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STOVALL: Catching a glimpse of Heaven in Forest Park

A group of children break the huddle after football activity during last week’s Sports Camp and Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church, Forest Park. (Special Photo: Jason Mussell)

A group of children break the huddle after football activity during last week’s Sports Camp and Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church, Forest Park. (Special Photo: Jason Mussell)

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Close to 70 children from the Forest Park area worshiped together during First Baptist Church, Forest Park’s Sports Camp and Vacation Bible School. (Special Photo: Jason Mussell

This must be what Heaven is like.

At least four different cultures, three different languages and all of them serving and praising one God.

This was my experience last week during my time at First Baptist Forest Park’s sports camp and Vacation Bible School.

For five days I had the privilege to serve along side others who were equally passionate about ministering to approximately 70 children, and by extension, their families. Each night we shared the Gospel with them in various creative ways. We taught them basic basketball, soccer, football and baseball skills, and shared lessons in good sportsmanship.

We connected with some families who needed a place to worship. And, perhaps most importantly, we did it in peace, with love and in a complete spirit of cooperation.

White, African American, Hispanic and Vietnamese Christians of all ages worked, played, prayed and worshipped together under one roof. Nobody cared about which congregation did what. Nobody felt offended if they weren’t being called some lofty-sounding, ecclesiastical title. We carried ourselves as if we were just one church — one big body of believers in the Body of Christ.

What a novel idea, huh?

It reminded me of the words Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (English Standard Version)

It amazed me that all of the talk we do about fostering unity in our churches and communities and breaking down walls of racial divide and barriers of “Sunday morning” segregation and separation….all of what we write books about, have panel discussions about, spend time preaching and inviting high-priced speakers to come in and lead conferences about, was boiled down into five daily lessons in ministry taught simply, and for free, by these 70 kids.

It also reminded me of a simple, yet profound piece of advice my parents gave me over and over again while growing up.

The easiest way to do something is to just do something.

I pray that the lessons we teamed up to teach these children will stick. I pray that they’ll remember the theme of our camp — that God has a “game plan” for all of our lives, and that His plan for us is a plan that happens “on purpose.”

I pray that those young people remember how to play together, love together, work together, eat together, fellowship together, pray together and worship together. I pray that the hardness of life and the world they’ll grow up in does not cause them to become jaded — causing them to believe that such color-inclusive unity in life and in the Church is just a fairy tale.

I also pray that while we adults were teaching we were also learning.

I pray that we were watching the multicultural ministry that happened in Forest Park while realizing that it is a glimpse of what God’s eventual home for His children — Heaven — will look like.

I pray that we will remember that in God’s Kingdom, not only is there “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” there’s also no “Black or White, no Asian or Hispanic,” no Republican or Democrat, no old or young. No rich or poor and no good side or bad side of the railroad tracks, either.

Last I checked, the city of Forest Park culturally resembles so many of our other cities in both Clayton and Henry counties, and the Atlanta metro area as a whole — almost a perfectly equal mixture of the aforementioned ethnicity groups. And guess what? The trend is not going to decrease any time soon.

That means something significant to our churches in this day and age: We can no longer afford to pigeonhole our ministries and limit our reach to only fit the needs of people that look like us, talk like us or see through the same cultural, political or socio-economic lenses as we do individually.

Well, actually we can if we want to, but to the peril of our own churches.

In a nation that’s looking more and more each day like an amalgamation of our larger multicultural world, we can no longer afford to segregate our churches into ethnically homogeneous comfort zones. And here’s the kicker: We can minister to the needs of people, regardless of their ethnicities. We can love on people with the love of Jesus, regardless of where they come from, or whether or not we always understand their culture, customs or languages, and we can do it without losing who we are in the process.

Don’t believe it? Come see me, and I’ll get you the video footage from last week that proves it.

If our churches don’t, in some way — even if it’s a small way — begin to look more like the communities we are planted in, I believe many of those churches, in the next 10 years, will die.

If that happens, that will be an indictment on us. It will be a proof that we love our comfort zones more than our Savior’s Great Commission.

Maybe those 70 kids from at least four different ethnicities were the real teachers for us last week.

Maybe we were the real students last week. I just have a feeling that Heaven is going to look a lot like First Baptist Forest Park did last week. And if that’s the case, we might as well get a head start on creating multicultural ministry as our new normal.

Remember, the easiest way to do it is just to do it. Thank you, First Baptist Forest Park, for giving us a model to follow.

Gabriel Stovall covers sports and religion for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He is also the founder and lead pastor of NewLife Church which meets each Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on the campus of First Baptist Church, Forest Park. He can be reached at gstovall@news-daily.com, or on Twitter @GabrielStovall1.