Crossing borders

Multi-cultural and ethnic churches face a number of communicate challenges.  How do we engage in a bilingual congregation? What about second generation youth who don’t quite fit in one culture or another? How do we cross the border and minister effectively in these contexts? In July 1989 my wife and I came to Australia from Egypt. Soon after we arrived, we became acquainted with the Arabic Baptist Church in Western Sydney which called us to its ministry, of which we are proud and honoured until this day.

Ethnic churches are a bit different to Anglo churches. In this Arabic Church where I minister, services attended by older folks or immigrants/refugees who have newly arrived are conducted in Arabic, because of their limited knowledge of English. Sunday School, youth group and the Sunday service component, attended by the youth and young married couples, are conducted in English through the ministry of English-speaking church leaders. Once a month, all church components meet together in what we call a “Family Service” which is fully translated.

Due to the rising numbers of English-speaking children and young people, we appointed English-speaking Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, who can effectively minister to the younger generation. They are able to communicate with them in English and yet, understand the culture they come from, are acquainted with their families and know their customs and traditions. Believing that a church in any area should minister to the needs of all community members, regardless of language or ethnic background, we have recently removed the word “Arabic” from our church sign, which would certainly limit those who approach the church to only those of Arabic background. The sign now only displays the location of the church and its ministry direction as “Crest Community Baptist Church”.

But this is not the situation in some other ethnic churches, where there is a lack of English-speaking leaders. These churches are struggling to retain the younger generation as they reach their teenage years, as they usually feel “lost”. They have an identity problem, wondering within themselves: “Am I Australian or ethnic?” “Am I Australian ethnic or ethnic Australian?”
Some of them can’t easily fit in the ethnic church of their parents, as it does not worship in English, the language they understand; neither can they comfortably fit in most Australian churches, as they do not understand the culture, customs and traditions they come from and have no connection with their families. These young people have a great need to be adopted by Anglo Australian churches which are passionate for cross-cultural ministries and have English-speaking leaders who can embrace them, understand their ethnic background and build links with their families to help create a sense of “belonging” to the Anglo church.

Here are some leading points to help Australian churches as they consider ministering cross-culturally:
• There is significant ethnic, language and cultural diversity in our nation. (This is particularly true in our area, the Western and South Western Suburbs of Sydney, where most refugees and immigrants usually reside.)
• People who are not fluent in English have a need to worship in the language that best allows them to participate in the praise and worship time and understand the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.
• The background, culture and language of any ethnic group are watered down with every subsequent generation. So, ethnic young people usually feel that they’re somewhere “in between”.
• Ethnic young people are craving for a church that is willing to help; whose leaders understand their needs, and whose youth are willing to accommodate them by building cross-cultural bridges of love and friendship.
• We should allow for cultural diversity in our churches rather than demand cultural uniformity. It is not helpful for the church leadership to adopt an “everyone should be like me” mindset. Leadership must be practically “inclusive” of ethnic groups.
• We should value those in ministry who have a particular gift of language or culture, and allow them to minister effectively to people who are ethnically different. We note that the New Testament Church recognised this gift in Barnabas, who was sent by the Jewish believers in Jerusalem to minister to Greek converts in Antioch (see Acts 11).
• If we are commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel to all people, whatever their language or culture, it is critically important that we “cross the language and cultural borders” to reach these ethnic groups, if we are to maximise our ministry and render it effective.

“Crossing borders” by Frank Farag, the Senior Pastor of Crest Community Baptist Church and Cross-Cultural Director for the Baptist Churches of New South Wales. prac12.