By Rev. Dr. Atula Jamir
Imagine the magnificent colors of the rainbow! Growing up, everytime I saw a rainbow in the sky, I would try to count the colors but was never successful. I concluded that there must be more than the eyes can see. It is just a glimpse of God’s creative work of love and relationship. I think of our church like a beautiful rainbow but with the anticipation to experience new appearances everyday. God continues to set before us brilliant colors of life in the deepest sense – not just to see but to feel, smell, share, admire, touch, engage, embrace, and to flourish. These colors of life pave its way and build vibrant communities and transform otherwise homochromous communities. This spirit moves into the simplest as well as the most sophisticated life of the people regardless of who they are and where they come from. As a pastor in a multi-cultural church in-the-making, I appreciate the array of colors of the people and their cultures, and the colors they create and bring to the common table.
Calvary Baptist Church in Lowell, MA , originally a Euro-American faith community, is home to friends from the Republic of the Congo, The Ivory Coast, Panama, Cameroon, Kenya, Cambodia, Myanmar, and India. We also host three churches: Voice of Peace (Khmer), New Life Christian Cambodian Church (Khmer), and Lowell International (Karen, Kachin, Burmese, Chin). On the last Sunday of every five-Sunday month, all four churches worship together in different languages, culminating in a global meal that transcends all cultural barriers. The generosity and camaraderie of the people are seen at their best as we mingle and share the food that has come from their kitchens to our common table.
Being immersed in the diversity of people and culture is deeper and more surprising than we imagine. We are introduced to a vast spectrum of potentials for communication that conveys love, appreciation, respect, trust, humor and solidarity. During one of our meals, a friend was drawn to a particular dish that was set among the delectable dishes. She ate a spoonful, her face turned red, eyes blurred with tears, she blurted out, “My head is going to burst.” It was too spicy. Our sympathetic laughter only increased her desire to learn from and respect other cultures. Every little thing that is different becomes the bridge to all generations and cultures. The aroma, piquancy, texture, and shade are essential elements of a diverse community. We emerge from the immersion in diversity transformed from “there is no way we can adjust to their culture” to “we are born to adjust, adapt, accept, and enjoy each other….” The once pungent smell becomes a comforting fragrance.
In our togetherness, we begin to understand the commonalities we have as human beings, acknowledge our cultural differences, and respect our individuality. In our friendship, we are actually experiencing God’s perspective on inclusivity, creativity and redemptive living. In our sharing of stories, and visits into each other’s lives, we enter into transformational moments. Barriers become pointless in our willingness and openness to partnership and begin to have a strong presence in each other’s lives, leading to faith that moves us to return to the heart of the Gospel again and again. Our sense of awareness has sharpened with deepened humility, and we have become more ALIVE!
Rev. Dr. Atula Jamir serves as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in Lowell, Massachusetts; she is also the coordinator of Personal Development Ministries for American Baptist Women’s Ministries of Massachusetts.