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The Most Happily Multi-Ethnic Church I Know

I love America and I love Americans. Some would say it is my duty, as a Canadian, to hold a grudge against America and its people. But I can’t help myself. I have traveled to most of the states, I have visited most of the key cities, and I have spent time in many of the small towns. I just plain love America.

Over the years I have often looked with sorrow at America’s enduring struggle with issues related to race and racism. I have tried to listen and to understand, though I know that as an outsider I will only ever have the barest understanding of the experience and issues. I have often wondered what, if anything, I can say. To this point I have said little.

But today I want to say something. I want to bring a word of encouragement to people in America who are growing discouraged by the situation there, and to people across the world who have little opportunity to experience people and cultures different from their own. I want to encourage you that the gospel has the power to bring unity through diversity. The gospel really can generate love and affection between people who, in any other situation, would remain apart. And I want to demonstrate this by telling you about the most diverse church I know—my own church, Grace Fellowship Church.

Grace Fellowship Church began as a suburban, middle-class church. Though all of the founding members were Caucasian, it had two great advantages that were bound to generate diversity. The first advantage was demographic. The church is in Toronto, a city in which more than half of the residents were born in a different country. You do not have to go looking for racial and ethnic diversity in this city. The second advantage was theological. The church was founded upon the gospel and committed to preaching the gospel, primarily through the mechanism of expository preaching.

The plan was to preach the Word and to let God give the increase. And he did.

I want to make it clear: The church never created a program to attract diverse people. There was no formal plan to reach into ethnic communities. The plan was to preach the Word and to let God give the increase. And he did. I wish you could see it, and see what God has done. I wish you could see the nations gathering here. Grace Fellowship has become a church that displays all the diversity of Toronto.

I wish you could meet Thushara, who grew up Buddhist, and his wife Shaida, who grew up Muslim. They met and fell in love in their native Sri Lanka. Forbidden by their families to marry, they eloped and immigrated to Canada where they heard the gospel and became Christians. Thushara now serves as a deacon and reads the Bible in our worship services. Shaida serves in the hospitality ministry. It is the rare Sunday when they do not have their home full to bursting with guests.

I wish you could meet Chelms and Esther. Chelms came from India to study at the University of Toronto and, since joining our church, has played guitar or bass nearly every Sunday. Esther’s work brought her to Toronto from her native Montreal. They married last summer in a ceremony that was a melding of French Canadian and Indian traditions (and which came soon after another wedding uniting another French Canadian woman to a Nigerian man).

I wish you could meet N & J and their beautiful little girl D. I cannot use their names because they are Kurds from a Middle Eastern country who travel home occasionally and whose lives would be in danger if their community learned that they have turned away from Islam to embrace Christ. He serves in the church and she volunteers today at a local pregnancy care centre, beginning outreach into Toronto’s Kurdish community.

I wish you could meet Gideon who was an exemplary intern this year, who led our summer evangelism program, who hopes and prays to be a pastor before long, and who has recently gotten engaged to be married. One of 30 or 40 Ghanian young adults in our congregation, he left the church he grew up in because he longed to be where he would hear the gospel and sit under expositional preaching.

I wish you could meet Chisso, a Chinese man with a Japanese name who grew up in Indonesia. Chisso loves sharing the gospel and does so with nearly everyone he meets, sometimes even setting up on Toronto’s busiest street corner. He recently completed his studies at Toronto Baptist Seminary and is currently being evaluated by a missions organization as he prepares to head overseas.

I wish you could meet Dorin who left Romania to move to Canada with his wife. Dorin has served our church as a deacon and in many other ways. He regularly returns to his home country to help disciple and care for that nation’s orphans.

I wish you could meet Diana who grew up in St. Vincent before immigrating to Canada when she was a teen. The first time she came to our church she prayed, “God, there are not many other people of color here. I’m asking you to bring more.” A few months ago she told our church how God had answered her prayer beyond all she could have imagined. In just a few weeks she will move to Scotland as a missionary with 20schemes and, again, be one of very few people of color in her new local church.

I wish you could meet Paul and Susan. Paul grew up in Toronto and moved to California to study at The Master’s College. It was in California that he met Susan, who hails from Indiana. When he graduated from The Master’s Seminary he returned to Toronto to serve as a pastor and, soon after, founded Grace Fellowship Church.

I wish you could meet Matt and Libby who were married last Saturday in a Ghanian/Portuguese wedding right in the heart of the city, the second Ghanian/Portuguese union our church has enjoyed recently. They began dating when they were in high school and are now living as husband and wife. (The food at the wedding was sublime—one table packed full of Portuguese food and the other packed full of Ghanian delicacies.)

I wish you could meet little Gabriel who looked up at his mom the other day and observed simply, “Dad’s white. You’re black. Emily and I are brown.” Though he’s only a toddler he sees it and he gets it. It’s beautiful.

We are not a perfect church and have not attained perfect unity. But we are learning and growing and experiencing so much grace. We are learning how to value and enjoy very different cultural preferences, very different traditions, and very different foods. We are learning how to appreciate people who are very different in such important ways, and to see those differences as good. We are learning to laugh at ourselves and with one another. We are learning to repent and apologize. We are learning to love.

I tell you all of this because I want you to believe that the gospel is capable of building unity even, and maybe especially, in the midst of diversity. And that makes the gospel look so good, so sweet, so real. When I consider America’s struggles I see an incredible opportunity for the church to prove the power of the gospel. God loves to display his power in gospel-focused communities of gospel-loving Christians. And he does. He is doing it right here. And I can fully believe he can do it there as well.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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