That request started me on a special journey of church leadership and faith that has been totally unexpected and refreshing. And, of course, challenging! Many of the members of this refugee congregation have arrived in the United States within the last couple of years, so their command of English and American culture is a challenge. Still, it is clear that God has been blessing and growing me as I have waded into life with these brothers and sisters in Christ.
First, I have learned to listen closely. Because of language barriers, I discovered that I cannot make assumptions about what church members are trying to tell me, and it is imperative that I keep asking questions to make sure that I understand them. I work to make sure that my own language is clear, and simple. I am grateful when we can speak face-to-face, (out of necessity, many of my conversations with the church leaders is by text messages) because I can read their faces and their body language to discern if there is clarity between us.
Second, I have learned to watch carefully. When I have had the privilege of worshipping with the Lai Baptist Church, my own energy sky-rockets as I watch the members interact with each other, with their worship leaders, and with the Spirit of God flowing through the sanctuary. Children are everywhere, often cradled at their mother’s chest or sleeping on her back, and the children move back and forth between mothers and fathers sitting on opposite sides of the sanctuary. The children are clearly at ease in this space and the parents keep a watchful eye on them, while also allowing them room to move about naturally in this community of faith. There is a level of noise and movement that is out of the ordinary in my own experience and I am learning how infectious and exciting the movement can be.
Third, I have learned to worship continuously. What a profound reminder the Lai Baptist Church has given me as they tell me about their Sunday morning education hours in people’s homes, followed by worship in the Brighton Community Church sanctuary, usually followed by dinner together and evening worship. To all of these times of worship and learning they add a Friday night prayer service in the sanctuary. It is clear that the Lai Baptist Church has an appreciation for worship, fellowship, education, and mission that is contagious.
It never occurred to me that the presence of the Lai Baptist Church could be such a gift. I am grateful for what my congregation can offer them, and blessed by their presence in my life.
This post is contributed by Rev. Lisa Drysdale, pastor of Brighton Community Church in Tonawanda, New York. The Lai Baptist Church began worshiping in the sanctuary of the church in August, 2012. Lai is one of the language groups that are part of the Chin ethnic community of Burma.