Virtual gatherings have one big benefit over in person ones. You can go on mute if you need to! One of our workers shares when some snapshots from big online meetings and the fun that comes from being part of a diverse, international organisation:
It’s the day after the end of our annual conference and I’m listening to a podcast from The Bible Project. The podcast hosts are getting really very excited about some themes in the book of Ephesians.
“The diversity of this assembly, the fact that in the Messiah, such different people treat each other as siblings, family… that community is a display, is the way God makes known his multidiverse wisdom.”
I start thinking this through: “such different people treat each other as siblings, family”. A few different images appear in my mind…
Image 1: I’m number crunching, checking and re-checking the registration list against the list of time zones. This annual conference is larger than normal because it’s the ten year anniversary of our department. Ministry has existed in our region for much longer than ten years, but we had a reshuffle a decade ago. This year, we want to pause to celebrate all that God has done since our department began. We have invited all our former ministry members and lots of other guests and friends. Meeting online makes it much more realistic for all these guests to join us.
At last, I’m certain: we have just over 100 participants in 14 time zones, 6 continents, speaking two languages. Between us, we speak many more languages than that, but all of us can speak either the national language of the country where we serve, or English. Around half of us speak both.
I don’t know if all the people who have registered will actually join the meetings. More concerning to me, I don’t know how the interactions will go between this very diverse group of people. I bow my head to pray: “Lord, I’m giving my best to prepare for this conference, but this conference is ultimately yours. Please, Lord, be the author of our times together. Show us your story. Help us to listen and to follow you.”
Image 2: I’m reaching for my mute, quickly. The get-to-know-you conversation before the start of one of the meetings has got a little personal. A colleague is chatting in the national language, describing their favourite problem-solving habits at home. Apparently they involve the bathroom. It’s best not to translate directly here what is being said…partly (but not entirely) because the meaning is hard to capture well in English. Before I know it, I’m laughing out loud, way too loud to be polite in an online meeting. Hence the speedy muting. This way, I can enjoy the fun without distracting everyone else.
Image 3: I am very quiet, listening with my ears and with my heart. We have just watched some video stories of early Gospel servants in our region. Now I’m in a breakout room with two colleagues. Both of them have suffered mistreatment because of their desire to share Jesus in places where people do not know him. What will they say about their struggles in comparison to the suffering of the earliest workers here?
“I really can’t compare my experiences to what those early workers went through,” they both say.
I was a part of the support team for both these people during their hardest days. I know that in a different community, the pain they experienced could have knocked them off course for the rest of their life. But here, God has given them a different lens. Their focus is on faith and compassion, not on the difficulties.
Image 4: It’s our final meeting. I’m in a small group again, listening to an East Asian sister share her thoughts. She isn’t from this country, but she’s speaking in the national language because she prefers it to English. “Our first department conference 10 years ago was so small. There were just a few of us meeting and talking together. We didn’t know what was going to happen after that. Now, at this conference, we have people from almost every continent. We all have different backgrounds, experiences and languages. But together, we are one community. We are ‘people of the same path’”. Her final phrase sounds much more eloquent in the national language. I can’t figure out a great way to translate it into English, but I can feel what she means. Here, we experience togetherness. As we listen for God’s voice and commit afresh to serving him, we are many, but we are one.
Tim and Jon on The Bible Project are wrapping up, “When they [the diverse community of believers] gather here…that is an incarnate display of the wisdom of God…This is powerful stuff, man!”
Tim, your words describe my life this week. And yes, it’s powerful stuff.
Our department has people with different personalities, cultures and language preferences. Working together takes a lot of listening, patience and love. In this work, if I am ever not feeling stretched in my cultural habits and attitudes, I know it’s time for more prayer and listening. If I’m feeling comfortable, I’m almost certainly missing something important.
The Bible Project podcast ends. They have expressed incredibly well the upside-down power implications of God’s community, the mystery of God’s wisdom, his story, expressed in this kind of togetherness and the costly love that it takes to hold together in this kind of diverse community of Jesus’ servants. I’m so very grateful for their skill in understanding God’s wisdom in Scripture and expressing it to us all.
But they missed out one important thing about this “multidiverse community”  of God’s people. When this kind of community gets together, the joy of Jesus is a little bit uncontrollable. Keep your cursor finger ready to mute…pretty soon you’re going to be laughing out loud, probably way louder than you should!
 https://bibleproject.com/podcast/one-family-once-more, at 49 minutes
 As above, at 58 minutes
 As above, at 53 minutes
By Rose Scott