Book surveys ethnic cultures to broaden witness in U.S.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)--Christians who want to witness and minister in the United States should strive earnestly to understand a variety of people groups, writes Ele Clay in a new book published by Woman's Missionary Union, "Many Nations Under God: Ministering to Culture Groups in America" (Birmingham: New Hope, 1997).

"God has called our nation to a bold, exciting and somewhat dangerous undertaking: ministry to the nations of the world who live within U.S. borders," declared Clay, who is a freelance writer in Lampasas, Texas.

The book is divided into several chapters that discuss a dozen ethnic cultures in the United States, including Hispanic, Anglo, deaf, Chinese, Korean, Greek, Haitian, Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, African Americans and Native Americans.

"We decided to focus on the groups that have primarily been visible during the past 10 to 20 years," Clay explained.

Clay, who served as editor and coordinator of the project, came to the United States as a native of Trinidad-Tobago whose family had relocated to Anguilla.

She led a diverse team of writers, each of whom wrote about his or her own culture.

During the initial planning meeting for the book, the writers developed the approach that characterizes the book's content.

"We decided that each writer would express two things: first, what it is like to be a member of this culture within the United States and, second, how Christians in this nation can effectively reach out to the culture," Clay said.

The aim was to give the writers an opportunity to present the "voice" of their cultures.

"Obviously, each writer can only speak for themselves," Clay acknowledged. "But their voice is helping others understand the culture of which they are a part."

Emerson Falls, who co-wrote the chapter on "The Original Americans," recounted experiences from growing up as a Native American.

"When I was a young person, just a little boy in the early 1950s, I was walking in downtown Ardmore, Oklahoma," Falls wrote. "My cousin and I were thirsty. We went into a department store on the edge of town." Upon entering the store, the cousins found signs over two drinking fountains: "White" and "Colored."

"My cousin and I looked at each other and laughed," he recounted. "We went around thirsty all day because we were neither white nor colored. To our innocent minds there was no place for us."

Jimmy Anderson, who also wrote part of the chapter, suggested a variety of strategies can be successful in reaching out to Native Americans, including relational evangelism, missions teams, multiple worship services for different clans within a tribe, and provision of supplies to small Indian congregations.

"What if local churches became burdened about Native Americans?" Anderson asked. "We might just see revival happening and greater outreach among the American Indian than we have ever seen before."

At times, the book offers glimpses into the types of humor enjoyed by various ethnic groups.

Sue Hill, who wrote the chapter about deaf Americans, related a popular joke among deaf people. The story is about a deaf couple staying in a motel.

"In the middle of the night, the husband went outside to get something for his wife," Hill said. "Upon returning, he realized he had forgotten the room number, so he went out to his car and began honking the horn. All the motel room lights came on except for one. Mission accomplished!"

Throughout the book, readers are urged to remember that much diversity exists even within a single ethnic group. Writer Arnold Wong emphasized this is a key strategy for reaching Chinese Americans.

"To minister effectively to the Chinese we have to understand and appreciate the fact that they are a diverse population," Wong noted. "All Chinese are not the same."

Chinese Americans may be found at all socioeconomic levels and speak a variety of language and dialects, Wong stated. "When it comes to working with these Chinese population, it is imperative that we rise above stereotypes."

Clay said bringing together a book about various cultures called for delicate handling.

"Culture is always a sensitive subject -- anything that has to do with culture, diversity, racism or prejudice," Clay noted. "We are part of cultures, yes, but we are also unique. We are each individual people God created."

Hoping churches will use the book in their attempts to build bridges to people who need the gospel, Clay said the book can be the subject of a study group within a congregation.

"If the church is in a community with a certain ethnic group, or if the ethnic group is part of their church, they could invite people from the group to be part of the study," she suggested. "Once we get past that first boundary, we're going to find out it's a lot easier than we thought."

The book is available at Baptist Book Stores and through Woman's Missionary Union Customer Service at 1-800-968-7301.

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