Every summer my church hosts a week-long summer camp where children experience the beauty and majesty of the Lord. The first year we sent our daughter to it, she loved it and learned so much about the Lord, but she pointed out in passing that she was the only brown girl in the church camp and wondered why that was. I was struck by the complexity of her observation and knew if we are not proactive in providing an adequate answer to her innocent questions, we will neglect to disciple her effectively.

The one thing I didn’t want her to learn was that God’s house was only for one group of people. You see, she was right, our church, which is predominantly white, seems to have missed a great opportunity to create a beautifully diverse experience for all the kids of the community. It wasn’t because our church didn’t have the means or the heart to invite people from different backgrounds, it just wasn’t aware of what was missing till we pointed it out. The summer camp was more segregated than the actual Sunday service which caused a 7-year-old to question why this was such a different environment than what she’s typically used to. The next year we worked together and made it possible for more families of color to be invited and feel welcomed and loved. We will continue to work together every year till our ministries reflect the city we live in. 

I believe every question someone from a different background asks can be an opportunity and an invitation to expand our reach and challenge our perspectives. Mutuality cannot be achieved unless there is a push and a pull that challenges us to check the power imbalances within our churches that may simply exist because we haven’t had the chance to be challenged from a different perspective. This challenge, if welcomed, can be the very saving grace God is offering us to stretch our reach beyond our wildest dreams.

Isn’t the body of Christ in fact the first to house the Jews and Gentiles together? Wasn’t it the place where languages from everyone’s hometown was spoken at the Pentecost? That is not a story of the past that is unachievable by today’s church. It is an example of what we must aim to do as we take on the great commission to be disciple makers of all the nations. Our calling starts here in our cities, in our Jerusalem before we make our way to the ends of the world.  

The nations are in fact here, first generation immigrant churches are all over the United States and these faithful Christians would welcome the opportunity to support them in discipling their children effectively. 

Unity: holding hands and praying together

Think about it, being a sojourner in a foreign land, learning a new language, working one or two jobs to care for their family, sending money back home, supporting their first-generation church financially and raising culturally dynamic and bilingual children who know more about the country than their parents is a challenging space for an immigrant parent. Passing down their faith to their children requires them to speak English fluently or for their children to speak their home language fluently, in most cases the two are not mutually exclusive, therefore a lot gets lost in translation.

On top of that time is an expensive commodity as these parents are the definition of a sandwich generation that is squeezed both financially and physically. Their churches are under-resourced and, because they’re speakers of their native language, the kids don’t get the contextualized lessons they deserve. There is a gap in discipling these 2nd gen kids and it’s the most neglected mission field in America. 

Conversations about Justice and mutuality have been so polarized by politics that they trigger such a negative response from the church. Justice shouldn’t be a trigger word; rather it should evoke righteous anger and a hopeful expectation for how beautifully God’s love can be displayed for the world to see. Seeking Justice is part of our call as we love mercy and walk humbly. (Micah 6:8) It is indeed biblical to ask why all of God’s people aren’t fully embraced by God’s church.

What are the systems in place that keep us apart and how can we be a solution to those problems? It starts by asking the why questions and moving into how to address the issue by developing relationships with those from those underrepresented communities. How do they view our presence, how can we work together, are they interested in what we offer or is there a need to co-create something completely different that is mutually beneficial and co-owned? We have to foster mutuality and continue to grow in the direction it leads us. If we get intimidated every time someone points out an issue, we deprive ourselves of an opportunity to grow and experience God’s work and his presence in such a different yet exciting way.

The summer is such an opportune time for the church to get out of its regular rhythm and get involved in outreach activities to bless and be blessed by people that it doesn’t interact with on a regular basis. As a diaspora Christian living in the U.S. and raising 2nd gen Christian children, I find the regular rhythm of the American church completely out of rhythm with what’s actually needed in its Jerusalem.

Instead of engaging community leaders and pastors of diverse communities as co-laborers, it typically targets them as an outreach community simply because they look different or speak a different language.  Rather than being seen as mutual partners who can collaborate in the work of the gospel these practices further alienate them as the “other,” the dependents and the “underserved.” Imagine if our churches could collaboratively disciple our children. The children who are already going to the same school, who already understand each other’s realities, would have no problem worshiping God together. Instead, we force them to experience God apart from each other on Sundays and we indoctrinate them into believing that God is just for them, wherever they are. Either God is just for the poor, or for the rich, for the immigrant or for the dweller of the land, for the oppressed or the oppressor.

Interior of church

Whatever it is we do, it unintentionally teaches them that God is only found in their small circle, we disengage them from Justice, mutuality, multi-ethnicity, and the beauty found in his kingdom unintentionally. We quench their desire for diversity because we fear where they could go without us. Yet isn’t that the call of the believer, to go where God and only God leads us, to be senders of faithful missionaries who are sold out for Christ? 

I believe the most opportune area to create a mutually respectful and multi-ethnic community is by creating multi-ethnic next-gen ministries that can be a place of growth for God’s children from every tribe, nation, and tongue. If we succeed in raising our children in a multi-ethnic Christ centered community, we will equip and raise up the most well rounded and culturally intelligent missionaries the world has ever seen. Our job as leaders of the church must focus on giving the next generation a taste of the church Jesus expects them to build for his second coming. 

Mekdes Haddis is the founder and executive coach of Just Missions, an online community that elevates diaspora voices and equips Western allies to become mutual partners for the work of the gospel. Originally from Ethiopia, she moved to the United States in 2003 and earned a BS in communications from Liberty University and a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Columbia International University. She is also the project director of the Racial Justice and Reconciliation Collaborative for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). She is the author of A Just Mission: Laying Down Power and Embracing Mutuality. Visit her website at mekdeshaddis.com. Follow her on Instagram: @mekdeshaddis.

In her recent book, A Just Mission, founder and executive coach of Just Missions Mekdes Haddis provides a postcolonial critique of Western mission, upending the white savior complex and arguing for a globally just approach.

Mutuality cannot be achieved unless there is a push and a pull that challenges us to check the power imbalances within our churches that may simply exist because we haven’t had the chance to be challenged from a different perspective. This challenge, if welcomed, can be the very saving grace God is offering us to stretch our reach beyond our wildest dreams.

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