I will never forget the first time walking into the Chinese service at the Hills campus almost 8 years ago.
I was a young, international student who came to Sydney on my own to study. The new and dynamic environment was all exciting and slightly terrifying in my eyes. I was desperate to find a church I could call home, and found myself in the Hills Chinese service. I heard accents and languages naturally celebrated both on and off the platform. I experienced the love of Christ through the culturally distinctive family-like relationships that community extended to me. I found my aunties, uncles, brothers and sisters in a place where I felt like I belonged. “Welcome Home” became a reality for me through this.
A community reflects the heart of God when it intentionally appreciates the cultural and language differences of everyone. In Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit came and filled the disciples, they began to speak various languages, and as a result, “a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.” (Acts 2:6). The event of Pentecost had set off a new era of God’s people, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to witness to all the nations and local communities with the distinctive adoption of various languages.
Genuine cultural and language diversity in a community comes alongside God’s plan to help facilitate reconciliation and restoration of the diaspora’s identity.
This shared longing for acceptance is at the heart of our humanity and the core to Christianity. The experience of seeking to belong is even more potent in the diaspora’s reality, as they live away from their heritage context and are often being perceived as foreign-others.
Every Asian diaspora I come across holds unique stories in struggling to find their place. Being the minority, the challenges they face are not just the host environment’s rejection, but also from their own people groups and their internal struggles with their cultural context. These stories go beyond the general hardships one may encounter in life and carry many layers. For acceptance, they may choose to hold onto or sacrifice what they treasure differently. They long to be seen, welcomed and loved as who they are, even though this may be unspoken. It takes a tender, loving heart to care and attentive, open ears to listen to them, while helping to navigate their journey of discovering who they are in Christ.
As the body of Christ, to set a table that truly welcomes everyone takes all of us to be intentional in understanding the complexity of life on earth. It requires us to see beyond the mere celebration of festivities or food that are different or “ethnic”.
The reality of cultural and linguistic diversity does not come true unless a safe space is created for intentional, active and continual conversations. Conversations that encourage a mutual appreciation of the individual’s cultural realities we are trying to reach and raise.
The unity in Christ does not equal sameness but requires an appreciation for diversity. It starts with (but goes beyond) accepting people from various cultural backgrounds, with different skin colours, accents, trajectories of life, ways of expression and engagement. It starts with (but goes beyond) creating opportunities for individuals who are different from the majority to contribute to all layers and aspects of church life. When we look into each others’ eyes and see our brothers and sisters through their different stories, we see a glimpse of God’s Kingdom.
I will always remember the moments of sitting together at the potluck dinner table with diaspora brothers and sisters whom I serve alongside. Each talking in their unique language and accent of how God has changed their lives, each bringing a plate that speaks of the distinctive flavours of who they are, and yet all coming together harmoniously.
These moments say “welcome home”.
Dr Qianwen (Renee) Deng