September 15, 2014

Embracing Immigrant Churches

          Over the past several years, Central has given priority to global Christianity.  We believe that as the Gospel takes root in varied cultural soils, the larger of Body of Christ grows more fertile.  We have learned a great deal by our pilgrimages to Central America, Kenya, Hong Kong, China, Korea, Thailand, and Myanmar, as well as finding ways to welcome Christians from these and other lands.
            The early founders of Central, Euro-American Baptists from Kansas and Missouri, had a vision for preparing women and men as ministers and missionaries, knowing of the need for congregational leaders here in the heartland.  So they founded the first Baptist seminary west of the Mississippi in 1901.  They imagined their primary geographical impact to be felt in the southern plains states, but kept the larger world in view.  Within a few years of its founding, a student from Burma came to Central.
            The United States is known as a “nation of immigrants,” and as they come, the shape of the church is being transformed.  Bringing practices imprinted by missionary influence—sometimes to the detriment of their own culture—they are making their way in the challenging contemporary American ethos.

            I have been visiting Korean churches over the past several weeks in order to learn more about Central’s Korean Missional Church Program, ably led by Dr. Samuel Park.  Our visionary Dean has understood that our school needed to provide ministry training for immigrant populations, and that we would be most effective in this if we learned how to be more contextual in approach.   
            Now it is one thing to sit in the leadership team or board meetings and look at the phenomenal growth in student numbers among Koreans or persons resettled from Myanmar; it is quite another to witness the vibrant learning environments and churches related to these programs.  It has been a privilege to see firsthand the eagerness of students for ministry training and the quality of professors.
            It is understandable that first generation immigrants find great comfort in preserving language, food, and patterns of church governance and practice already imbedded.  It is also understandable that many aspects of American culture present great challenges to their social landscape.
            Last evening a professor in the Dallas site asked me what had surprised me about Korean churches.  Four things, I said: upbeat, joyful worship; virtuosity in a wide range of musical offerings; collaboration across denominational lines; and success in church planting.  I did expect warm hospitality, and I have not been disappointed!  Eating together after worship is a regular practice, which sounds to me much like early Christianity.
            I trust that Central’s commitment to global Christianity will grow stronger and that the “generous orthodoxy” of our school will make welcome immigrant churches.  We have much to learn from them.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

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