On May 25th the global Church will celebrate Pentecost Sunday. This day remembers the moment reported in the 2nd Chapter of Acts when the Holy Spirit empowered the early disciples to leave the safety of the Upper Room to go into the streets of Jerusalem to preach to “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” The gift of the Spirit was that each person was able to hear the gospel story in their own language.
For many the story of Pentecost Sunday is powerful, but distant from their experience. First Baptist Church of Oklahoma has found itself living in a flavor of Pentecost that shapes the character and the complexion of the church. This story began quietly when a former missionary and gifted educator began an English language center in 2006 to help strengthen the language skills of refugees, immigrants, and those from international settings that now called Oklahoma City home. A map in the Language Center marks the diversity of the home nations of the students and the church became its journey in ministry with the world in its midst.
In June 2008 our church learned of a small group of Christian refugees from Burma needed a place to call home. The church learned that this small band of Baptist emerged from the Chin State in Myanmar, a state that lay just along the border with India. Their story was defined by persecution and difficulty. The original group of 16 served as the foundation of what has now become the United Myanmar Baptist Church. Recently UMBC embraced a larger mission and choose Burmese as their language of worship so that they could also include other refugee groups from Burma including the Kachin and Karen. Burmese is the second language to the seven distinct languages that call UMBC home. In this same moment, one the of the Chin language groups, the Hahka, stepped out to begin worship in their own language. This new group has named their gathering the Lai Baptist Church.
In a conference room just across the hall from the church offices the sounds of Spanish emerge. The Hispanic Bible Study was launched to touch the growing Latin community that live within easy reach of the church. This Bible study represents somewhat of a rebirth of a Spanish speaking ministry that long lived within the church’s walls. One of families who are members of the Bible study were a central part of the earlier ministry and returned “home” when they heard the news about this new ministry endeavor.
In the past few weeks a new body has found a sense of home alongside the First Baptist family. The Sudanese Christian Fellowship, composed of Arabic speaking Christians from Southern Sudan have began meeting at and with FBC OKC. Like the Burmese refugees, the Sudanese story is rife with persecution and abuse. They came to FBC OKC because they had heard that the church had a heart for people from other parts of the world.
In many congregations these various churches and fellowships would be content to worship and serve apart from one another. FBC OKC has chosen to embrace another model. While we are distinct congregations we are one church family together. The first Sunday of each month the congregations worship side-by-side in a service that now includes elements from the five shared languages the congregations use in their unique worship services. A grand example of this living Pentecost was witnessed in worship yesterday. The worship yesterday began with a baptism of five young adults, four from the UMBC and one from the Lai Baptist Church. The service continued with the parent-infant dedication of eleven children and their families that represented a wide spectrum of the shared congregations. The service closed with a college student from the church coming forward to announce his call into world missions. The student will spend his summer serving beside Baptist missionaries living and working in the Middle East. It seems the boundary between world missions and regular congregational life have so blended that where one ends and the other begins is unrecognizable.
If you listened closely, at the close of the worship service you could hear the diversity of the congregation speaking to each other in one of the dozen heart languages that have found a sense of family together. We have learned together that while the complexion of our skin, the language of our hearts, and the nature of our cultures are different, our faith in Christ makes us one. While the church bounds do not yet include people from every nation under heaven, our version of living Pentecost has so shaped us that it taken us from the streets of Oklahoma City and carried into ministries across the globe. It has also given us a little glimpse into what God is doing in the global Church and a small taste of what it means to be a part of the Kingdom of God. I am glad for the movement of the Spirt and for the opportunity to serve in the midst of a living Pentecost.
Grace and Peace, Tom