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“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” Revelation 5:9 (NIV)
For all but one year of my life I have lived in small towns within 20 miles of where I was born. These towns, though quaint and friendly, are not what you would call racially or ethnically diverse. Being raised in such an area presents challenges when it comes to getting to know people different from me.
Thankfully, my experience with a friend of my father led me and my whole family to intentionally make efforts to know others who look, live and worship differently than we do. This friend’s name is Ray.
Ray was a co-worker of my dad’s who became very close to our family. He and I have completely different backgrounds and don’t share the same race. However, we do share similar hearts. Hearts that love God, family and ministry. Today, Ray and I are like siblings, and he is even a part of my father’s will.
Currently, Brother Ray is the pastor of a church in the big city a few miles south of us. Years ago, when his congregation purchased a larger church building and held their first service there, Ray invited my husband to be one of the guest speakers.
After the service, the church celebrated with a huge home-cooked dinner lovingly made by many of the women of that parish. My family and I were treated like royalty. We were seated at the head table and served the most delicious food, including many dishes I had never tasted before. My children played in the nursery with the other children from the church. We exchanged hugs, well wishes and recipes with many from the congregation.
It was an incredible experience, and what made it even more memorable was that we were the only family of our race in attendance that day. And it was good for our children to be in the minority that Sunday.
My first experience of being in the minority was when I went on a college mission trip to a foreign land. The experience was so powerful it changed my perspective on diversity forever. I knew I wanted to encourage my children to intentionally get to know people from all walks of life and various ethnic groups.
As we raised our kids, we have made sure they not only rub shoulders with those who are different from us, but lovingly serve them as well, just as we were served that day. We have helped put on holiday dinners at a community center that ministers to displaced refugees. When younger, my children saved up some of their allowance money to give to a missionary. And we have sponsored Compassion International children from another continent over the years, helping provide them with food and an education. Getting to know others, and serving them in the process, has made our family’s life richer.
Today’s key verse makes it clear that not everyone in heaven will look just like us. There will be people from every tribe and nation and tongue. If heaven will be diverse, we need to make sure we are seeking out diversity while here on earth.
We must seek out new relationships, resist using stereotypes when we speak and encourage our children (and other young souls in our sphere of influence) to pursue diversity in their friendships. How it warms my heart to see my youngest son, the only one left in high school, snacking with his friends around my kitchen island — friends who, although share a love of sports, funny videos and laughter, do not share the same ethnic or racial make-up.
Will you make it a point to purposely reach out to those who look and live differently than you? When you do, you reflect God’s heart toward mankind while you also get a little glimpse of heaven. Why, you might just gain some new recipes in the process.
Most of all, the recipe for love.
Father, I want to be intentional to get to know and serve others who are different from me. Help me to reflect Your love to them. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
If heaven will be diverse, why shouldn’t we strive to make our friendships here on earth diverse as well?
Here are some ways to reach out to others and invite them into your life.
Don’t restrict your friendships to only those with similar lifestyles and looks. Make it a point to reach out and get to know others. Is there a new family in the neighborhood who is of a different nationality? Did your place of employment just hire a new coworker who is from a foreign country? Is there a new family at church who schools their children differently than you? Make it a point to reach out to these new people. Greet them. Ask them if you can be of help. let them know you are happy to meet them and look forward to getting to know them.
Be a little nosey! Ask questions to your new found friend. Get to know what their story is. Where were they born? Where did they grow up? How did they come to live near you? What are their interests? Their favorite place to eat? Do they attend a church? If so, which one? Be genuinely interested in them and what is going on in their life.
Ask their opinion or solicit their help in a project. Talk over current events with them to get their perspective. Make understanding them your aim and learning about their beliefs and culture. Resist the urge to make conversations one sided. Let them talk while you listen!
Open up your home and open up your life. Invite a new friend out for coffee. Ask a new family over for Sunday supper. Hold a potluck at your place where everyone brings an ethnic dish from their heritage. Hold a Bible study at your home for women from various walks of life. Have a couples get together where everyone brings their wedding photo album and tells the story of how they met. For food, serve wedding cake.
As you get to know your new friends, take notice. Discover when their birthday or anniversary is and send them a card. Find out when their child’s choir or band recital is or perhaps a program at their church. Show up to watch. What an encouragement that will be!!! Listen for what their favorite snack or coffee house drink is. Then, show up on a random day with a treat in hand.
Our family has had many opportunity to serve people different from us. We have helped prepare meals at a homeless shelter, babysat for women in a battered women’s shelter while they attended a bible study and served Thanksgiving dinner at a hispanic center in the big inner city. We live in the country in a small town. Exposing our kids to people different from us has enriched their lives and helped to develop empathy.
*Pray and invest.
Commit to praying for those who are different from you, especially as a family. When our kids were very young, we heard a man speak who was part of a ministry to Native Americans. We were all fascinated with his ministries work. We got his newsletter, kept up on his prayer requests, and followed his speaking schedule online. They often took part of the money they earned doing chores for their grandpa and sent it to him, telling him they were praying for him. This experience helped to shape our kids’ view of ministry. Our adult daughter is very involved with a local charity that rescues women from sex trafficking. She not only prays for them and volunteers to provide cosmetology services to the women, she also gives a portion of all of the money she earns in her salon to the organization.
What are some ideas you have for reaching out and gathering in, trying to form diverse friendships? One person who comments will win a copy of my book Everyday Confetti: Your Year-Round Guide for Celebrating Holidays and Special Occasions