The Book of Revelation is punctuated by a series of powerful images of the heavenly world and the Age to Come. In one of my favourite episodes from this amazing hope-filled book, the apostle John is given a preview of the Throne Room of the Great King after the Great Tribulation. He sees a crowd of worshippers from every nation, tribe, people and language, giving praise to the Lamb who has redeemed them.
Last night Marion and I, along with about a hundred other worshippers, were given a small but rich and delightful foretaste of this wonderful heavenly reality. We were treated to a cross-cultural worship experience at Eglise le Sentier, a French-language Baptist church in Gatineau.
The evening was sponsored by CASE2, a diverse team of Christian musicians from the Ottawa/Gatineau area. Of the nine musicians who comprise this group, four are active participants in All Nations Ottawa, our home church. We had attended a previous concert by CASE2 – a fund-raiser for a 2011 mission trip to Burundi – so we knew we were in for a treat.
The performance was energetic and passionate. The band was clearly well-rehearsed but their musical presentation was spontaneous and fresh. The songs – all original – represented a variety of musical styles. The lyrics were strong, addressing a wide range of human experience and always leading the worshippers to Jesus.
As the child of immigrant parents, having grown up with three languages, I understand and appreciate cultural diversity. I also find myself increasingly aware of the wide variety of languages, cultures and theological flavours represented within the Body of Christ, not only world-wide, but in the National Capital region. Last night’s concert was a microcosm of some of this richness. The nine current members of CASE2 are active participants in a variety of churches in Ottawa/Gatineau, ranging from Evangelical Baptist to non-denominational charismatic. Two of the nine are French-Canadians while seven are immigrants to this country – six from Africa and one from Belgium. They represent at least three continents and several native languages.
None of the musicians have English as a first language, yet they had intentionally crafted a bilingual repertoire, with some songs in English and some in French. Even the testimonies and song introductions were presented in both languages.
Several of the musicians had contributed songs to the repertoire, and many of the songs were prefaced with a brief comment by the composer. This gave the band members an opportunity to tell their story. They spoke of how faith in Jesus had changed their lives, and gave strong encouragement to those present to trust the Lord and walk closely with Him. Several of the musicians have had the experience of being refugees from a war-torn nation. At least one has been a missionary in a foreign continent and has been shot at by terrorists. Many of them have lost a great deal, but every one of them testifies that in Christ they have found even greater riches.
Towards the end of the evening I found myself reflecting on what I was experiencing. My faith was being encouraged by new friends from a wide variety of backgrounds. They had bridged several cultural divides – the divide between French- and English-speaking Canadians, the divide between evangelicals and charismatics, the divide between African immigrants and white North Americans. They were not only singing songs, they were sharing their life experience. The audience, too, was diverse. It was probably about half white and half African. English-speakers were definitely in the minority, but Marion and I were far from the only ones, and not for a moment did we feel unwelcome on “the other side”. And that is as it should be. After all, we were among friends – we were among God’s people. But it has not always been that way among those who name Jesus Christ as Lord.
This experience has left me grateful for the many excellent friends that God has given me. I have been blessed with friends from many nations, tribes and languages – friends who have known what it is like to suffer great injustice, yet who live a life of gratitude without a trace of bitterness – friends who are true servants, who encourage my faith, who challenge me by their testimony, who enrich the Body of Christ by sharing their gifts and their love so freely. I will be sharing eternity with these friends. God has called us to live and work in partnership as one family. I am grateful that He is giving me an opportunity to get to know, love and appreciate some of them on this side of eternity.