Missionary to America, Johnson Rethinasamy, thought he was leaving India to live in New York City. He was going to go to be the pastor of a Tamil speaking Indian Church. He had been looking for a way to attend graduate school, and then an invitation from the Tamil group in Rego Park, Queens came. It seemed a way to secure a base for his studies and to continue to be in ministry. His plan was to return to India to teach. But missions do not always turn out the way we think, or the way they should.
Yes, he received the Doctorate, but instead of returning to India, another door was opened. According to CityData.com, New York City had the largest number of Black citizens, and the second highest percentage of people born outside the United States. It is the only city were four of the five major ethnic groups make up at least 10% of the population. This was the perfect place for Johnson to experiment.
The Tamil speaking group in Rego Park had asked him to be their pastor. Then, a white English speaking church extended a call for him to be their pastor. Eventually, the two churches came together. One church, two worship services. But it did not end there. Besides the Tamil speaking worship service and the English worship service, a Mandarin Bible study began at the church, with more than 50 Mandarin speaking young adults attending. The church is Immanuel Lutheran Church, in Whitestone, Queens. Dr. Rethinasamy saw this as his “Mission Laboratory.” A place to learn more about church planting in a diverse community.
What can we learn from this?
First, that multiethnic churches are viable.
Second, for this to happen, a passion for mission is essential in the leadership.
Third, it is important to raise up leaders from within the ethnic group.
I know there are those, even some of our church leaders, who believe churches of one ethnicity cannot reach out to folks of other ethnic groups. I have met them, so have you. But, if that were true, the church should have remained Jewish; Pentecost would have infuriated these people. In fact, that is what happened – take a look at Acts 2:13.
The point is, the gospel has a power that crosses all ethnic groups. Paul said it, Luther was overcome by it – Romans 1:16, “The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first the Jew, then for the Gentile (the “Peoples,” ALL the peoples). That is not a mandate, and it is more than a statement of truth. It is a promise.
Experiments add to our learning. Dr. Rethinasamy’s “experiment” is teaching us the power of the gospel to unite different ethnic groups, the power to come together even though we might worship in different languages, at different times, on different days. It is an experiment that won’t go away. Thank God.