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Coping with diversity

May 2007 | by Wes Johnston


Leeds Reformed Baptist Church (LRBC) has a thriving Persian-speakers fellowship (PSF) of between 60 and 70 men, women and children.

The work began as a small ‘home group’ of 3 or 4 people in the late 1990s. Of the present number, 25 are members of LRBC and another 20 or so are in the process of joining the church. Because of this development, the church called a fulltime pastoral worker for Persian speakers in 2005.


All our Sunday services are simultaneously translated into Farsi. Service sheets are prepared in both English and Farsi and we seek to involve Persian speakers in our main services on a regular basis (they sing and read the Scriptures in Farsi). On a number of occasions the sermon has been preached in Farsi and translated into English!


The majority of our Farsi speakers come from Muslim backgrounds. Many have come to faith in Christ – some while still in Iran or Afghanistan, and others as they have learnt about the Christian faith in the UK.


We rejoice in what God has done among this group in recent years, but with the blessings of conversions and growth have also come the headaches of integrating people from very different cultures and backgrounds into the church.


We still have much to learn as we seek to grow in Christ, but here are some principles that underpin our present efforts to become a multicultural church.

Integration

The Bible plainly advocates integrated, multicultural churches. It would be much easier to view our Persian speakers as a church within a church, or allow them to meet separately as a Persian-speaking congregation (there are national Persian-speaking ministries which encourage this approach).


But we see no justification for this. In fact the opposite is true – the Scriptures exhort us to make every effort to be united (Ephesians 2:11-22). The new heavens and new earth will feature a fully integrated church, yet one that is racially and culturally diverse (Revelation 5:9-10).


On a practical note, we have already witnessed second-generation Persian speakers becoming more integrated with their English-speaking peers – a situation made easier because we are committed to worshipping together.


Pastoral care

We prioritise pastoral care across the entire congregation. This is vital. We are constantly reviewing church practice so that we grow as a family of believers. There is great diversity even within the Farsi-speaking world.


We have folk who are Iranian, Tajik and Hezara-Afghans, and Kurds. This itself can produce many tensions! Relatively minor problems for native English speakers often assume overwhelming dimensions for some of our Persian speakers.

Informal meetings

We encourage English and Persian speakers to meet together informally. One way in which this occurs is through fortnightly Growth Groups which meet in homes. While we have two Persian-speaking groups, we encourage those who are competent in English to join with other groups. Another great encouragement are the regular meetings between our PSF and members of Leeds Messianic Fellowship, who use our chapel building for their meetings.

Validation

We seek to ensure the integrity of the church’s reputation and witness by carefully examining the claim to Christian conversion of any asylum seeker using it as a ground for appeal against deportation.


We are all too aware that people may seek to join the PSF and church for ulterior motives. Even where claims are genuine, there will be pressure on the eldership and pastoral team. Many asylum seekers have come through traumatic experiences and make significant demands on pastoral time.

Applying biblical principles

We want to encourage our Persian Christian friends to grow in their knowledge of Jesus Christ and his Word. This involves church elders teaching at PSF meetings on a regular basis.


Many find themselves in difficult circumstances, especially if their asylum claim fails – so we try to help them apply the principles of God’s Word to their circumstances. One regular dilemma we address is how to provide for your family when the Government withdraws financial and housing support – even though you cannot return to your native land (a common problem).


Should you obey the law or should you work on the ‘black market’ to provide for basic needs? Many of our fellow believers are facing this practical issue.


Privilege

Having highlighted such responsibilities and concerns, we must acknowledge that it is an enormous privilege to serve believers from Muslim backgrounds. Just to hear how the Lord has brought some of these dear brothers or sisters to faith in Jesus Christ often moves us to tears.


To see young converts growing in appreciation of the doctrines of grace, and in love for the Saviour, thrills our hearts. We believe that God will continue to bring through our doors those ‘strangers’ (Matthew 25:35) for whom we can care with his grace and enabling.


God has blessed us richly through the fellowship of our Persian friends. We give him all the glory – but no one said it would be easy!