I have often wondered how many times I missed seeing Jesus while I sulked in my disappointment. In my last blog posting, I shared my disappointment of flying 800+ miles to speak at a campus ministry retreat that was not well attended, according to my expectations. Honestly, for the first 18 hours of this retreat, the only thing that I really noticed about this group was their size. In the midst of my disappointment I almost missed the beautiful thing that God’s Spirit was doing in this group. Fortunately, God opened my eyes to see it.
There was a love and unity in this group that was infectious, genuine and real. There did not appear to be any cliques or small groups within the larger group. Everyone seemed to have a relationship on some level. There did not seem to be superficial small talk but genuine conversations all around. What really blew me away was that this was a racially and ethnically diverse group. There were people who represented at least four different races/ethnicities. No racial or ethnic group comprised the majority of those who attended. The diversity of the leaders was representative of the diversity of the group.
These college students were living out the implications of the gospel that had both reconciled them to God and to one another.[i] Sadly, it is not often that I see this being lived out as I travel around and speak at churches and to campus ministry groups. More often than not, I find myself speaking to audiences that are pretty homogenous – white, black, Hispanic, Asian or Native. Yet the students from this retreat were from the same university campus ministry group and were believing God to use this retreat to make their already vibrant community even stronger.
As I contemplated this beautiful thing that God was allowing me to see, I started to think about the size of this group again and wondered: If this group was comprised mostly of people of one race or ethnicity would it be larger? I do not know that I can give a definitive yes or no answer to that question. But I do think that it is a whole lot easier to be a part of a group where the majority of people look alike and share similar cultural experiences. After all, they get each other’s jokes, share many of the same experiences and don’t have to worry about offending each other. When there is diversity, on the other hand, it takes more thought and work to build genuine relationships – not to mention some awkward moments, insensitive comments and lots of apologies.
To be honest I came to this retreat thinking that I would see Jesus in the form of a big crowd – a large crowd certainly means that Jesus is in the house right? But this weekend, Jesus being present was not shown by the size of the crowd. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He wasn’t impressed by the size of the crowd. In fact, when crowds gathered, He would often say or do something that caused the multitudes to walk away and leave remaining only His committed disciples.[ii] Jesus taught that His disciples would be known by their love for one another and that He would be most clearly seen when there is unity among His followers.[iii]
This love and unity is what I saw in these students that God sent me to spend time with. After the retreat I got the opportunity to spend a couple of days on their campus. I noticed that the group that I spent the weekend with was a microcosm of their campus – they truly reflected the racial and ethnic makeup of the student body. It made me think that when others see them or come to their weekly meetings, they are getting a glimpse of Jesus and seeing that there is surely a place for them in the family of God – regardless of their race or ethnicity.
Here is a question for us to think about. Will you and I let others see Jesus in our lives? Or will we walk down paths of ease, comfort and convenience? It was joyful for me to see Jesus in these students. Yet I wonder what future life in the body of Christ will look like for them. When they leave their campus fellowship of believers, will they find a local congregation that demonstrates the reconciling power of God through the cross of Jesus Christ? Or will they be forced into a segregated congregation by those of us who are called to love each other and live in unity? I pray that the respective answer to these two questions are ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
[i] For more on this read blog post ‘The Church is God’s Answer to Racism’ particularly Part 2 of 4
[ii] For example read Luke 14:25-35 & John 6:25-70
[iii] John 13:34-35; John 17:20-23