Cultural challenges face western corps

by Claude Nikondeha

Should there be a corps for every language? Or should corps be multicultural, with all language groups worshipping together? The answer, is “Yes and No!”

Multicultural corps are wonderful. In fact, when the first followers of Jesus were together at Pentecost, they represented every known nation, each one hearing the gospel in his own language. What a great model to follow!

I hope your corps is intentionally multicultural. There is a special joy in corps who welcome first-generation immigrants and celebrate the rich cultures of the world. Many immigrants want to attend your church and are eager to become Americans, practice English, and learn as much as they can about their new country and cultures.

But every newcomer may not be so adventurous or eager to assimilate. Older immigrants or refugees fleeing political oppression may not have planned on coming to America. For them, a mono-language ministry is a familiar oasis in a strange new world. A language ministry at a local corps can have a powerful ministry to recent immigrants and may become a community place, attracting even non-Christians who just want to see some familiar faces. They may come for the friendship, but they will also hear about the goodness of Jesus and about his love for them.

There is no perfect corps structure that will meet all needs. Every corps model has strengths and weaknesses. However, there are definite advantages to multicultural corps, especially in meeting the needs of second and third generation immigrants.

It is a common axiom that first-generation immigrants tend to “cling” to their heritage, while their children tend to “flee” the old ways. (The third generation often wants to rediscover their “roots.”)

Consequently, a mono-language ministry may be very comfortable to first generation immigrants seeking to maintain family language and traditions. But it is a sad reality that many of their children leave the ministry/corps (and often their faith) when they become young adults.

This is where a multicultural corps can be valuable in meeting the needs of both generations. Parents can attend Bible studies or services in their birth language, and children can attend English language Sunday school and participate in youth group activities with other American kids. In this environment, children don’t have to leave the church to “become American.” Their faith is part of their American identity and their American friends are Christians.

Language ministries concerned about the second generation can seek out Anglo corps partners and plan youth activities together. Specific corps structures may diverge, but the underlying principles are the same: to love and glorify God and work together to meet the needs of his people.

If you are interested in building a culturally diverse corps membership, please join us this September 23-25, at Crestmont College. It will be our First Territorial Multi-Cultural Institute for corps officers, ministry leaders and friends. The theme for this year is “Serving the World in Your Own Backyard.” For registration and more information please call the School for Continuing Education (SOAR) at Crestmont College- 310-265-6143.

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