in different languages.
Acts 2 mentions sixteen different language groups that were in Jerusalem at that time from all over the known world! Everyone was minding their own business when suddenly they were stopped in their tracks not believing their own ears!
“Weren’t those Galileans speaking in different tongues?”
They could hear the Gospel in their native languages! A revival broke out on that day! Thousands were affected by the Gospel. Thousands became followers of Jesus Christ.
Coming from a different country, I naturally find myself gravitating toward people from different countries and cultures. Anytime I hear a peculiar accent I can’t help but ask where that person is from. Soon a conversation starts and over time, I have built very good relationships with people from all over the world living within our neighbourhood. Once upon a time, the only way to meet people of different cultures was to go to those countries. Now, you can hardly think of a country that is not represented here in Aotearoa. The nations have come to our doorsteps.
Multicultural Community, Monocultural Church
I recently started a new role at the NZCMS as an Intercultural Ministries Enabler. Since then I have made a conscious effort to look at the composition of the churches around us and compare it with the composition of the local community. Here’s what I’ve observed.
When you take a walk in your local area it won’t take you long to meet people from different parts of the world. This could either be when you are taking a morning jog, walking your dog at the beach, going to the local café or even going to your local op-shop. It will happen even without you trying hard to find them. You just need to be a little observant and have a listening ear. (This is actually a very eye-opening exercise. I challenge you to try it.)
However, I’ve also observed that when you walk into a local church in that same neighbourhood, the composition of that congregation is not representative of the local community. With the exception of a few, many congregations are largely monocultural.
Our Sunday services are also almost exclusively English, even where our congregations include people who speak different languages. Our worship and our fellowship expressions only largely represent the dominant pakeha kiwi middle class culture. Does this sound like your church?
Some Ideas for Pentecost 2022
The good news is that our churches can enjoy the glorious worship enriched by different cultural expressions. Pentecost Sunday is coming up. This can be a good time to start exploring different ways of including other languages and cultures in our worship. Here are some simple suggestions:
If your church has people from different parts of the world, invite them to pray in their home language.
Choose to have someone read the scriptures in a language of some minority in your congregation in addition to the English reading. Grant them the joy of hearing the Gospel read in the language of their hearts.
Try some common songs in different languages. You will be surprised how many common hymns or favourite worship songs already exist in other languages. Have the people in your congregation help your music team learn simple lines. Also, consider the kind of music you play before or after the service. What if every so often you chose music that comes from the nations of some of the members of your congregation? Ask them for recommendations for your playlist.
At the next church event, how about deliberately inviting people to bring a meal from their culture? You might learn a lot and stimulate taste buds you never knew you had!
Think about your neighbour or the vender in the local store that has immigrated to NZ. Invite them for a cuppa at your house. I have found it easier to invite two people from different countries at the same time. This makes the conversations richer and the experience easier for you as the host and for the guests as well. Let that be a start of a relationship that might later lead to them hearing the Gospel.