Last week we conducted a New Challenge Seminar for Northwest Baptist ministry leaders who are new in their churches – and an outstanding group of leaders they are! One, who is an immigrant from China, has a Ph.D. in engineering and will start our first Mandarin speaking church in the Portland, OR area. These men and women, about 35 in all, are incredibly diverse in background, training, and language, speaking Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Spanish and English.
One episode made us English speakers sit back and say, “Wow. That’s really cool.” It happened when a man from Columbia, an attorney in his home country, but now a church planter, was struggling to come up with the right English words as he spoke. The woman who sat beside him is from the Philippines. Her first language is Tagalog. But she and her husband were missionaries in Mexico for several years, so she also speaks Spanish, her third language after English. So, as this man from Colombia struggled to find the right English word, he spoke in Spanish to the Filipino woman, who would then help him find the right English word!
Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke, “What do you call a person who speaks two languages?” Answer: bi-lingual. “What do you call a person who speaks three languages?” Answer: tri-lingual. “And what do you call a person who speaks only one language?” Answer: an American!
That joke was reality in our New Challenge Seminar as most of us who were born in America marveled at our immigrant friends, who made up about half of our group. But it wasn’t only the language diversity that made last week so much fun. It was the testimonies of calling and commitment that each of these men and women shared. From young adults who are in their first ministry assignments, to senior adults who retired from their first career and are plunging into a new calling. Some moved across the country to start new churches, others came to pastor existing churches, and still others are serving in their hometowns as church planters. One couple toured the world with their musical band for ten years before coming home and planting a church. Another travelled the U.S. as an evangelist for many years, before moving to Washington to pastor a church because he wanted to be in an area where the need for Gospel witness was great.
I often say that it is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest. Spending a day with our newest ministry leaders only made me more certain of this.