By Kristen Marble, an ordained elder with the Free Methodist Church, is the Pastor of Mars Hill Free Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. She also teaches Bible & Theology courses for the Free Methodist Church during January intensive J-Term Courses. Kristen is working on a doctorate on the NT Context at Northern Seminary. Her doctoral project is exploring how the Old Testament should be used in the Church today. Kristen loves to travel, read, write, speak, explore thrift stores and experiment with new recipes alongside John, her husband of 22+ years, and her children, ages 11-23.
From a very young age I became badly infected by the travel bug. My family and I traveled a lot and I loved it! By the time I graduated high school, I had visited most of the 50 states. As an exchange student in high school and college, I quickly expanded my travel repertoire to include most of western and eastern Europe. John and I have continued that travel tradition with our own family, and our kids have been to over thirty states themselves. There’s something joyous about seeing new places, learning new things, and meeting new people. A busy international airport filled with the hustle-bustle of many-hued people, speaking innumerable languages, and wearing unique and colorful clothing demonstrates better than anything else the beauty of God’s diverse creation. I often imagine this as but a small foretaste of the beauty of heaven.
On Sunday, churches around the world – churches filled with those many-hued people, speaking innumerable languages, wearing unique and colorful clothing – will celebrate Pentecost. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ many disciples and an international praise party of at least fifteen tongues and tribes broke out. Thousands of Jews had gathered from around the first-century world in Jerusalem for the Holy Day, and no matter from where they came, they heard praises to Jesus in their native tongue! (See Acts 2)
On that single day, three thousand people came to faith and were baptized. Now that’s a revival! But the revival didn’t stop there. As each of those three thousand returned to their home country, they brought with them the Good News. They shared their experiences and joy, and small gatherings of worshipers cropped up in every corner of the Mediterranean world. If you could have traveled from one end of the world to another at that time, and visited each of these small churches, you would have encountered a great diversity of cultures, languages, dress, skin color, customs and ways of life.Such beautiful diversity didn’t end after these early churches were established either. Several years ago I had the opportunity to be part of a five-language Easter service in South Africa. The service was a poignant reminder that God’s truth knows no national boundaries and is to be proclaimed by all. Today, many local Indianapolis Free Methodist congregations are experiencing such diversity as they welcome refugees and immigrants from around the world. Scripture is read in Swahili and English. Worship songs are sung in multiple languages. Church potlucks feature a tantalizing array of international food.
For generations the church in the West has raised up and trained missionaries to be sent out into the world. That continues to happen today, but now the world is also coming to us. And what a great opportunity for learning and growth. Indeed, the world has much to teach the western church!
On this week when we celebrate Pentecost, let us rededicate ourselves to embracing God’s diverse church that has no national boundaries, no official language, no standard dress, and no universal ways of worship. Whether you have traveled far and wide, or have barely made it out of your hometown, invite God to broaden your views about His Church. Intentionally seek out individuals who come from places you’ve never visited, who speak languages you do not know, and whose customs you do not understand. These are our brothers and sisters, and they also are image bearers of our Creator God.
While we may not all be able to travel, we have daily opportunities to go beyond what we know. Mark Twain’s challenge to travel applies to us all – whether we hop on an international flight, or simply drive to the grocery store: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
And once you’ve begun to travel, how can you bring your experiences into your church? How can our churches better represent the beautiful diversity of God’s creation? May this Pentecost Sunday be a time of radically embracing the splendor, uniqueness, and creativity of a God who transcends all nations, all tribes, and all tongues.