Katie Hickey, CGO Office Administrator
South America, 80-degree weather, Australians, pumpkin pie—these things meant Thanksgiving to me. Growing up on the mission field in Brazil, our Thanksgiving traditions were a little bit different from the average American household. We didn’t necessarily get together with family because they were far away. Fall decorations and changing leaves didn’t color the neighborhood because it was almost summer. Football games weren’t being watched unless they were what some may argue to be real “futebol” games. We didn’t really get together with our churches for praise services because Thanksgiving is not a Brazilian holiday.
My family was blessed to have met other missionary families in our city and surrounding area who were also far from home, family, and regular traditions. Desiring to still celebrate Thanksgiving and reflect on God’s goodness, we created our own traditions. We would get together late morning, usually at a camp belonging to one of the missionaries. One of the ladies organized a Thanksgiving program asking all the kids to contribute. We kids participated by playing instruments, singing specials, and reciting poems. We all sang hymns together. One of the men would bring a short devotional and close us in prayer. Then, came the food! As I remember it, the meal typically had traditional Thanksgiving dishes, including pumpkin pie (Back in the day, college missionary kids were given the thrilling task of stuffing cans of pumpkin, jars of peanut butter, and American baking goods like chocolate chips in their luggage when they came home on breaks. Surprisingly, pumpkin everything is not an international phenomenon.). After the meal, the women would talk while cleaning up, the men would discuss theology and current events, the college students would hang out together, and the kids would run all over the campground, playing soccer or other games or riding the little cable swing zip-line. We’d end up staying all day and having our evening meal from the leftovers before going home.
These missionary families and our family were all very different. We had different backgrounds and different life stories. One of the families wasn’t even American. They were Australian missionaries to Brazil, yet they loved celebrating Thanksgiving with us. We were also all from different denominations. Our churches worshipped differently. However, we all worshipped the same God, and we all believed that Christ died to save us from our sins. We were all brothers and sisters in Christ. Our God was the common denominator. Our God was the reason we could be thankful. Our God was the only constant.
As I’ve grown up and left home, I’ve realized there always has been and always will be only this constant: God and His gracious salvation through Christ. I have since celebrated Thanksgiving in a more “traditional” fashion over the years with extended family, the dreary cold, and pumpkin pie from cans which anyone can actually buy from a Walmart just down the street. But I’ve also celebrated it completely apart from my family. I’ve celebrated it with friends from Chile, Mexico, Honduras, Peru, and Chicago, developing a greater appreciation for the caring brothers and sisters in Christ God has given me. I’ve celebrated it with my grandparents during college when they lived in town and opened their home to me. And I’ve celebrated it in an assisted living facility only days after Grandma had her stroke, as I and other family members were simply thankful that we could be together for the holiday. Nothing else is sure.
Last year, around this time, I boarded a plane with my family for what was probably my last ever Thanksgiving in Brazil. Excitement and expectations were high. It would be the first time in years my whole family – my parents, my siblings, their spouses, and kids – was going to be together. We would be having a Thanksgiving “just like the ones I used to know.” That’s just it, though. It wasn’t. My favorite Aussies weren’t there (They’re now serving in Portugal.). My parents weren’t living in the house I grew up in. Our family had doubled in size; it now included five very energetic kids under the age of ten. We didn’t have our traditional dinner at the camp but at one of the missionary families’ houses instead. Yes, we still ate pie; the kids, or grandkids now, still ran around; the men still discussed important topics; and the weather was hot like it should be. Even so, it was all different. Looking around the room, I realized so many changes had taken place in the lives of those around me. Only one thing was the same: we worshipped and expressed gratitude to the same God. He never changed.
End of the year holidays breed times of great reflection. Thanksgiving prompts us to count our blessings. No matter what season you find yourself in life right now—nestled in the comfortable consistency of family traditions or lost in a sea of change and new beginning—thank God for His presence and His gift of salvation.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:5-8 ESV)
Matthew Weathers, Student Leadership Coordinator
你好吗？你是美国人吗? Confused yet? When I landed in China a few months after I graduated from Bob Jones University the only word I knew in Chinese was “Hello” (你好). I learned hundreds of words over the next few years as I began to scratch the surface of the incredible Chinese language. Though the language was very difficult, Chinese friends patiently taught me how to communicate and adjust to their culture. They took me around the city, invited me to meals, and even taught me how to make dumplings. They welcomed me—a foreigner—into their lives, and I am forever grateful.
There are thousands of foreigners in our community and hundreds of international students on our campus. Why should we take the time and effort to invest in them – both on campus and in our community? Because great commandment obedience fuels great commission living.
Great Commandment Obedience
God calls us to love God and love others. As recipients of the Gospel message and objects of God’s amazing grace and love, our response must be love for God and others. We love because He first loved us. We forgive because He has forgiven us. We serve because Jesus came to serve. We are patient because God is patient with us.
The international community is an incredible group. They speak different languages, eat different (and often better) foods, and wear different clothes. But different is not wrong. As a foreigner in China, I was the different one, yet I was loved as a human rather than shunned as a foreigner. We in America can joyfully reflect God’s love as we embrace those from other countries. We are commanded to love God and love others, and our obedience to the great commandment fuels our effectiveness in great commission living.
Great Commission Living
God calls us to make disciples of all nations. As recipients of the Gospel message, we are privileged to proclaim the good news with our words and our lives to everyone. We are making disciples as we evangelize the lost. We are making disciples as we edify believers. We are fulfilling the great commission as we share the Gospel message to those around us, including those from other countries that God has graciously brought to our doorstep. We can have a massive impact on the nations by engaging with the international community here in upstate South Carolina and on our campus.
Yet we are powerless to make disciples without God-empowered obedience to the great commandment. Just as my Chinese friends loved me, we can love those from around the world. The time and effort we invest into this amazing group of people will be well worth it. God is glorified when we joyfully sacrifice to serve one another in love and make disciples of all nations. Indeed, great commandment obedience fuels great commission living!
Ben Gordon, BJU Alumnus and Associate Pastor of Hope Baptist Church
"What is it with all this church talk about racial reconciliation? I wish people would just stick to preaching the gospel! If people would stop bringing up racism then we would not have a problem with racism."
These sentiments, among others, I have heard often in Christian circles when talking to people about racial reconciliation. Ignoring or downplaying the conversation about ethnicity and racial reconciliation is not the answer. The approach to the topic is key.
We must allow the Gospel to frame our perspective on ethnicity and racial reconciliation. The Gospel clearly speaks to these sensitive and vital issues and provides the solution. That does not mean that everyone who puts their faith in Christ will not struggle with racism, but when one meditates on all the implications and logic of the Gospel one unmistakably sees that racial reconciliation is a Gospel issue.
Much can be said on the topic of the Gospel and racial reconciliation but let’s discuss a couple quick points that should shape our thinking when discussing ethnicity and reconciliation in the church.
Embrace our Diversity in Christ.
One popular phrase people offer as a solution to racism is “We need to be a colorblind society. I mean God is colorblind, isn’t he?” I understand the heart of that sentiment, but it can be generally unhelpful to people that experience being singled out by color. More importantly, the utopian color blind society ideal misses the mark biblically.
God is not color blind.
God is on a mission to rescue people of every tribe, tongue, and ethnicity to be part of His chosen people. Our ethnic diversity does not erase in heaven but the beautiful Gospel destiny of the church is highlighted in John’s vision in Rev. 7:9-10.
John sees in heaven, “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Since God highlights the beauty of ethnic diversity in the Gospel we need to value and cherish it as a reflection of the Gospel mission as well.
Embracing our individual and ethnic diversity in Christ additionally includes embracing a diversity of perspectives from our brothers and sisters in Christ of other races and cultural backgrounds. The church benefits from the perspective, insights, and experiences each culture brings to the table. Assuming our experience of encountering racism is the end-all, be-all is naive at best but can come across as arrogant.
Listen and seek understanding from other Christians of different ethnicities. Learn from their experience and try to put yourself in their shoes. Empathize with their pain if they claim to have experienced the hurt of racism. Even if you might not initially agree with the cause of said racial hurt or are foreign to that experience, as their brother or sister in Christ you are called to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).
Let God’s Gospel plan of national, ethnic, and linguistic diversity (Rev. 7:9-10) in Christ teach us never to wrongly disparage other races, but also refrain from belittling a reality God has underlined in the Gospel.
Embrace Our Unity in Christ.
Despite the many individualities we have as the body of Christ, we share more in common than we have differences. All people, including the lost, are image bearers of God (Gen 1:27) and come from one ancestor (Acts 17:26). All races and ethnicities are born sinners and separated from God (Romans 3:10; 23). All people, from every ethnicity, are offered reconciliation to God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:18).
As Christians from varying races we have equal standing before God in Christ. We are fellow heirs and partakers of Christ’s divine nature. Yes, we make up many different ethnicities, races, and cultural backgrounds but we are all still one in Christ (Gal 3:28) and enjoy immeasurable Gospel blessings.
It is sharply contrary to the ethic of the Gospel to racially judge, stereotype, or mistreat people for whom Christ died, when God Himself cherishes our diversity and made us one in Christ.
Let us view each one another with Gospel-corrected lenses and celebrate both our individual and ethnic diversity in Christ and our unity as one body in Christ.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.