“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ ” Rev. 7:9-10
These verses from Revelation 7 have been the direction-setting words for my ministry with LCMS World Mission and now with the Texas District. I grew in my missional views early in the 1990s, clearly seeing that my loyalty is to my Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of Revelation 7 and that I must reach out to all people groups, not just my own. From reaching out to Eritrean immigrants, my vision expanded to all African immigrants and progressively to all ethnic groups.
My hesitation to venture out of my ethnic group was mostly for two reasons: First, because of my traumatic experience in Eritrea, I wanted to reach out to those who come from the same place and experience. Second, I felt that I was linguistically limited and do not have the gifts to reach out to other people groups.
Both excuses were proven wrong in my 28 years of experience in the North American mission field.
A discussion on these two reasons is for another day. However, my mission has been more effective to other ethnic groups than to my Eritrean countrymen. The difference is that I was able to become an apostolic church planter in the other communities.
On the other hand, my Eritrean brothers and sisters wanted me to be one of their pastors to plant and grow a congregation. We were able to plant half a dozen Eritrean ministries in the United States during my time with LCMS World Mission (2004-10) along with ministries for Sudanese, Liberian and Ethiopian people, and people of other nationalities.
In my view, the difference is my focus on raising leaders to plant ministries, and the expectation of the Eritrean community for me to be a leader of one church plant. The Eritrean community’s expectation did not match what I have become in my missional outlook and that caused some conflict.
This is not unique to the Eritrean community; every leader of first-generation immigrants will always face the challenge of ethnocentrisms that would challenge his venturing out of his ethnic group.
I hope the reading of this message will inspire our pastors of any ethnic background to focus on raising leaders to reach all people groups in their neighborhood. We are working with congregations in Northeast Texas to do just that.
Bethel Lutheran Church of Dallas is one of those congregation that is exemplary. On August 18 we celebrated three ministries (congregations within a congregation) by having a joint service with three languages and welcoming more than a dozen men and women into membership. This is a glimpse of what is to come in our metroplex—and a glimpse of heaven.
By Rev. Yohannes Mengsteab
Mission & Ministry Facilitator, Area B