When God called me to lead a church plant in a poverty stricken, urban part of our community, I was eager to be a part of an intentionally multiethnic church. But I didn’t realize the extent of the ethnic diversity in our city: about 180 different languages spoken in our local school district and approximately 100 of those languages spoken within a mile of our Mosaic Church of Aurora building in Aurora, Colorado. We live among immigrants and refugees from every part of the world in our Denver suburb. I expected that many of our neighbors would be from Mexico and others would be African-American, but I was amazed (and still am) and often overwhelmed by my new reality.
I didn’t expect to connect with my neighbors on such a deep heart level. These are my close personal friends. I no longer see “people groups.” I see trusted colleagues and partners in ministry. I wouldn’t have expected to connect so quickly and easily with people with far different life experiences, spending time in their homes, playing games with their kids, eating all kinds of interesting and mostly tasty food.
I didn’t expect to learn so much more than I taught. I have met so many gifted and fascinating people with remarkable life journeys. I have learned perseverance from those who spent decades in inhumanerefugee camps. I have learned commitment from pastors with families who work 50 hours a week at low-paying jobs and then choose to spend hours in Bible study, prayer and preparation for their weekly ministry. I have learned about joy from friends who have escaped war-torn countries, who work long hours in manual labor jobs and still inspire me with their laughter and smiles, their gratitude and joy.
I didn’t expect to travel around the world. I agreed to the request of Thang Hung, one of my new Burmese friends to teach, support and encourage some mostly untrained refugee pastors. I didn’t anticipate the close connections they had with friends and family in their home countries and the invitations I’d get to travel there to teach, encourage and support. So even though it wasn’t a part of my plan, I will be going to Myanmar (formerly Burma) for the second time to connect with 17 pastors from various parts of the country. Some of those pastors have planted churches in the last couple of years and have honored us by naming their churches after ours. There are now four “Mosaic” churches in Myanmar that look to us for fellowship and encouragement and have organized the meetings that I will be attending.
I didn’t expect to have a fresh, new understanding of who God is, the God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).