Honoring God’s diversity in Malaysia
As we sat in the hotel lobby between sessions, I knew what Donna Groover was talking about when she said the Baptist World Alliance ‘s annual Gathering felt like experiencing a piece of heaven. There is something special, something stimulating about being in the company of believers from all corners of the world who are impacting the world for Christ. (In the picture with me are Donna Groover from BWA and Motunrayo Adegbilero, president of the Baptist Women’s Union of Africa.)
I witnessed that when I first began volunteering with the D.C. Baptist Convention 10 years ago, and I experienced it anew last week when I attended the BWA meeting in Malaysia. This BWA gathering was my first; I hope it will not be my last. I am drawn to the diversity that makes up this body and am inspired by the work that is being done throughout the world to fight injustice, defend human rights, promote peace, bring aid to those devastated by natural disasters, thwart human trafficking and carry forward the message of hope and salvation.
Each morning we began the day with a 30-minute worship service that honored God and celebrated our diversity. For example on Wednesday, we sang two verses of a song in Indie that beseeched, “Give us Light, O Lord,” and we lifted our voices together in English to the words of a Taiwan hymn that called “people of faith” to heed God’s command to comfort the exiles and free the captives. We listened and read along as Jeremiah 20:7-12 was read in French by an African sister and Roman 10:11-18 was recited by a Chinese sister in her native tongue.
In unity, we gave expression to our own diversity as we prayed this prayer together:
Prayer of Confession
Caring and compassionate Creator,
we gather to celebrate your gift of variety and diversity.
We have failed to see you in places other than our own.
We have ignored your beauty around us,
In earth and sky, in plants and creatures.
We claim that you made us in your own image,
but we have failed to see your own image
in other peoples’ faces.
Hence, we find ourselves separated
from our sisters and brothers.
We have drawn lines between us
Ttat are based on color, race, social and economic status,
ideological positions, religious affiliations,
gender, age, and ability.
O God, our liberation, we seek the power of your Spirit,
that we may learn to live fuller union
with you and our sisters and brothers.
Grant us the courage to love and to act
that we may begin to affirm
your very own image in one another.
God, in your mercy, forgive and empower us.
Throughout the week, we had opportunities to give life to that prayer as we ate together, worshipped together, learned together and made decisions together. At the opening night dinner, we enjoyed songs and dances, contemporary and traditional, from young people from area churches. We were treated to a six-course meal of tasty Malaysian fare, including steamed red snapper with homemade bean sauce and wok fried rice with chicken and pineapple. It was both a time to eat and a time to fellowship with each other and our Malaysian hosts.
We ended the week with a spirited worship service at the Kuala Lumpur Baptist Church and heard a powerful sermon from Rev. Dr. Wallace C. Smith from Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. – a familiar voice in an unfamiliar land. For all those who were not fluent in English, Rev. Smith’s words were delivered through an interpreter, which at times slowed his cadence and reminded me I was a long way from home.
My journey more deeply into Baptist life has expanded my territory yet again from my predominantly black church in suburban Maryland to the halls of the Berjaya Times Square Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. More importantly, I think, my journey into a deeper relationship with Christ continues to open up for me a changing view of what God’s Kingdom looks like and how beautiful and empowering unity in Christ can be.
What new places has your faith journey taken you, whether physical or spiritual?