This past Sunday, we all hopped in a small van and drove a short distance down the bumpy, dusty road to our first Kenyan church service. I expected, almost subconsciously, a small building with pews and a pulpit, similar to the small traditional church that I grew up in. When we arrived, nothing was as I had envisioned it. The building was small and the windows were permanently open. In place of pews were around 50 plastic lawn chairs. All around me, people greeted one another in Swahili. The songs were unfamiliar and in Swahili, and there were no hymnals in sight. However, something changed whenever the pastor greeted us from the front of the room. He said to us, “You are guests here, but you are not guests in the house of God. We welcome you!” He seemed to understand something about the body of Christ that had not yet clicked in my brain.
Lately, as I study the Bible, there seems to be a recurring theme. God is revealing to me that unity within the body of believers is much more important than traditions that make me comfortable. Paul specifically addressed this issue in his first recorded letter to the Corinthians, “Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” (1 Cor. 1:10).
Each member of this team comes from a different background, and we work so well together! Why? We, as well as our Kenyan brothers and sisters in Christ, are all rooted in the same simple gospel message. We all praise the same God, we all put our faith in Jesus, and we are all empowered by the Holy Spirit.
In John 17 we are given a glimpse of Jesus’ prayer life. In verses 21-23 he says “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one-as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” Is this prayer just for the disciples? No! In verse 20 Jesus says “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.” Jesus, the Son of God, is literally praying for unity for us!
What an amazing and humbling thought: regardless of one’s physical location, background, or tradition we are all united under the cross, for the sake of the gospel, and we always have at least one point of common ground with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Mungu awe utukufu! To God be the glory! Umoja! United!