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Urban, multicultural ministry termed God’s divine plan

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–“You’re in the right place at the right time,” Charles Lyons says each Sunday to the mosaic of 35 nationalities that make up his congregation at Armitage Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side.
By “right place,” he means church in general and Armitage in particular. But Lyons is referring also to the core of Chicago and other major cities where he believes God is calling Christians to be salt and light in a world of crime, gangs, violence, the occult and people in need.
“We ought not be in the city because we got stuck there,” Lyons told 400 adults attending the National Urban and Multicultural Leadership Conference, Aug. 4-8, at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center. “We are there because God put us there. A sovereign God is urbanizing his world.”
During the five-day conference, sessions were conducted in Spanish, Korean, French and English. Participants included Hispanics from Mexico, Cuba, Central and South America; Haitians, Koreans, Filipinos, Chinese and other language and culture groups.
Lyons believes the glut of people representing a multitude of language and culture groups living in the high rises and on the streets of America’s major cities is part of God’s divine plan.
“God has one thing on his mind — to reach the masses for Jesus Christ,” he said. “I’m not stuck in the inner city of Chicago. I followed God’s call to the inner city of Chicago.”
In 23 years, Lyons has led Armitage to grow from a handful of 25 people to about 2,000. The church has become known for taking strong and sometimes controversial stands on current issues.
“Get out in the streets,” he urged. “Address the issues of the day. Bring God’s power to bear on your city.”
Al Fernandez, minister of outreach and education at Central Baptist Church in Miami, said the urgency of multicultural ministry is evident in statistics predicting that by 2050 the ethnic makeup of the U.S. will be 50 percent Caucasian and 50 percent non-Caucasian. It is expected that Hispanics will pass African Americans as the largest minority group by 2030.
Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention, said Southern Baptists must get outside the walls of their churches to reach burgeoning language and culture groups. He cited Los Angeles which includes more Hispanics than the South American nations of Peru or Bolivia.
“Many of us have been on siestas for a long time,” said Whittaker, a native of Panama.
On the positive side, he praised language and culture churches in California that are starting churches to reach other groups — Chinese churches starting work with Native Americans, Hispanics starting missions to reach Vietnamese, African American churches starting Anglo work and Korean churches starting African American missions.
“Do you know there are people in our communities waiting for someone to tell them about Christ?” Whittaker asked. “God is waiting to do great things with us, but many of us are sitting down with the traditions of the past.”
In another message, Roando Lopez described how for many years he carried the scars of a childhood experience — being slapped by a teacher for speaking Spanish at school.
Lopez, now pastor of Northwest Hispanic Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, said the scars took the form of “tremendous hatred for the Anglo Saxon.”
Later, as pastor of a church of fellow Hispanics, Lopez said God confronted him with his racism. Today, he is pastor of a church that includes Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Chinese, African Americans and even Anglos.
“How God called me to a multicultural congregation is truly beyond me,” Lopez said. “We have many groups and we thank God for what we have.”
Jean Baptiste Thomas, pastor of French Speaking Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., said through prayer Christians grow to understand the power of God to accomplish things beyond human comprehension.
In 1978, Thomas, also employed in the comptrolling department of Hanover Trust Bank, called out to God for understanding about why people were leaving his church because of crowded conditions when the cafeteria of his employer had extra room.
Within two months, the church was presented the opportunity to buy a large building that had been damaged by fire and closed for four years. Thomas was discouraged by numerous leaders from considering a move to a building the church could barely afford to purchase much less repair. As a banker, Thomas understood the financial realities.
Nevertheless, he said a series of miraculous circumstances enabled the church to make the move and reach more people.
“When God wants something, he has a way to do it,” he said.
The National Urban and Multicultural Leadership Conference was sponsored by the Baptist Sunday School Board.

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  • Linda Lawson