2015 was a big year of change for me. I don’t have a particular book or podcast to share about, but I will share about how working for Forefront has shaped me and taken me out of my comfort zone.
Working in ministry is like learning to play Brazilian percussion.
Working in ministry has influenced the way I've viewed the church and viewed community. Up until now the church has always served me and my needs. I needed a shoulder to cry on, the church was there to provide that. I needed advice about something, the church was there to provide that. I needed support and community, the church was there to provide that. Being a staff member at church,opened my eyes to exactly what ministry is and what is involved in being a part of a community.
I was challenged to see people as individuals and to be more empathetic. I shifted the focus off of me and to the people around me. Everyone was going through something - not just me - and how they dealt with what they were going through differed very much from how I would've dealt with it. Generalizations have to be thrown out the window when working in ministry. This led me to be challenged in the area of compassion. Instead of seeing people in their struggle from my own perspective and projecting my own views on them, I was challenged to change my perspective and understand their struggle from their own viewpoint.
I was further inspired by one of our FCQ speakers, Nikki Lerner, who came to speak to us about multiculturalism in America and her own struggles growing up as a minority. She shared that there was an implication that she needed to blend into the dominant culture in order to be accepted thereby distancing herself from her own culture. This made such an impression on me because I too had felt the need to separate myself from my roots so as not to appear so different from everyone else. What really struck me was when Nikki had shared that she would go to a particular laundromat, which was more further away than convenient, in order to build a relationship with the owners who were migrants. I was especially touched when she shared that she made an effort to be inclusive of their culture by making the simple gesture of greeting them in their native tongue. It got me thinking about how I could be more intentional in being more inclusive of other cultures here in the US.
I had taken an interest in Capoeira before, purely for fitness, but this time I was inspired to do it differently. I didn’t want to just take from it by just getting a good workout. I wanted to participate in the culture of it.
For those of you who may not know, Capoeira is a form of martial arts originating from Brazil. Capoeira combines elements of dance, music, and martial arts. Not only do you need to learn to "fight" when you practice Capoeira, you have to learn to play the instruments, to speak Portuguese (the moves do not have English translations), to sing in Portuguese, and learn the rich history of Capoeira. The particular group that I got involved in is very diverse. 90% of the participants are not from Brazil, however, about 50-60% can speak Portuguese (not including me!). They all sing in Portuguese and play the instruments. By taking part in this sub-culture in my neighborhood, I found beauty and respect for a culture other than my own.
I’ve made connections with people whom I never would’ve struck a conversation with. Being in ministry, it’s so easy to only build relationships with people that attend our church. Working for Forefront has encouraged me to reach out to those that the church and/or society don’t normally reach out to. It’s so easy to be compassionate to the person who shares a similar story to yours. It’s so easy to talk to and connect with someone who shares similar interests. It’s so easy to stick to those who are like you. It’s so easy to participate in something that is familiar to you. It’s comfortable. But Jesus didn’t get comfortable. He talked to the people society despised most. He loved by having conversations and doing life with people that were not like him.
So I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone this year. At church, talk to someone whom you normally wouldn’t talk to and actually engage in conversation with them. Do something that makes you squirm a little; whether it’s waking up an hour early in the weekends to serve or striking a conversation with that homeless person you pass by every morning on your commute to work. It’s not easy for me to sit in a room and participate in a culture other than my own, but it’s all in an attempt to build bridges and tear down stereotypes.