Awakened to a blessed day . . . The morning of Sunday, February 4th, the Create cohort anticipated with great enthusiasm a journey of discovery in preparation for a unique worship experience at “The Maitrichit Chinese Baptist Church” in Bangkok, China! The service would simultaneously be translated in three languages, as our very own Dr. Molly Marshall would deliver a powerful word on forgiveness in yet a fourth language–English. The textual groundings for the message: Matthew 6:12; “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” and Colossians 3:13; “accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another”. I read the scriptures from my American Holman Christian Standard Bible and listened to the Thai translation that would follow Dr. Marshall’s English prose, as my interest stirred to consider worship experienced by four nationalities present (American, Mandarin Chinese, Thai, and Philippine).
I must admit, hearing the translation immediately following a short segment of the message demanded a level of attention that required intentionality. Growing up in Second Baptist Church of Kansas City, Missouri where the Rev., Dr. Vernon P. Howard Jr., is Senior Pastor, the church body is accustomed to a worship experience that is dynamically hermeneutic in nature expressed through a consistent flow of verbal and nonverbal forms of communication. In other words, through an interpretive process, the man/woman of god gives attention to the flow (movement with unbroken continuity) as the presence of god is experienced during worship. This type of flow did not appear to be present at the onset of worship at the Maitrichit Chinese Baptist Church because of my own self-created barriers to the hearing of the translations, but would later prove to be present.
As I sat in the main sanctuary I focused on seeking the face of god. While god alone is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, I pondered how I saw God in those present. How did I see God in myself in this new experience? And how would the world around me see God as I describe this experience? Attuned to Dr. Marshall’s message of forgiveness it was these three questions and three Hebrew words (Shalach, Kaphar, and Hesed) she shared that moved me to deepen my theological dissection of what it means to seek the face of god!
The Hebrew word for letting go is Shalach. In order for me to see God in those present I had to let go of any previous thoughts and barriers I had of the experience. As Create students of this pilgrimage, it is respect, humility, attentive listening to God, and openness to new vision that is expected. In an effort to let go, I no longer focused on the various written languages of the church program and focused on the pictorial of Jesus surrounded by his followers. This opened my eyes to worshiping in community with a diverse people, just as Jesus was in community with various people. I witnessed the intentional kindness of a nearby Chinese worshipper as he helped Createstudents who were trying to locate the page number of sung hymns expressed as written English text. I focused on the loving appearance, graceful mannerisms, and friendly banter of the interpreter rather than the sounds of a foreign language. I made a conscious decision to no longer allow the self-created barriers to keep me from seeing God in those present. My prayer for God to release the self-created barriers to open my heart and mind to the community, kindness and love in people as enacted through Jesus.
Kaphar in Hebrew means covering. God covers us from sin. As Dr. Marshall explains, “God does not want us to be embarrassed.” It was earlier that morning before we left the hotel for the church that Create students were reminded of the modesty, demureness and reticence active in the culture of Maitrichit Chinese Baptist Church! The cohort was asked to take a second look at our presence – ladies in particular were met with motherly approval when “covered up”. Upon fellowship with the people of the church, that which I could not change at the time (red painted polish on toes nails, tattoos on body) would not give way to embarrassment, but a feeling of covering! I was covered by God just as those we fellowshipped had been. I saw God in myself in this new experience and it will be something I carry with me as I minister back home.
Finally the Hebrew word hesed means mercy. As I write this blog I consider how those – the world around me who will read it – will see God as I describe this experience. Will it move people to seek & experience God more deeply through encountering holy places and graced persons? As people explore new destinations, will they be attuned to their very personal and internal exploration of self? Will the hearts and minds of Christian women and men be open to show mercy on people in their spiritual quest? Will the self-created barriers be dissolved through prayer as your own faithful convictions are deepened? My challenge to you in seeking God’s face is to finish this journey as a different person than the one you were when you began. Each day Awaken to a Blessed Day!
I am currently in my second year in Brite Divinity School’s Ph.D. program in Pastoral Theology. The program is enriching and challenging, and is allowing me to explore research questions that have deep implications for me both vocationally and personally. Little did I know at the time of my matriculation, Central’s create program was preparing me for this unique experience. The curriculum of create, and the culture of Central, nurtured my deep interests in theological education, and equipped me for meaningful ministerial engagement. Because of create’s focus on praxis and innovative ministry involvement, I found myself uniquely positioned for various levels of engagement with the Church, communities, and the wider global context.