I grew up in a sleepy suburban town, nestled along the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California. The city of Arcadia began as a community of chicken ranches and fruit orchards. But as Los Angeles grew, people began moving away from the urban center to places like Arcadia. Increased property values incentivized local ranchers and farmers to sell to housing developers. Arcadia transformed into a city of small shops and suburban neighborhoods. Socio-economically and ethnically monogamous, the schools I attended, city leadership, police force and business sectors all served a largely middle class, religious and 95% white population. My family fit that demographic. We were “Creasters” -Christmas and Easter churchgoers. The church we attended was similar to the way BelPres is now; multiple staff, multiple programs, 2,500+ member church.
That was the Arcadia I grew up in. But by my Senior Year in High School, my city began to transform again. Families, who had the financial means to do so, were buying homes, tearing them down and building larger, 6000 square foot homes. These families fit the financial profile of the average Arcadian but were ethnically different. The new Arcadians spoke a different language, raised their children differently, and were not interested in giving up their culture or ethnic heritage in order to become like the majority demographic who already lived there. Businesses, restaurants, financial institutions and schools adapted and made changes in order to serve the new non-white demographic. But my Creaster church didn’t. It remained focused on the 95%. That was 40 years ago.
Today, Arcadia is a different city than the one I grew up in. It is bigger, multi-ethnic, and vibrant. The church of my childhood is different too; down to 200 members and a few staff. The church never figured out how to engage its community and be a church for all people, all nations, all ethnic groups.
We, at BelPres, are partnering with Jesus to revive the Eastside and beyond. We believe that revival will look like lots of things; i.e. not old-time tent meetings and altar calls, but healed relationships, breaking down the forces which create and sustain poverty, schools thriving, people experiencing Jesus love and making decisions to love Him back, etc. We all have a part in that wherever we live, work, learn and play. But our context is changing. The number of languages spoken on the Eastside is approaching 100!
There are lots of reasons why we want to become a multi-ethnic church; 3 reasons specifically. First, Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations, all people, all ethnic groups; (Matthew 28:18-21, Mark 15:15-16; Luke 24:46-49, John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8). Second, the first church at Antioch was multi-ethnic and reflected the fact that God’s Kingdom is multi-ethnic too. Third, our worship and the quality of our life together is fuller, richer, better as a multi-ethnic community than it is when we are not. It is just more fun, more meaningful, more vibrant and life-giving. We don’t know what we are missing until we are with people who are ethnically different than us. We need them. We can’t experience the fullness of community and worship without them.
So what can you do? If you heard the sermon by Sergio Chavez earlier this year, you can PUFYTB- Put your feet under the table. Share a meal. Invite someone to coffee, or lunch or to your home who is ethnically different than you. Pray for them. Begin reading about or learning about the culture of one of the 100 language groups on the Eastside. What can they teach you? Do you have other ideas or a story to tell? Share it.
If you have a story you would like to share with us, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org