Diversity in a Gospel context

By April 15, 2016

USA (InterVarsity) – We came across this article from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship recently and thought several of the points were noteworthy, especially in a day and age where diversity is a trendy topic.  What follows is a different take on the strength of unity and the strength of diversity within a Gospel context:

(Photo courtesy InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

(Photo courtesy InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

Few places in our culture are as diverse as the university campus. On a typical day a student might share a class with Black, White, and Latino classmates, order lunch beside an international student from India, and socialize with an Asian American roommate. As students navigate their campus, bumping backpacks and hugging sidewalk space with one another, they are immersed in a mosaic of cultural and ethnic diversity.

Reaching this mosaic with the gospel is not a straightforward proposition. It requires, among other things, helping InterVarsity staff members and students grow in their understanding of their own ethnic identity.

InterVarsity believes that ethnicity is part of both God’s good creation and his children’s individual design. Because of this, it is important to have a sure confidence that our ethnic identities are good and beautiful, a sure security that God has lovingly designed our ethnic identities as part of our whole person, and a sure understanding of the unique gifts that come along with them.

One way InterVarsity supports this is by hosting regular ethnic specific gatherings of staff and students where they can worship, fellowship, and study together. In these spaces, God accomplishes remarkable works of healing and growth in the area of ethnic identity.

(Photo courtesy InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

(Photo courtesy InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

At HC3, InterVarsity’s 11th annual Hmong Christian Collegiate Conference held in March, ethnically Hmong students from all over the country gathered in Wisconsin for a time of community and worship. For most students, it was the first time they’d been in a room filled exclusively with Hmong believers. John Her, from the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater, recognized the deep value that such an event offers: “It’s a time where you can be vulnerable with people who care about you,” he said. “And most importantly, it’s a place where people can meet Jesus.”

InterVarsity staff get to have similar experiences through their own conferences, which provide places for them to reflect at deeper levels on their ethnic identities and the gifts they bring to the kingdom of God. Elizabeth Barrera, team leader at the University of Texas—Austin, joined hundreds of other Latino staff at the LaFe Staff Conference for worship and training. “[This] was a huge blessing to me personally and for my leadership,” she said. “I felt embraced [and] affirmed . . . [and was] encouraged to innovate and take risks in reaching Latinos.”

(Photo courtesy InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

(Photo courtesy InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

At InterVarsity’s Asian American Staff Conference, with the theme “Flourish,” New York/New Jersey area director Anna Lee-Winans felt renewed by the time she was able to spend with Asian American staff of multiple generations. “I deeply appreciated the wisdom of elders in the movement, as well as the vitality of younger staff,” she said. “It was such a joy to worship Jesus, celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit, and process brokenness together, all in my heart language.”

Staff who understand the unique gifts that are part of their ethnic identity are then able to leverage those gifts to reach diverse campuses. More so, they’re better equipped to shepherd students through their own journey in ethnic identity. The result is campuses that are reached more effectively with the gospel, and students who are growing more deeply into the wholeness God created them to enjoy.

God is at work in this way at Haskell Indian Nations University, which lies just a few blocks away from the University of Kansas. Founded in 1884, Haskell has 800 students, serves 150 Native American tribes, and—until recently—had no campus ministry.

This was, in part, due to the fact that sharing the gospel at Haskell is challenging. Because of Christianity’s tangled history with American colonialism, Native students have generations-old wounds related to the Christian faith that need healing. They often believe that they must choose between being Native and being Christian—that somehow following Jesus means betraying their heritage.

God led campus ministry intern Rhiannon to start an InterVarsity fellowship at Haskell. Because of the training that she’d received, Rhiannon was equipped to help students work through their cultural burdens and step into the freedom and joy that come in following Christ. She reports:

God is moving at Haskell. We have seen four students come to faith in the last year! He is bringing healing and renewal to the campus and the students residing among it. God is destroying the lie that is intertwined within these students [that is] saying, “You have to choose.” He is saying that you can be both Native and Christian!

God is also moving at Boston University, where InterVarsity’s Asian American chapter started asking the question, “How do we evangelize in the Asian American context?” In response, the staff and students have intentionally sought to build bridges with other Asian campus groups—bridges that the gospel may one day cross.

By training ethnically diverse staff to navigate issues of multi-ethnicity and ethnic identity with sensitivity and grace and then immersing them in the mosaic of culture on campus, InterVarsity is seeing students discipled more deeply into the people God intended them to be, and campuses flourishing as the kingdom of God advances.

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