I can only speak from my own experience; in 1994, when I started my ministry, Jesus Christ Foundation Church (JCF Church)— a Pentecostal church in an area heavily populated by migrants in Amsterdam, I had no idea what was waiting for me. The photo of the building above, was our church building. A building under the garage, near the garbage place. Our Sunday services were often smelly and our roof was leaking. There in that building, I started my journey as a pastor. I was told by my mentors to prepare my sermons on Mondays, print them on Fridays, and deliver them on Sundays, until I realized that while I was delivering these sermons, some were falling asleep! Such was the monotony of my sermon routine, until migrants showed up. Though I was preaching Christ’s love and the power of His resurrection, migrants who visited the church, did not only need a “home” in paradise, but also, they were urgently needing a house, a job, health care, and education. At the same time, I was confronted with stories of migrants who were discriminated and treated unjustly simply because of the color of their skin.
As time went on, I was repeatedly stunned by the growing number of immigrants who visited the church. I had only two choices; preach on Sundays and live my life for the rest of the week, or, change the way I did church and ministry! After twenty-two years’ full-time ministry, I now can say that our church has participated in not only evangelization but also in various grass roots human rights movements, advocating for the rights of migrant domestic workers. We also have participated in the social action against racism and discrimination of people from African descent and Black profiling. We also came up (still come up) for the rights of persecuted Christians. At the same time, we have shared the gospel in more than eighty-five nations and planted nineteen churches in different nations and continents.
JCF Church is not the only one that does such a work, also in Amsterdam Bijlmer there are so many churches, migrant churches that are contributing to the well-being of the society. For instance, Dr. Alagbe’s ministry Maranatha Community Transformation Center is doing extremely significant work by equipping the youth for social change. Or, Rev. Tom Marfo in Amsterdam is fighting all his life, against human trafficking and exploitation of women in Europe. These are only some examples I can give today, but there are more for sure.
Unfortunately, there are also churches that show no interest in the human needs. Such churches are so much occupied with “loving” God, that they have no time and space to love their neighbors the way God has commanded them to do. They are so detached from the realities of life around them. The job of the church is not only to get people to heaven but also to help the believers manifest the Kingdom of heaven here on earth. Toyohiko Kagawa(1888-1960), a well-known Japanese pastor and labor rights activist, once said:
“If the church were trying to practice love in society, there would be a reason for its existence. With creeds alone I do not expect the church to be able to transform the world.”
God has given to every local church a unique redemptive gift, especially designed for that specific time, generation, and geographical location. Every local church does indeed have something to contribute to the world. I also believe that God holds every church accountable for their deeds and actions, for “Judgment begins with household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). Therefore, we have to make sure that our churches become a platform of information and transformation. It is crucial for the Church to educate the congregation to live a redemptive lifestyle by being salt and the light of the world—translating the grace of God into the practicalities of their daily lives. Indeed, relevant Church influences the society by breaking down the barriers of division. The relevant Church ministers to the needs of her environment.
On the other hand, the Church leaders and ministers will be even more effective when the church is equipped with significant spiritual, practical and contextual education addressing the needs of both the church and the society. Religion plays a very important role in the world. What is destroying the world today is the ignorance of some religious leaders including Christian leaders, who are not willing to participate in the social and religious transformation of their societies. In Hosea 4:6 it is rightfully written that; “God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge and have rejected knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).
Often in the West, we are praising the rapid growth of Christianity in the Global South. We speak of enormous revivals, mega churches, and mega evangelistic crusades. These are all what some church leaders are hoping to happen in Europe as well. However, such growth has a darker side, and that is the lack of relevant theological education among the church leaders and ministers. According to Phil Long, president of Global Action: "Sixty-two percent of the world's pastors have no formal training and will probably never get any formal training."Imagine one might suggest that sixty-two percent of the dentists do not have a proper education to be a dentist. Will any one of us, allow them to treat us? I am sure your answer is “No”. Yet, imagine according to Long’s research sixty-two percent of Church leaders are not educated for being a Church leader! This is quite dangerous.
By relevant theological education I mean, an education which is rooted in the scriptures and yet it is holistic, open to dialogue and promotes social action. Lack of relevant holistic theological education among the Christian leaders, may have fatal consequences, it may create churches that lack understanding and dialogue with peoples from different groups, cultures and even religions. Dialogue doesn't mean to accept or approve the others’ ideas or theologies, and neglect your own. Dialogue means to seek a co-existence in a multicultural society, like the Netherlands, which is constantly living in fear of extremism and terrorism.
In a world full of increasing prejudices and conflicts, we need a Church that brings peace and reconciliation and loves the world in the way Jesus indicated in John 3:16. Shusaku Endo(1923-1996) a renowned Christian novelist from Japan, (a kind of C.S. Lewis one might say), and the author of well-known novels such as Silence(1966) or Samurai (1980) suggests that “the Church can be an organization of love which transcends the limitations of all nations and peoples.”
As long as churches and their leaders are ignorant to the needs of people, as long as we are occupied with how to preach a nice sermon and make people feel good, but neglect the needs of the society, there will be poverty, racism, corruption, religious wars, and even genocide. Such ignorance is a social illness and only a proper education can cure it. What is being preached from the pulpit can either play a destructive or a constructive role.
As Pentecostal migrant churches, we need more and more educated leaders and churches that are relevant!
Emi, Mase-Hasegawa, Christ in Japanese Culture: Theological Themes in Shusaku Endo’s Literary Works(Leiden: Brill, 2008), 127.