P E relates how, as a white American, getting to know black people in Chicago laid the foundation for understanding what a person from a minority background in Asia feels like, particularly when majority-culture Christians share the gospel with them. His study of biblical lament helped solidify these understandings. It further revealed the need for the majority-culture church to serve minorities in complete humility and to extend deep roots into their culture and language.

P E and his wife serve with OMF International in East Asia where they work with a minority people group. They are passionate about all types of racial reconciliation and how that is part and parcel of the advance of the gospel and God’s kingdom being established among unreached peoples.

The Language of Lament in Reconciliation and the Global Church

Mission Round Table Vol. 15 No. 2 (Sep-Dec 2020): 34-41

I first heard of a particular minority people in 2003 when my wife-to-be and I served for a year in a large East Asian city. Previously, we didn’t know that there was a group of people who didn’t speak the majority language as their main language. A couple on our team was burdened for these people and often prayed for them and talked about them. On campus, I came to know a young man from this minority group with whom I hung out a few times. But our friendship didn’t go far because his English wasn’t great and I was a little intimidated by his religious beliefs, though I thought they were interesting. By the end of my year, God had taken my general interest in this people and turned it into a burden.

After we got married, my wife and I settled in Chicago. By helping a refugee family from Somalia, we developed a burden for justice issues and saw the need for holistic ministry. God united this with the love we already had for East Asia to enhance our concern for the minority people we had encountered in our time there. Two-and-a-half years ago, God led us to return to serve these people.

Throughout my life, I never had much experience with lament. It didn’t seem to have any relevance until recently when we started thinking more about how minority people have to find ways to grieve and deal with tragedy in their lives. I have discovered that lament has more relevance to these people than I had ever known, even as it has much to teach us about reconciliation. This article will examine the language of lament as it addresses reconciliation and how that effects the global church.

Introduction to Lamentations

Lament is a passionate expression of grief and sorrow. And though the Bible says much more about lament than that, the one who laments is passionategrieving, and sorrowful. In due course, we will look at this in more detail, but the greatest difference between the way the world views lament and the Bible’s understanding is faith. An old negro spiritual can help us bridge this gap. The song “Bye and Bye” says,

O. Bye and bye, bye and bye

I’m goin’ to lay down my heavy load

I know my robe’s gon’ to fit me well

I’m goin’ to lay down my heavy load

I tried it on at the gates of hell

I’m goin’ to lay down my heavy load

Though they could try on the robes of Christ in the hell of slavery, they express hope that the burden will be laid down in the Bye and Bye. That is exactly what lament is. It is an honest recognition of the horrific realities of life that sets its hope in eternity.

The book of Lamentations is a funeral dirge for Jerusalem. Lamentations 1:1 says: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow she has become.” The book is a response to the destruction of Jerusalem during the Babylonian captivity. Judah’s understanding of lament flowed from this historical reality. So should ours. The Hebrew title for the book ʾêykâ—the first word in verse 1—literally means “how?”. The same word repeats itself in chapter 2:1 and 4:1. The question raised is likened to other expressions of grief, such as those found in the psalms that ask, “How long, O Lord?” It has much in common with our response when confronted with tragedy: “How could this happen?”

mrt-15.3-people-mourn-over-destruction-of-jerusalem-dore-cropped
People Mourn over the Ruins of Jerusalem (Lam 1:1–5) by Gustave Doré (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.[1]

The book of Lamentations comprises five poems that (with the exception of chapter 5) are written in an acrostic form using all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet to begin each metered stanza. Some commentators have conjectured that perhaps Lamentations was written in acrostic form because the poet wanted to bring some order into a chaotic situation. Whether this is true or not, expressions of grief in the book of Lamentations alternate from way down and then way up and then down again like a roller coaster. This is the reality of grief. My wife reminds me that grieving is not a linear process. One who deals with great pain and ongoing loss often finds himself all over the map. For this reason, working with an intensely oppressed people who constantly grieve over their situation is messy and difficult.

Lamentations makes it clear that lament has several components. First, it can be understood as a funeral dirge or eulogy. But it’s not just any eulogy. Typically, in the twenty-first century when people attend funerals, we often call the “eulogy” a celebration of life. However, in Lamentations, this eulogy speaks to the loss of a country that has been taken by force. This is by no means a celebration of the life of Jerusalem, but a deep groaning and expression of pain and loss, not unlike how parents who have to bury their own child feel.

Second, as seen throughout the book, but particularly in chapter 5, lament is an honest expression of pain and sorrow. We will look into this below. Third, according to Lamentations 5, lament often includes an honest confession of sin and broken relationship or broken covenant with God. Fourth, lament includes recognition of God’s sovereign reign and ultimate goodness. Fifth, and finally, lament also includes assurances of hope in the midst of great pain. A conclusion we can draw from these five things is that lament is an act of faith. It’s an honest prayer to God about the brutal realities of life. Lament can only be truly made by one who is in a covenant relationship with God. The one who laments knows that God hears his prayer and, therefore, deliberately turns to him in faith while making his complaint.

Lamentations was written for liturgical use. During worship in the Second Temple, after the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile, they would have read portions of this book to remind them of what happened to their city and people. The graphic depictions of their plight along with the expressions of great grief and sorrow were intended to produce hope in a holy, unchanging God whose compassions are “new every morning” (Lam 3:23). The Lord is the One who will remain faithful to keep his promises in spite of his covenant people’s faithlessness. The pain and sorrow are just as real and graphic as the restorative hope in God. The lament in chapter 5 points ultimately toward restoration and has much to teach us about the plight of minority peoples. We will condense the teaching of this chapter to three main points: the tragic reality, the confession of sin, and the hidden hope.

The tragic reality

First, we should pay attention to the pronouns the poet uses in Lamentation 5:1. He writes, “Remember O Lord what has befallen us … see our disgrace”. The way the author uses pronouns is very intentional. If you were to read the entire book and take note of all the pronoun changes you would find a deliberate and complex shifting from one pronoun to another. By and large, in chapters 1–4, the author gives his personal perspective, written from the first-person point of view to express his own afflictions and observations of the terrors of the exile. But in chapter 5, a dramatic shift to plural pronouns takes place, and the author raises a deliberate corporate appeal to God. Judah—as a nation and people—raise their lament and express their desire to turn back to God. This is important as we think about an entire people who were stricken but also hope for a ray of light that will lead to restoration. And yet, lament is an act of faith by one who is in a covenant relationship with Yahweh. Israel was God’s covenant people. Even so, what we learn here, because of the corporate nature and graphic description of the nation’s loss, can be used to highlight the plight of and agony felt by many minority peoples.

The second thing I want to point out from verse 1 is that the poet, on behalf of the whole nation, calls on God to “remember”. “Remember O Lord what has befallen us … look and see our disgrace.” This calling on God to remember is common in the OT. However, it’s not as if the author thinks God needs to be reminded or has somehow forgotten about their situation. The one who laments only feels that God has forgotten them. We see this specifically in Lamentations 5:20, where the poet writes, “why do you forget us forever? why do you forsake us?” When we grieve, we may feel like God has forgotten us and that we are forsaken—which is an extremely bitter feeling. In reality, calling God to remember is not a statement that he is unaware of our situation, but a call for him to take action.

For instance, in Exodus 2:23–25, God remembers his people in Egypt.

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

In Exodus, God took action to rescue his people. In 1 Samuel 1:19, God remembered Hannah and she became pregnant with Samuel. In Psalm 106:45 we read, “For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” God being called on to remember is always bound up with his covenant faithfulness and steadfast love. It is vitally important that we understand that the God who makes promises will always keep them because he never changes and his deliberate love never changes, even if he must exercise discipline along the way to a people who are often disobedient. The foundations laid here will help us as we consider the tragic reality faced by Judah that is revealed in a few key verses from the chapter.

In Lamentations 5:3, Judah calls God into action as they cry out, “We have become orphans, fatherless, our mothers are like widows.” Yahweh is the Lord of his people. And though he is their Father and they are his children, the exile has left them as orphans and widows—those whose fathers or husbands are dead. Orphans and widows are the weakest and most vulnerable in any society, and the whole of society is now reckoned as orphans and widows. Their king is dead and they feel like God has abandoned them. In a similar fashion, thousands of people today have seen their societies upended by more powerful peoples. Families either flee or are sent into exile. Parents are sent away from home or are housed in reeducation camps and their children placed into orphanages. One young woman we know who has three little children has lost her husband and is left with hardly any money. Despite her desperate situation, landlords by the dozen have refused to rent to her, simply because of the ethnic group to which she belongs. They regard her as a criminal, thief, or terrorist. Similar to Judah’s experience in Babylon, the weakest and most vulnerable are discriminated against. And even if they choose to identify with the locals, they are often treated as foreigners in their own country.

The Akkadian cuneiform inscription on this clay tablet lists certain rations, and mentions the Babylonian captivity and the name of Jeconiah (Jehoiachin), King of Judah. Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin. Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Similarities can also be found as we compare Judah as described in Lamentations 5:11–12 with many modern situations. “Women are raped in Zion, young women in the towns of Judah. Princes are hung up by their hands; no respect is shown to the elders.” This lament brings an honest and graphic expression of pain and suffering, as it not only describes different types of suffering but also the shame that goes along with it. Rape is as shameful as it is torturous. The Babylonians not only show disrespect to elderly Israelites, they openly shame them in public. In many places, minority people are subjected to rape, torture, and the shame that accompanies them in an attempt to turn them into submissive members of society. When that fails, they may be imprisoned or even killed.

The dislocation of the exile produces the grief expressed in Lamentations 5:14: “The old men have left the city gate, the young men their music.” All meaning and joy in life is gone. No social positions or pleasures remain to identify them as a unique culture, people, and society. Indeed, they could say that “The joy of our hearts has ceased, our dancing has been turned to mourning.” Their identity as a people is gone. All they have left is grief and loss.

A few years ago, my wife and I spent ten days in a large Asian city where we visited the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar today looks nothing like it used to, but has been completely transformed and commercialized to become a tourist spot. It now looks like a massive food court in Disneyland that features ethnic food. It’s like entering a museum exhibit designed to resemble something that was once real. The result is that it feels fake. Although some of the local people were dancing in the bazaar, it felt as though they were only dancing in an attempt to cling the best they could to what they still have as a people. And yet, in their dancing, they were grieving what once was.

Where does all this lead? Lamentations was written to be read as a means for God’s people to turn to him in their loss and pain. Israel’s experience was real. The experience of loss and pain is equally real to many today. By deliberately and graphically recounting their story, the exiles were moved to repent of their sins and return to faithful obedience in Yahweh who had adopted them to be his covenant people so that they would not have to experience this again. Biblically, the end of lament is restoration. Far from being an end in itself, lament is a path to God. It leads the grieved to recognize personal wrongdoing and acknowledge personal sin.

Confession of sin

The need to acknowledge one’s sin is highlighted in verses 7, 16, and 18.

Our fathers sinned, and are no more and we bear their iniquities … The crown has fallen from our head, woe to us, we have sinned … for Mount Zion which lies desolate, jackals prowl over it.

Israel sinned, and in Lamentations they are trying to remember the ways in which they have wronged Yahweh. They realize they have treated him as one god among many. They acknowledge that previous generations had adopted the worship practices of Assyria and Egypt. And though that generation is gone, the people in exile are paying for their fathers’ sins. But lest we think their experience of the exile was all their fathers’ fault, Jeremiah’s generation acknowledges that their loss of the monarchy is a result of their own sin (Lam 5:16) so that the most sacred of their places has become a den for wild animals (Lam 5:18).

The acknowledgement of wrongdoing is the first step in repentance. The second step is turning back to God and doing so continually so that the sin is never committed again. They must choose to turn away from sin and towards God. But is turning back to the Law and the Mosaic covenant—as good as it was—enough for God’s people? No. They still fail. And how do people truly turn from their sin when they were never God’s covenant people to begin with? How is racism forgiven and thousands of years of practicing false religion turned from? How does reconciliation take place and restoration of hope occur for minority people today who are stripped of their identity?

In many ways, the reconciliation that comes through the gospel starts with the most privileged people humbling themselves, stooping as low as they can. This includes foreign Christians working in Asia. It also requires that Christians among the majority people humble themselves so that God’s kingdom can advance among minority people. As we have seen, true lament can only be done by those who are in covenant relationship with Yahweh. That being true, those who truly need to lament and repent of sin is the majority culture church. When the church laments for the sake of others, for the sake of an oppressed minority, this not only provides an avenue for genuine repentance but also validates those who are the victims. The more the majority church acknowledges and laments the fact that they, along with the majority culture, are a part of the victimizers who have caused the minority people to experience pain, the more their humility can serve to be a gateway to reconciliation. What might this look like? The answer lies within the far-reaching realities of Lamentations 5:19–22 and leads to my third and final point.

A hidden hope

The contrast between verses 18 and 19 is vivid. From the situation in which jackals prowl over Zion as a result of the sin that lead to the exile, the focus shifts to the Lord reigning forever. The reign of Babylon’s king was no more than a passing moment compared to the endurance of Yahweh’s throne. In verse 1, we saw that calling on God to remember was a call for him to take action. In verse 20, Judah’s suffering is so great, it has caused them to feel like Yahweh has forgotten them forever. However, the character of God is not such that he overlooks any injustice done to any people. We can take heart that this is true for the injustice done toward minority peoples as well. In Lamentations 3:34–36, we read, “To crush underfoot all the prisoners of the earth, to deny a man justice in the presence of the Most High, to subvert a man in his lawsuits, the Lord does not approve.”

This ultimately leads to the last two verses of the book, which are quite possibly the most important. “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old—unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.” Verse 21 again ties back into verse 1. Calling on God to “restore” is the same as calling on God to “remember”. Judah longed to be the people they once were, and they knew that only God could bring about such a revival. But as verse 22 shows, they still had no assurance. They knew they were sent into exile due to God’s wrath against their sin. Their suffering was so real, their hope was so crushed, and their future was so bleak, that they could not be sure there was anything else for them but the life of slavery and suffering. In the midst of all this it was hard—almost impossible—for them to remember the true character of God and that he is an unchanging promise maker and keeper. Old Testament scholar H. L. Ellison, commenting on verse 22, puts it like this:

The simple fact is that the people of Israel—with few exceptions—had so failed to grasp God’s revelation that an experience parallel to the bondage in Egypt and a new Exodus were needed to prepare Israel for the appearance of her Messiah and the world’s Savior.[2]

The Flight of the Prisoners by James Tissot (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons. Jewish Museum, New York.1

There was purpose in this suffering that went beyond the comprehension of Israel. Though their situation seemed utterly hopeless, it wasn’t gone; it was only hidden. As Lamentations 5:21 makes clear, the reality of restoration is the ultimate end in Israel’s confession of sin and lament. This restoration, however, only comes when one’s repentance is initiated by God’s sovereign act and culminates when God’s covenant is renewed. It is important, therefore, to see that God’s full plan of restoration goes beyond Israel being restored to the people they once were. The lens of the telescope needs to be adjusted to focus on something much further out, much further away. As Jeremiah prophesied:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer 31:31–33)

Ezekiel similarly prophesied that their heart of stone will be removed and replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezek 11:19; 36:26). Their hearts, that were as hard as the heart of the Pharaoh of the Exodus, will be replaced with hearts of flesh and they will no longer merely try to obey a law written on a stone tablet, the law itself will be written on their hearts.

This was God’s way of keeping his promise to Abraham to make him the father of many nations. He would provide a sacrifice that was sufficient to deal with the heart, not just the surface sins. God would provide a perfect sacrifice that would turn human hearts from stone to flesh. God had promised this sacrifice way before he called Abraham. In response to the Fall, God promised Eve that her seed would crush the serpent’s head, but not before the serpent would fatally bruise his heal (Gen 3:15). This had to refer to a real sacrifice. And for this reason, the long expectation of true restoration that the people of Israel sought in Lamentations 5:21 found its fulfilment when Jesus Christ came to deal with sin and create a people who can worship him in spirit and truth. Christ himself walked the Via Dolorosa—the way of suffering. His path to Calvary was marked by lament so that he could receive us into his arms where those who lament find comfort.

When all this happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus, a new movement, a new restoration, a New Covenant was initiated. This new thing that emerged through the lament is what we call the church—God’s people, consisting of all who believe from Israel and the nations. The church is God’s means of keeping his promise to Abraham. It is this gospel truth—that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the church was born—that takes everything I want to say to its grand crescendo.

Application

How, then, does this apply to minority peoples? It begins as majority people and people with power humble themselves as members of the church and join those who are suffering in their pain. For the past five years or so, my wife and I have been praying through what we have come to call Vision 2:14, based on Habakkuk 2:14 and Ephesians 2:14:

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

The content of this vision is nothing earth-shatteringly new. It includes themes and situations that many of us have been praying through for many years. But it’s worthwhile to say that our vision is—by God’s grace and the power of the cross—to see the walls of hostility between the majority church and the minority people we love broken down so that God will unite his people to take the gospel to the ends of the earth; and that, as we are reconciled to him and with each other, his glory may be seen in the power of the gospel and fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.

We strongly believe in this vision and pray that God will fulfil it for his glory. We are convinced that the minority people church is an essential component of taking the gospel to peoples of other religious backgrounds. More significantly, the testimony that the gospel has the power to reconcile two groups who hated each other and unite them to go into the world is undeniably powerful, a witness that gives all the glory to God because only he could bring reconciliation in this way.

While prayer is the most important part of this vision, there are other things that foreign workers and mobilizers can do. Foreigners can play the crucial role of mediators between majority and minority peoples by encouraging the majority people church to love and understand their minority neighbors. To do this, we need to have friends among believing majority people and minority people and bridge the gap between the two, especially when the minority people are too afraid to reveal how they actually feel.

We have a friend from a minority group who owns a restaurant and who has become quite open with us and trusts us fairly well. He knows that we know their situation quite well. In the evening when most of their patrons are from the majority people, I often stood outside of the restaurant talking with him and his brother. When some of their regulars came along, our friend greeted them with a hand shake and big smile. But as soon as they turned their backs and walked into the restaurant, he would look at me and growl a common English curse in their direction. This phrase—along with “Happy birthday to you”—is the only English he knows. He can utter the blessing and the curse. Though the hatred is often hidden, it resides deep in his heart. Minority people long to openly grieve, but often because of fear, do not allow themselves to do so. Instead, they remain silent and cover their pain with a smile.

So, how can we as foreigners bring reconciliation into the church and help to plant a vision so that minority and majority Christians can work together for the cause of the gospel? My answer comes from our experience of living in the city of Chicago—in our home country—for about eleven years. For six of those years, we lived in subsidized housing near Chinatown, on the twenty-first floor of a building. The complex was about 80% black, 20% Chinese, and us. Our children were born in a hospital in a black and Latino ghetto. My window-washing business took me all over the city. As my wife and I came from predominately white parts of the United States, you can imagine the level of culture shock we faced. Our experience living in this city and complex played an essential role in God’s calling us to work with a different people on the other side of the world. It was absolutely necessary because it forced us not only to befriend people who were different from us, but to befriend people who feel they have been racially aggrieved by whites.

In America, poorer black people who live in cities often feel more racial animosity towards whites than those who live in rural States. The fact that we lived in Chicago at the time when a white police officer shot dead a black man in Ferguson, Missouri forced us to deal with racism and ethnocentrism that we didn’t even know was in our hearts. We quickly learned to listen to our black neighbors and the people I met on my window-washing routes. We heard how they were often mistreated just because of the color of their skin, how they were abused by the police, looked down upon by white people, and marginalized. And though we didn’t agree with everything they said, we came to understand them and their situation much better. Living in Chicago revealed that racism was hidden in our hearts and taught us to truly love our black neighbors. For the first time, we saw how privileged we are as white people and developed a desire to use it to benefit those who are less privileged. We similarly learned to genuinely love black people: their culture, the way they talk to and interact with each other, even their faults. We got to know where they are different from white Americans and the difference became beautiful to us.

Working with a minority culture on the other side of the world has shown us that there is not much difference between the experience of a Jew in Babylon, an African-American in the United States, or Asian minority group as they relate to the majority culture. As foreigners who work in Asia, we need to confront the racism that exists in our own hearts. My hope is that we all allow Christ to break down any dividing walls that have been raised between us and others (Eph 2:14). I also hope that we can help the local church of majority culture people to examine their hearts and confront racism that they may have.

Let me name a few specific ways that foreigners who work with minority peoples can work toward this end. My first example relates to a majority-people family who are our friends. They are wonderful people and a great family. A church meets in the upstairs of their home and they have a very genuine love for the Lord. They have a heart for the minority people too, but I would say they have a greater burden to mobilize them towards a wider missional vision of taking the gospel to related people groups in neighboring countries. They own property in an area with a large population of minority people and desired to use it effectively to train up people from their church and send them out in mission. At one point, they told us they believe the area and the minority people are essential for their wider missional vision. That was, however, before life in the area became more difficult and they started to feel that they should focus on the next country. Hearing this saddened us greatly. We became even sadder because they were unwilling to learn the minority language and culture since the minority people can speak their language.

My second example relates to my first language teacher. He is a great guy with a genuine Christian faith and a really good heart. Once in class, the topic of the minority people and their land came up. I don’t remember the details, but I remember explaining to him how difficult things are for the minority people as they are poor, disadvantaged, and oppressed. My teacher responded by telling me that things are actually quite easy for them since government programs take care of them and that life is really harder for the majority people because they don’t get the same benefits.

These examples demonstrate the all-too-common mentality of people from the majority church. Though they often go to do ministry in areas where minority people live, they rarely stay for the long haul. How do we respond when we hear things like this? How does a racially transformed heart speak into these situations?

Our diagnosis for the large family goes back to what we saw in Lamentations 5:1 and 5:21 about God being a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. He “remembers” and he has “restored”, and the way he has done that is through the church—a multi-ethnic body, comprising all the colors of the spectrum. The family had seen minority people as a project that fits into their wider vision and mission, but once things “got too hard,” it seems they decided that the “project” was no longer worth pursuing or necessary. They have failed to see that they need minority people. As Ephesians 2:19–22 says:

You are no longer strangers and aliens but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure being joined and held together grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God.

My friends and the majority people church need to see that they need minority people and that they need to value them as a unique culture and people. In Christ, they are being “built and joined together.” They therefore need to genuinely love them and desire to preserve their language by learning it. In many cases, the use of a minority language is essential so that those who do not know the majority language—especially the older ones—can hear the gospel in a way they can understand. There is a need to recognize that minority peoples and their cultures have value and that forcing or even coercing them to be like the majority culture can feel truly oppressive. People like my friends also need to be reminded that we can’t give up on mission because it’s hard. Mission is hard. And even though minority people may not always respond well to majority people, as Ephesians 2:14 and 2:19–22 inform us, we should love others in spite of how they treat us, and keep working for as long as it takes to bring about true reconciliation, as this is a by-product of the gospel.

My teacher and others like him need to see the value of unity in diversity. Ephesians 3:10 is a multi-colored spotlight that shines on Revelation 7:9: “So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” The phrase “manifold wisdom” has the idea of a multi-faceted cut diamond or prism that refracts light into all the colors of the rainbow. That light shines on Revelation 7:9, which describes how—in heaven—every tribe, tongue, and nation will worship the Lamb in the greatest display of unity in diversity. For this reason, my teacher needs to value minority people as people, because diversity is not only multi-ethnic but also cuts across all levels of income and social strata. Poor and wealthy are unified, as those with privilege help those without.

How, then, do foreign workers with racially transformed hearts fit in? How can we best fulfill the role of mediator? We should start by valuing the unity and diversity we find in our own countries. If we don’t, we won’t be nearly as effective in Asian contexts. Valuing unity in diversity comes through repenting of ethnocentrism and racism that one may not even know is there. As we saw in Lamentations, honest confession of sin is essential. As we mobilize and send people into the racially tense contexts of minority peoples, we need to ensure that those we mobilize are made ready through dealing with similar issues in their own countries first. For my teacher to truly understand minority people, he needs to sit down with them over a pot of tea, listen to their stories, and get to know their life experiences, even if he doesn’t agree with everything that they say. Only in this way can he truly understand what it means to be a minority person and then begin to minister to them.

No matter where you are from, you need to ask what racism or ethnocentrism you might need to repent of. If I, as a white person, had never listened intently to the stories and experiences of my black neighbors, how could I advise my teacher to do the same thing without being labeled a hypocrite? If I, as a white person, haven’t learned to value the ethnic minorities in my own country that I have held prejudices against, how can I tell my Asian friends that they need to value the minorities in their country and learn their language and culture too? Having these experiences with minorities in our own countries will give us real examples to draw on when we talk with our majority brothers and sisters in Asia.

Another way that those of us who have a burden for minority people can be used is to love the church of the majority people who live around them. If we desire that they learn to love unconditionally, we need to love them unconditionally and thus live out the gospel before their eyes.

I would thus strongly recommend that all new workers who want to work with minority people, along with mobilizers, should gain this kind of experience and begin to address heart issues before going to the field or sending people there. Here are a few ideas that may help.

  1. Find ways to listen to the stories of minority people in your home country. To do this, you could visit a nearby ethnic church and tell the pastor that as you are preparing to serve in a part of the world where racial tensions are high, you want to better understand minorities in order to be of greater service to those people.
  2. Find ways to mobilize people from African-American (or other minority) churches to reach minority people in Asia. Black Christians, as minority people, could greatly help the majority church to understand minorities. They may also be able to identify with the minority people in their suffering, come alongside them, and lead them to Christ.
  3. Prepare your heart to face multiple frustrations when working with Christians from the majority people who want to work with minority people. Learn to love the church with all its faults.

In closing, I’d like to highlight a powerful example of lament and reconciliation. College Park Church in Indianapolis specializes in bringing white and black Christians together and taking them on a bus tour to visit important sites connected with the civil rights movement. Though I haven’t taken part in one of these trips, I want to and I believe that it would be of great value for anyone involved in minority people work to do the same. During these tours, devotional readings are given from lament psalms and Lamentations. As the groups visit different sights, everyone writes their own lament psalms and reads them to the group. The language of lament brings unity to this diverse group and brings healing at a deeper level than you can imagine. Like rapper Lecrae said in his hip-hop lament “Facts”:

You want unity then read a eulogy, kill the power that exist up under you and over me. Reconciliation or conciliation happens when defrauded parties are made whole not just apologizing for the offense.

So, let’s help and love minority peoples. Let’s help and love the minority people church. Let’s help, love, and mediate between the minority and majority people churches. In this way, God’s kingdom can advance among the minority peoples and they can move toward being made whole as they are freed up to have space to lament, because lament is a pain-filled prayer for revival to a God who remembers and restores.

[1] The image is a faithful reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. It is in the public domain in its country of origin, the US, and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

[2] H. L. Ellison, “Lamentations,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Vol. 6, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 733.

Start typing and press Enter to search