A white guy and a black guy in the emerging church

Here’s a story about the emerging church if anyone cares to listen. Just one of many stories. Its not a very popular one because it doesn’t include any famous speakers or horrible heretics or ten ways to transition your church into coolness. There are also no images and no links but you might appreciate it anyway.

This story is about a white guy and a black guy and like many stories, this one actually happened. I was there. Rudy Carrasco was there also. Rudy and I were part of a fantastic group in USA called Young Leaders. There were about a dozen of us initially but most of the guys had more typical Sunday service kinds of churches that a lot of pastors could identify with and emulate. Rudy and I were a little different. Rudy’s church was an intentional community among the poor in Pasadena. The churches I was helping to start at the time were small organic churches among the alternative cultures of San Francisco – punk, goth, hippie, etc, and eventually around USA. Churches like these dont have salaries, dont require a winsome charismatic stage presence and its leaders don’t get famous so churches like these are not very popular on the conference circuit. Even one of the guys in our Young Leaders group told me they were not REAL churches. But that was the 90’s and now there are thousands upon thousands of them and I dont feel as much like a freak. Neither does Rudy, I hope.

So, when I was in Pasadena, Rudy invited me to speak at the Harambee Center and I told this story there. But it’s interesting because Harambee was the place where this young black guy had found his way into this story. I think his name was Jamal and was a really nice young black guy from a poor background. He was a “fine black man” as a Jewish friend in my church in San Francisco used to say. She actually married a “fine black man”. Although he was more West Indies and some other things included. And their kids were a wonderful colorful mixture as you can imagine.

But about Jamal. I didn’t think he would connect with the other emerging church people at our meeting, and certainly not with the Colombians. Not because of his color, but because of his culture. I find the culture gap to be a greater barrier than the race or color gap is, but then that’s just my experience.

It all happened in Cartagena, Colombia. There were a lot of us from all over and Rudy had brought this young black kid, this fine young black man along. He had those stupid baggy jeans hanging half way down his legs. Why cant they wear a flippin’ BELT? Why cant they turn their stupid baseball caps forward? I thought he would choke. I thought the Colombians would assume he was from Mars and his story would have no impact.

But I was very wrong. Jamal was, in fact, a soccer fan, and not only did he appreciate the Colombian soccer team, Jamal could practically list off all the Colombian players. Within seconds the Colombians were talking up a storm with Jamal and had pretty much adopted him as their own. When Jamal finally told his story, they were all ears. Jamal had gone native and I felt like an alien.

So much for my predictions.

Actually, there were other surprises for me as well. And I love surprises! Keep reading . . .

Rudy’s community, despite having a lot of hip-hop fans, had a karaoke machine which they sometimes used for worship. I thought the karaoke thing would really impress Mika, who was representing the emerging church in Japan. But actually, the young Japanese believers were not into karaoke at all. Some of them were DJ’s and were starting club churches and house parties and others were big on rap and hip-hop. I thought the hip-hop connection would unite them with Pasadena but in fact, it was the Norwegian emerging church that made a pipeline between their country and Japan. Subchurch in Oslo, where I preached a few years later next to the biggest tower of speakers I had ever seen in a church, and the other Norwegian communities, were huge on hard-core and rap and were initiating regular visits to the new churches in Japan. The other funny connection I didn’t expect happened when I was in Olso and Morten showed me what the young Norwegians were into – Manga! The biggest Manga comic and hangout space I had ever seen. Another reason to hook up with the Japanese.

Speaking of the Japanese, and i digress here to make an observation about multi-cultural churches. The churches started in Japan over recent years have really been the first churches started by the Japanese and not by foreigners. The older Japanese were excited about these churches because there were NOT multi-cultural. They told me that the churches in Japan were not very Japanese in their style and were attended by the international community, expats, missionaries, Christians from the West etc, but not many Japanese. But the emerging churches were full of Japanese young people and this was something to be celebrated.

Which we did. I did some training events with my friend Olgalvaro in the south of Japan and we had a great time. Olgalvaro, btw, was there at the Colombia event. He has written a book on the emerging church and on ministry to post-modern people. But most people have not read it because it’s written in Portuguese. Olgalvaro is from Brazil and they host a yearly gathering event for emerging church leaders from around Latin America. But they are also training Europeans and Americans to start churches. I attended their event in UK – great to see the Brazilians breathe some new life into the European church.

Sometimes when I hear stories about the EC as a Western movement that is now teaching the world, I laugh, and I cringe, and I think of the Tribal Generation from Brazil, now in its second decade, still teaching the nations how to partner with God in his mission.

Anyway, I haven’t talked about the white guy yet. Yes, its true that I was white, and still am, and I might have been the only Western caucasian in the meeting. Wolfgang Fernandez was there who was born in Venezuela but living in USA for much of his life had made him somewhat culturally white – he acted and talked and thought and strategized and communicated like a white American guy – an advantage that enabled him to raise enough funds to host this event. That white guy thing has changed a lot now. Wolfgang has been through a lot of things recently and I think he has transitioned into a more holistic global guy and certainly a lot less culturally white. Sorry if that is offensive to you “whiteys”. He lives in Asia now, working with the emerging church there but he is quick to say, as many of the people in this story, that the term “emerging church” has not caught up with the kinds of spirited-led missional social enterprise and communities that he is seeing pop up there, and Indonesia before that. I dont think he uses the “Emerging Church” term anymore. I dont blame him. I also stopped using it to describe the new churches we are supporting around the world, which made sense when book sellers kept on pointing to a tiny group of rich American Seminary grads who were angry at the traditional church. That was probably not an accurate description, and it actually set up a patsy that was easy to dismiss, but I know it takes some people a long time to catch up so I am pretty flexible about the term.

OK – the white guy. The white guy I am talking about is Fernando who is from Chile. For some reason, probably a pigment deficiency, his skin was whiter than anyone there. Fernando was a real fireball and a great storyteller. He and his hard-core band called [something in Spanish that means “Run Over Dogs”] had already helped to start a number of churches around Santiago and their festival called “Christock”, was getting a few thousand people already. Fabulous guy and great ministry.

I saw Fernando again in Germany a few years later at Freakstock, were about 7000 of us were camping out and listening to all the Christian hardcore and goth bands. The Jesus Freaks are a German movement that started when some teenager punks found Jesus in the mid-nineties and told their friends and pretty soon there were nearly hundred new churches and lots of mohawks and very loud music. And Freakstock is their yearly gathering. Actually, I think I was the one who told Fernando about Freakstock when we were in Colombia, and suggested, since they had so much in common, that they should connect.

So Fernando was there in Germany and he brought some of his people including this one girl who had started a new church in Chile. But it wasn’t a hard core church like I was expecting- it was a hip-hop church. Good. Another surprise. Glad to see some diversity in the emerging church. They should really hook up with Rick in Houston – when I met him there he told me that had started 14 hip-hop churches in that city. Very cool.

So I havent seen the white guy Fernando in quite some time. No one has much money these days to bring these global leaders together, unless they all live in the USA which is where Americans prefer to spend their money on events which keeps the stories close to home but, unfortunately, keeps the stories very provincial and not at all a reflection of what is really going on out there. Which is why we, in our little ministry that hides it name, [“it” that shall not be named] switched over to a “lets bring the party to them” approach which has us driving around the world to gather leaders in much smaller, less impressive but more sustainable and WAY more relational events. But the real reason I have lost contact with Fernando, and why the world has not really heard of him, even though they damn well should, is because he has not learned English very well.

Not being critical here, because my Spanish has also not progressed since our last meeting. But here is a massive barrier that divides us all. Language. We English speakers are establishing new forms of colonization through language, especially on the internet which we rule with an iron thumb.

Ahhhhh yes. The internet. The web. Where colonization happens daily and a new divide emerges between the connected and the not-connected. There are plenty more things that divide us, as well as these, like which country we live in, if we have white-collar or blue-collar mannerisms, what color our skin is, whether we wear trousers or a skirt, whether we have been denominationalized [is that a word?] in the right group or the wrong group. In this list of things of , i am both a victim and a perpetrator. I am too rich and I am too poor. I am a web-connected semi-geek who can speak HTML and has had just enough theological training to speak the language of evangelical Zion and that puts me in the “in” group where it sometimes counts. But in other ways I am also an outsider, living in the wrong countries and having the wrong friends. I am a Southern Baptist who likes a glass of wine with his dinner. I am a minister who did not finish his degree, and don’t really see a need to finish it. I preach in Pentecostal churches and I preach in liberal churches and I preach in fundamentalist churches. I am an evangelical but yesterday I accepted an invitation to pray in a mosque. All these things makes me an outsider in some communities where I long to tell my stories.

I think, when it comes to division, all of us, in some ways, are both victim and perpetrators at the same time.

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Story by Tall Skinny Kiwi, blogging through a very slow and unreliable GSM connection, here in beautiful North Africa.

Thanks to Jarrod, my Aussie mate, who inspired me to write out this story this sunny April morning when he said our critiques of movements must be primarily embodied, and not just blogged. Jarrod’s article is called “This is what the emerging church looks like?” I hope I embodied a little bit more of this incredibly diverse and colorful movement that is impacting every country in different ways, despite many of us no longer using the term.

UPDATE: A day later. I was just thinking that most of the people in this story would not have found each other if it was not for the relentless globetrotting and networking of Wolfgang Fernandez, to whom this story is now dedicated.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

12 Comments

  • I started blogging 6 or 7 years ago, prompted by one of your stories, a post on TheOoze I think. This post will prompt me to some other life change. Thanks. Thanks alot.

  • Thanks for this incredible story! I’m going to re-read this several times I think…
    Whatever the terms used, I pray for His church to emerge in new and fresh ways around the globe.

  • I wish you could bring some of this flavor into the Perspective course with the folks down @ Pasadena. It’s like an engineer’s college over there.

  • and to temper that last off-color remark,
    I mean to say that perhaps the Emerging Church is what the Perspectives folks are on to; i.e., the hip-hop culture in Japan and Europe, or the “soccer connection” you mention above. Perhaps some of the terms we’re using are characteristically bigger than we imagine and harder to define.

  • Nice piece, Andrew. Like Bram, I’m going to read through it a few times to pick through all the detail, but thanks for reminding us of the wonderful realities, subtleties and fuzziness of a debate that could career dangerously towards polarisation.

  • I’m very appreciative of your global perspective Andrew. It’s an important palette cleanser in an otherwise one dimensional online conversation.
    I’m curious about your remarks concerning the recent Japanese churches being the first genuinely indigenous expressions. What are your thoughts on the non-church movement? I’ve always been under the impression it was genuinely indigenous, and it has certainly been highly influential in its own, subversive way.

  • Hi Jason. I wouldnt be surprised at all. I didnt witness the non-church movement in Japan so I cant say, nor can I say how it compares with the “churchless faith” and “believing without belonging” crowd, or if it does at all.
    We ended up working closely with the churches on that trip – giving encouragement and training to the younger but also connecting with the older. I was asked to speak at Gamagori Community Church which was a real privilege – they were sponsoring a lot of these groups, or at least cheering them on at the time.
    Next time around I will seek out the underground scene. thanks.

  • Great story Andrew, thanks for sharing. I had to do a double-take at one point. I have spoken at Subchurch as well, Morten is a real life friend, so that connection was way cool to see. I hope this is a catalyst for others to tell stories of the hows and whys that the EC is not so easily pegged as an exclusively white or Western phenomenon.

  • I’ve been called many things before but never a “white guy” but I will not hold that against you. Thank you for bringing global perspective to an otherwise very one dimensional conversation about a label that at best reduces the wonderful ways the Kingdom is being revealed to a tasteless cliche. Thank you for dedicating this story to me. I want to let everyone know that Andrew was my guide and interpreter in this odyssey, with out him it would have never been as fun as it was. There is much more like this to tell…

  • Yo Jones! I did a write-up of that Cartagena conference back in 2001. I just dug it up. It’s here: http://www.twofortygroup.com/colombia2001/ – it’s got pics of Jamaal, views from the hotel, and some bonus TallSkinnyKiwi pics. Fernando is there, as are Freddy, Brainerd, Wolfgang, and assorted other characters.
    Jamaal is doing very well. He and his wife are on staff of an alternative high school that caters to teens who are in serious trouble and need serious help. [See this: http://www.jyranch.org]. Jamaal is all heart, loves God, and has hope for these young guys. He carries that South American trip with him in his heart. Thanks for sharing all this. Rudy

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