ACMI, the Association of Christians Ministering among Internationals, held their annual conference in Atlanta, GA, at the end of May. The theme was “Intersections” – the connections between campus, the city, and church. Speakers throughout the weekend spoke on each connection and how it relates to international student ministry.
“The danger in cross cultural ministry is that becoming accepted means conforming to American cultural norms instead of scriptural [norms],” said Dr. Soong-Chan Rah at the Thursday evening session. And sometimes we may apply that false narrative to our Christian lives as well. We may feel that we have to do all the right things in just the right way in order to be “really good Christians”, but that’s not the case. As Dr. Rah spoke on Haggai 2, he expanded on that, reminding listeners that even when something isn’t perfect, God is still present and manifesting himself. Recognize God’s presence, he urged.
Reverend Al Lacour brought the familiar topic of hospitality to the fore again. Hospitality opens doors to the future of the church, and needs to be a key player in reaching internationals. Look to Abram and Sarai, he says. They were sojourners, not settlers. As such, they opened their home to God’s visit. In their hospitality, they took the role of servants – because hospitality dignifies the guest, not the host. We reflect God’s hospitality when we welcome others in the same open and lavish way God has welcomed us. God’s grace is a gift of hospitality, and it’s always about God’s stranger coming to town. In Jesus, we have the ultimate foreigner coming to stay. His famous parable of the Good Samaritan is also about welcoming the foreigner, Rev. Lacour said. Jesus didn’t define who the neighbor was. He didn’t set up boundaries of a neighborhood. Because “you can’t define a neighbor, you can only be a good neighbor.”
Dr. Stephen Um then turned the focus to ministry within the city. Large cities now often have more in common with other large cities in the world rather than with their own countries. Cities are the places of economic power, not national governments, and cities gather every kind of person to themselves. Cities drive culture, and cities are always centers of worship – though what they worship takes various forms. “A city resembles what it reveres, either for ruin or for restoration,” Dr. Um warned. He encouraged listeners to seek the welfare of the city, engaging in its structure and shaping its vision. Cities have international impact – so what are we doing to help the city?
Bridges International Trae Vacek closed the weekend plenaries by urging listeners to help students experience deeds of grace. He asked others to not let their identity come from who they are teaching or reaching, but from God. Call everyone to a higher purpose, and make sacrifices. “Sacrifice,” he said, “doesn’t always work. But we sacrifice because Jesus sacrificed.”
As Dr. Rah said, things may not always be perfect. Sometimes, like the Israelites in Haggai, we will look at the temple we’ve built and only see a pile of rubble. But God is doing a good thing in that rubble, and when we accept the grace he offers, we can reach the nations. God said the temple in Haggai was greater than Solomon’s temple because his presence was there. If Christ is in the middle of our pile of rubble, there is nothing more beautiful or glorious.
To see more from the ACMI Conference, listen to this seminar on Reentry: Following Jesus Back Home or this seminar on The Gospel for the Chinese Mind