What does it mean to be a part of the church? To many that is probably a familiar question. But, I wonder, how often do we reflect on what it means to be a part of the global church? We read in the book of Romans God’s admonishment through the Apostle Paul, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” It’s that last line that we often bypass that should strike us. How often do we think of ourselves as belonging to someone else? Move past the individual. How often do we think of our church community as belonging to someone else? Have we ever been guilty of treating our local church or denomination as if it is the center of Christianity?
You know, this world is bigger than you. And it’s so much bigger than me. It’s not enough that we know that. We have to intentionally be aware of this reality.
A couple of weeks ago I was blessed to be one of about 800 participants from all over Latin America in CLADE V. I met new people every day and the exchange of life stories became a regular exercise. There were international students, like Samuel, who had spent time in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Spain. There were teens from Chile standing up against child abuse. I met Uruguay’s director of Youth for Christ, an older, humble gentleman with a great laugh. There were several Pastors and ministry leaders from Brazil and even some American Theology professors at the conference as well. I got to hang out with a professor from Oxford and a professor from Eastern University. To my surprise I also met a couple there who had graduated from Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI. Together, all these, and so many more, were challenged daily to reflect theologically during the gathering on several issues affecting Latin Americans; from environmental degradation to immigration and from child abuse to perpetual poverty.
When delegates from all over the world gather together and share about the work God is doing in their contexts, and the confrontations they yet face, it leaves much ponder. I was pleasantly surprised at how much environmental issues came up during the conference. The Latino church has and is embracing Christian responsibility to God’s creation. You know the Bibles with the words of Christ in red? I now have in my possession the Eco Biblia (Bible), with words concerning creation care in green. Yeah. In green. I didn’t see that coming, but it’s wonderful. Every delegate got a free Eco Biblia.
It wasn’t until I met a delightful Columbian lady with a British accent that I thought about Latino immigrants living in the U.K. I had been so focused on Latino Immigration to the U.S. that I never paid much attention to Latino immigrants moving to other countries and the issues they face in doing so. Honestly, I had to repent concerning that. This Columbian sister and her husband live in London, and there she serves in an organization that supports Latinas who have been the victims of violence. She led a workshop during the conference titled, Jesus the First Feminist. I bet that title is making somebody’s hair on the back of their neck stand up straight. It certainly grabs one’s attention. I was blessed to have a few moments with her discussing the issue of domestic violence against women and the role preachers and pastors need to take in addressing the issue within the church. These and many other similar moments have been shifting my thinking. What is my role in the global church?
During the conference there were over 100 tables set up for the participants to sit and dialogue together. On the last night, there was bread and grape juice set on the tables for the participants to share in communion. Some of the friends I had made during that time wanted to sit together to have communion before departing to our different countries of origin. That communion time was probably the most awkward communion sharing I’ve ever had. There were pieces of bread on the table and we weren’t sure how to share it. Did we take a piece and pass it around? Do we each just grab one for ourselves? Is there enough for everyone? Sharing the juice was just as challenging. The beauty of it was that we figured it out together. And everyone was served. Communion that night was probably one of the most special times of the entire event. In all likelihood, the next time we all sit at a table together, like we did on that night, will be when sit at the King’s table at the end of age. Still, I can’t wait to share that table again with my friends.
As awkward as it might be, we believers must look for the opportunity to be in communion together. We read in Philippians 2. “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” I don’t write this blog to give anyone answers on how to be a better part of global church. Indeed, I myself probably have more questions than answers at this time. But, I do think it’s something we should consider as exercise our daily ministry, wherever we are. It may be awkward at first, but God has called us to live with each other. He has called us to serve one another, and treat our brothers and sisters at home and around the world as if we belong to them.
R. R. Tavárez