By: Kate Van Der Hoeven
I sat in my car, heart beating fast, wishing I was almost anywhere else but in this church parking lot. I was visiting my Hispanic boyfriend’s church for the first time, I hardly spoke any Spanish, and I was terrified! How was I ever going to fit in with this church community and make friends? How was I ever going to fit in to this vital part of my boyfriend’s life if I didn’t have anything in common with these people?
I pushed the car door open, took a deep breath, and walked towards the church building- to meet the people that would change me in ways I didn’t even know I needed to be changed.
It’s six months later. God took me, that scared and skeptical girl, and showed me just how powerful He is in the hearts of the people of His communities. He changed my heart and the way I see community and how I interact with those that are, on the outside, seemingly so different from myself.
Here are my three favorite lessons that my Hispanic friends have taught me as I have grown, and learned to love being a part of my new community.
Christ Unites Us
When I first arrived at this Hispanic church, I was convinced I wasn’t going to fit in. If I didn’t speak the language, how was I ever going to have a real connection with these people? Was it worth my time to even try? I had forgotten one important piece about this community. CHRIST! From the moment I walked in the door, I was welcomed with greetings of love from hearts that adored Christ. Even though I couldn’t understand a good deal of what was said during worship, it was obvious that they loved their Lord and Savior. Even in the way they welcomed me into their church, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed complete stranger, was marked by acceptance and joy that an “American sister” had joined them to worship.
When Christ is the center of a community’s life, difference in skin color and culture ceases to matter. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have the same backgrounds, or even speak the same language. Christ died for all of us; therefore, He unites all His children to Himself and to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ!
Community Takes Effort
Even though I felt welcomed and loved from the first moment I walked in those church doors, it took a long time for me to feel comfortable and able to worship well in a different language. The people of the church had to work very hard to communicate with me either in Spanish or in English and I had to respond with the same hard work to understand and respond. It’s been difficult but the resulting friendships and fellowship have been sweet.
A successful, God-honoring community takes effort for all who are involved. Loving one another takes work and sometimes sacrifice. But it is worth it! We gain so much by taking on the effort to love others well as Christ loves us well.
Community Does Not Mean Perfection
Church is a big part of my life. Being a part of community means giving up a lot of time to be with and serve other people. When you spend a lot of time with someone, it’s not long before you realize they’re not perfect, and they can clearly see that you aren’t perfect either.
It’s important to remember that community is love, which means it’s not about perfection. We can serve and love the people in our communities but we do not find our identity among them. We must love imperfect people but remember we are Christ’s and His perfection covers all the imperfections in ourselves and in others. We are free to disagree, to work through problems, and to continue loving one another as Christ loves us.
God gave us community so that we could grow and learn to love others more. Everyone has different opportunities to be a part of unique communities in our areas. It is important that we get out there and learn what God has to teach us through working with others. I am so grateful for the ways God is teaching me to love others in my communities. It’s not easy and I make a lot of mistakes. But God shows his people grace as we try to obey Him. Don’t be afraid of discomfort. Simply step out, extend your hand towards the needy, and love. Love hard. That is what Christ in community is all about!
Kate is kid number 7 of 10 in her family, and her life has never had a dull moment! Growing up in a homeschooling, Christian home in Kentucky, Kate was raised to love God and His Word. She currently works at a local orchard, and fills her time with reading, archery, and piano playing. It is her firm belief that we never stop growing to be more like Jesus as we actively pursue Him.