A Life Shaped by an Unparalleled Cross-Cultural Experience
My cross-cultural experience in St. Paul, Minnesota began when our seminary class on Cross-Cultural Communication in Mission met up with Pastor Jim Bear Jacobs, and I heard him greet us in his tribal language. He is a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation, an American Indian tribe located in central Wisconsin. But on this day, he was teaching us about the Dakota people and the little-known historical details about the early days of the state of Minnesota. The historical connections and the perceptions that Native Americans might have about white people are based on the history between those people groups.
Racism and Multicultural Churches
Jim Bear is an educator, but he also serves as a parish pastor at Church of All Nations, along with Senior Pastor Jin Kim, who is from South Korea. As I observed the cultural diversity in the staff of the multicultural Church of All Nations, I was sure that such a diverse church would be a little bit challenging to have in my country, the Dominican Republic. In my country, we do not have the issue of “white supremacy,” yet we still face racism in different formats.
As our class visited with some of the staff members at Church of All Nations, one of us raised the question, “Would it be hard for a white person to start a multicultural church?” Jim Bear said yes, it would be hard. If he sees a white pastor trying to lead a multicultural church, he will always question the motivation of this minister and be skeptical about that pastor’s interest in other ethnicities. Pastor Kim agreed and explained further about the challenges of racialization and how western imperialism has encouraged the divisions among us.
Being a Jesus Follower
In addition to these challenges, I also learned from Pastor Kim a few ideas like: “Why live for status? Let’s put our lives on the line for Jesus. I do not want to live my life stupid.” As he said this he was talking about how many pastors are working and living only to keep their status quo. Their life and ministry are more focused on the “right doctrine” rather than Jesus and his words. Pastor Kim was not opposed to holding a theological belief, yet he said that the words of John Wesley, Martin Luther or John Calvin are not greater that the word of God. Before any denominational preference, there is the greatest message: the message of Jesus Christ; and we, the seminarian students are called to be witnesses of this to the world. I was very impacted by the seriousness with which Pastor Kim explained what it means to be a Jesus-follower.
[bctt tweet=”The words of John Wesley, Martin Luther or John Calvin are not greater that the Word of God.” username=”ys_scoop”]
Family and Ministry
Pastor Kim said his greatest joy is to be able to “do family” in the midst of his busy days of teaching the Word of God and taking care of his other responsibilities as a Pastor. In addition to being the founding pastor of Church of All Nations, he is also the founder of Underground Seminary. During all of this, he takes the time to be with his wife and children. His son is a junior and his daughter is graduating from high school. His wife is also from a Korean family, yet she was born in the States. Something that I noticed was that when Mr. Kim introduced himself he said, “Hi I am Jin Kim, but here people call me Pastor Kim.” This was in response to his Korean background and their formal culture. Any American Pastor would not put much emphasis on their title because American culture is more egalitarian. Reflecting on his words that day, I too consider myself to be a family man. One of my prayers to the Lord is that once I enter into ministry and have my own family I would like to keep a great balance between family and ministry.
Pastor Kim said that his biggest challenge is working with mentally ill people. What did he mean by “mentally ill people?” He continued, “Humans are incredibly social, but our culture of workaholics keep people busy and alone to the point that people start believing that life is all about work,” said Pastor Kim. He considers humans to be high maintenance animals; we need each other’s company. I would like to pursue this topic of mental illness a little bit more. I am passionate about the human brain and since I am in this country I should be aware of the conversations in the marketplace regarding mental illness. As a pastor, I will be exposed to many people with mental illness and I will need to provide an answer based on the Scriptures. Sometimes I will need to make a recommendation to a specialist and I need to distinguish when I should do that.
Church Size and Outreach
Pastor Kim knows the names of all his members and he is always interested in knowing the nature of their marriages. He made this comment to support his thesis that mega churches are not needed and there is not biblical support for this model. He said that in his church, because of their size, they can have deeper conversations and develop a deeper sense of fellowship than if they had many people. The Church of All Nation has nearly 250 people attending.
“Witness about Jesus Christ is better than outreach,” argued Pastor Kim. This was the answer he gave when he was asked what their outreach plan is. He said that they do not have one. Jim Bear added that they do not do outreach in the conventional sense of the word. Instead, they witness about Jesus’ life to people and connect with the community by hosting events in their church that respond to the felt needs of their community.
Advocating for those in the Margins
My thoughts went back to earlier in the day, when Jim Bear was speaking to us from the top of the historic Pilot Knob Hill, overlooking the city of St. Paul. We were standing between two cemeteries: to our right was an old cemetery for Native Americans with a long history of desecration, and to our left was a cemetery for white Americans. To our right, we saw an open field of prairie grasses and wildflowers; to our left, we saw a typical American cemetery with gravestones and green grass. Jim Bear spoke of those who were buried in the Indian burial ground as people who lived on the margins, and said that as Christ-followers, we should listen to their voice. “This is the voice, the voice of those living on the margin. Listen to the voices that are coming from the marginal side” he said as we stood in between these two cemeteries. Pastor Jim Bear insisted that we should listen and advocate for those who are in the margins.
As one who is anticipating a future in ministry, that week I was praying that the Lord would lead me where he wants me to go. This teaching that I was now hearing seemed to be God saying to me, “Go to those who are in the margins of this American society and preach to them the Gospel of my Son Jesus Christ.” I still do not know what it looks like, yet I have a good beginning.
One of the benefits from this experience was getting to know my classmates. We drove for 6 hours, and it allowed us to share memories from seminary and engage in theological debates. I won’t forget this day because we spent a long time together driving and also eating in two ethnic restaurants. The two places where we ate were really good. I am not very curious about food. I like to default to what I know, but this trip stretched me. It was good to expose my senses to Mediterranean food. Sometimes I think that there is nothing better than my rice, chicken and red beans I used to eat in my country, but this experience sparked my gastronomic curiosity. Perhaps one day soon, I will try more varieties of food.
Moreover, I was able to meet two pastors who are in the same line of church planting that one day I would like to undertake. It was good to make these connections. Also, I learned about the cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and the origins of the state of Minnesota. Pastor Kim challenged me to live a life that will have an eternal impact on people’s lives. He helped me to see the seriousness of being a Christian. Pastor Kim said “Put your life on the line for Jesus” and he meant it. I pray that the Lord will give me boldness to proclaim his message to everyone I encounter. I want to take the task of being a pastor as seriously as I can, and if my life needs to be on the line, so be it.
Erick Ben. Sede is an international student enrolls in the Master in Divinity Program at Lutheran Brethren Seminary LBS in Fergus Falls, MN. Erick is going to begin his senior year at Seminary this upcoming fall 2017, upon graduation on spring 2018, he is envisioning becoming a Church Planter in a major city across North America.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.