4 July, 2013 Andrew Raynes
“The eternal Gospel of a world-inclusive love can never be treated as a piece of Anglo-Saxon privacy.”
Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, quoted in Steve Bell, Gospel for Muslims.
Some years ago, our church in the north-west of England was thrust fairly abruptly into cross-cultural ministry by the arrival of a large group of asylum seekers. Their arrival forced us to start thinking about how we related to people outside our particular cultural bubble.
While many of these folks have since moved on, either back home or to other parts of the country, we are still working out what it means to be the people of God in a town which has changed dramatically in culture over the past few decades.
Our town has struggled economically since the closure of the cotton mills, which were the mainstay of the town’s economy until the mid-twentieth century – and which were the reason that many families from the Asian subcontinent set up home here.
It is fair to say that we are also a town that is culturally and religiously divided. There are more mosques in our part of town than there are church buildings. Just as our Victorian forebears seemingly competed against each other in putting up church buildings, so there has been a flurry of new mosques going up in the past few years.
For the white Christian community, there is a real temptation to retreat into “Anglo-Saxon privacy”; perhaps to look back with nostalgia to a “golden age” and to live in denial of the changing nature of our community. Equally, there are those who advocate that we should drown all our differences in a sea of community cohesion.
We aim to be a church that is inflexible on the content of the Gospel, but as flexible as possible in the ways we look to communicate the message. It’s true that there is an element of cross-culture in all evangelism, and actually my experience has been that it is a lot easier to have a conversation with my Asian-heritage neighbours about Christ than with the Anglo-Saxons on the local estate.
Part of the challenge is to change the culture of the local church. Recently, a number of church members worked their way through the Interserve course “Friendship First”, which is an excellent introduction to sharing the Gospel with Muslims. A group now gathers monthly to pray for the Muslim community – and to encourage one another in what is happening in different churches across the town.
We try to work hard at welcoming people from different cultures. Within our fellowship we now have a number of Christian families from south India – and it has been a joy to see some of them growing in faith away from ‘home’.
One of the ways in which we have looked to grow together is to eat together on a regular basis. This is hardly a novel idea, but in practice it has been a great help in developing friendship across cultures. Just learning a few words of Urdu or Malayalam can go a long way in breaking down cultural barriers.
Our ongoing prayer is for Gospel workers – people who will commit to making and growing disciples of Christ in some of the unreached communities within our town.