by Lisa McIntosh 

The cultural and ethnic make-up of communities in which many Lutheran churches are based has changed dramatically. How can we best serve alongside people of all nations so that we truly welcome ‘the stranger’ with the gospel? Two LCANZ congregational leaders share their insights.

Pastor Mark Schultz from LifeWay Lutheran Church in New South Wales is in no doubt – multi-ethnicity is God’s vision for his church. ‘We are to be a community united in Christ, made up of every tribe, nation, people, and language’, he says.

A multi-site church family, LifeWay has recently welcomed Illawarra worship centres at Wollongong and Oak Flats, and has launched a Western Sydney church plant in Glenmore Park to join locations at Epping and Newcastle.

‘Becoming a multi-ethnic church is not just about reaching out to the community’, Pastor Mark says. ‘It starts with an attitude and practice of accepting people of all nations as equal, fully participating members in church fellowship, and then living that out by all nations using their gifts and abilities and being actively involved in the mission and the vision of the church. The critical component is living Jesus’ love, which accepts, embraces and values.’

More than 20 nationalities are represented among LifeWay worshippers and 46 per cent of people in Epping’s local community were born overseas and speak a language other than English at home. The major ethnic groups in that area are Chinese, Indian and Korean.

LifeWay has celebrated more than 15 multi-ethnic baptisms of children, young people and adults in the past two years, while eight out of 10 young people who completed the congregation’s ‘Step up to communion’ course recently, were from multi-ethnic families.

Its mainly music ministry is a bridge into the local community with more than 80 per cent of those who attend representing the community’s ethnicities. Mums who attend this group but are not church members have brought friends to worship, which culminated in the Easter baptism of three members of one family.

Other multi-ethnic ministries at LifeWay include a ‘praise dance’ group; a weekly singing group with devotions from Asian Ministry Chaplain Wilkinson Hu; a fortnightly Bible study; and Chinese-speaking small groups. LifeWay also includes Chinese language, with English, on screens during worship for the creed and The Lord’s Prayer.

And in a region that in 10 years will accommodate 10 per cent of Australia’s population, with more than 160 nationalities, the fledgling LifeWay Westside church plant is intentionally a multi-ethnic ministry from its genesis.

‘A multi-ethnic mindset begins with my heart – redeemed, restored and reset for God’s purposes’, Pastor Mark says. ‘Without Christ sacrificing his all for me, I would remain lost and condemned. But he has made me his forever. He loves me, accepts me, values me. He delights in me.

‘Through that truth, you begin to look at others not as people who need to be converted, but as people whom Jesus also loves and are made in God’s image.’

Cross Cultural Mentor Barbara Mattiske from Glynde Lutheran Church in Adelaide says the local community there has also been changing. The suburb has long been home to an Italian community. However, in more recent times, an increasing number of people from China, India and Malaysia, and other nations such as Japan and Korea, have made the area their home.

‘We looked at the community around us and how we could integrate more into the community’, Barbara says. ‘And one of the main things we learnt is that friendship is one of the most important things we can offer.

‘We can offer friendship through activities for children, through listening, education and learning. So now we run mainly music classes for mums and dads with their children, we run English and cooking classes, we do learning mornings about education, we learn about being a parent, about marriage and about God.’

Rika, who is originally from Japan, has been coming to Glynde for several years, particularly for its family ministries. ‘Glynde is a very special place for me because I can see new people and also, I feel very important and [that I] belong and I feel this is a family to me’, she says.

After the first lockdown in Adelaide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rika’s family decided that her three young children would be baptised at Glynde. Her Christian background only involved adult baptism but, after input from Barbara and Pastor Wayne Boehm, Rika spoke with her family about baptism.

‘I wanted them to come to see God through Christ’, she says. ‘I talked to my husband; he is not a Christian, but he understood the importance of this baptism. But the most important thing was if my children wanted to have it. So, I sat down with them and I asked them, “Christ died for you, God loves you, would you like to be baptised?” And the three of them – they are little, but they understood to their level – they said: “Yes, we would like to have it”. And looking at their eyes, so serious but excited, I thought, “Yes, this is the thing God has prepared for them, not me to decide but for them to decide”.’

Barbara says the Glynde family was very excited about the baptism and that on the day in church were other young migrant mums who engage with Glynde ministries: ‘And as we all came back to our seats … the other two women turned around and looked at me and they said, “I need to have what they have”. God is amazing!

‘And that is so much what Glynde is about. We want everyone to have what Rika’s children received – to be part of God’s family – and so that is our prayer for everyone who comes here.’

BARBARA MATTISKE’S TIPS FOR WELCOMING THE STRANGER

Listen – not only with your ears

Smile – not only with your mouth

Remember names – it makes people feel special

Act – upon what you are told

Honour culture – don’t judge

Show hospitality – share a coffee or meal

Be careful with language – many don’t understand church talk

Pray – for those you meet

Enjoy – you will be blessed

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