Thursday, July 25, 2013

We are Different & We are Connected

Carefully holding a blue crab.

A year ago, when I designed the cross-cultural God Squad partnership with McKendree-Simms-Brookland Church in Washington DC,  I imagined an outcome that would bless our local churches. I anticipated two very different United Methodist congregations discovering their connection in mission and celebrate their uniqueness in ministry. I further guessed that, as it happens with any mission trip, we would stretch ourselves as we stepped outside our comfort zones trusting in the Lord to provide, protect and guide. What I didn't anticipate was how this partnership between a rural and an urban church might shine a light to the world in how we are to go about combatting stereotypes.
That is, not until the verdict on the Trayvon Martin case was announced. At that moment, it seemed everyone from offered up opinions and explosive criticism of where we are as a nation and how far we haven't come since the civil rights movements. This took me back to think about the moment last month, when our two congregations took a tour of DC and walked the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We all walked the steps and paused at the site of Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech. A speech that took place fifty years ago this month. I had the kids put their their feet together on the spot where he spoke those famous words and as I took their photo, I realized that these kids are the dream and every one of them is trying the best to live it out. And they are finding a way to live it out through their local United Methodist Church. United Methodists are  connected across race, geography, age and even across theological opinions because that is a reflection of the diversity and connection of God's world. 
Olivet and McKendree-Simms-Brookland churches are working to be communities of positive solutions. When our youth got to know other while working together in common mission, they discovered that there is much more to each of us than what appears on the surface. Stereotypes about urban or rural communities (no, not all people in the south are like the guys on Hillbilly Handfishing or Duck Dynasty) are born out of lack of opportunity to know each other. By each church hosting each other, we get to know what it is like to appreciate the hospitality of a stranger and the joy of hosting others and sharing with others. 
Twenty-seven students and 30 adults participated in the God Squad mission work. This has been a testimony to of what young people can do to overcome stereotypes and make a difference in their local community. The youth took  leadership in modeling cross-cultural partnership to a world that looks at teenagers of any color through a lens of  suspician.
The blessing of this summer project will not be just for our teens. it will not just be for any who attended. It will not even just be for the churches involved. Rather, the blessing I believe will ripple out into the future. Like the voice of a speech given half a century ago, the sound diminishes but the message remains. 
The message for this summer was our discovering anew that indeed God made each of us different and yet God also connected us all. Isn't that the dream that Martin Luther King jr had hoped could be realized one day? 

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