The Minnesota Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has continued to have wonderful growth over the last few years. One of the areas of growth has been among first generation immigrants from multiple places around the world. These immigrants have come to Minnesota, despite the cold weather, and have become an integral part of the community as well as the church. Justin Lyons, Vice President for Administration, has been involved with many of these people groups and their assimilation into the Conference, and is excited to see the many ways God is working among them. Below is an interview between Jeff Wines, Communication Director, and Justin Lyons (questions in bold).
How many immigrant communities are a part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Minnesota?
There are quite a few people groups that have become part of the Minnesota Conference. There are entire churches that are from one region of the world. We have Oromo (Oromia), Karen (Burma), Korean, Russian, Kenyan, Hmong (Laos), Hispanic churches (multiple countries), and in addition there are other ethnic groups dispersed among the various churches.
You have mentioned that you have had the opportunity to work with many of these churches. What types of challenges confront these people groups?
Cultural issues are one of the major challenges. The way the church is run in North America is considerably different than in the areas these people groups come from, as well as how the church functions. The struggle to maintain their Adventist identity in a new culture becomes a stress point that challenges the church. This becomes especially apparent with the interactions between the first and second generations; the first generation often holds closely to the traditions of their homeland while the second generation is embracing and being immersed in the cultures of North America. While many churches deal with generational challenges this becomes more than a generational challenge—it is a challenge of culture and how it interacts in the lives of these people groups.Language is also a challenge. While many learn English, there are many first generation immigrants who do not, and they have a hard time communicating outside their cultural community. Worshiping and communicating within their local Adventist ethnic church goes well, but communicating with the rest of the conference can be a major challenge. Interpreters are often a necessary resource in ethnic churches.
Obvious financial struggles face many of these church groups. Those who arrive as refugees have nothing but the clothes on their back when they enter the United States. Also, opportunities for educational advancement in the refugee camps were poor; and to compound the issue, when they arrive here the cost of an Adventist education for their children is inhibiting.
Evangelistically, there are also challenges. The traditional ways of mass marketing an evangelistic series in North America would not work, as language would be a barrier. In these cases, friendship evangelism is the best protocol in order to reach the audience.
On the positive side, many people coming to the United States are willing to work hard. Their desire for peace, freedom, and the perseverance to have a life that is more than an existence is an indomitable characteristic that is wonderful. And equally wonderful is the fact that varied ethnic communities are willing to accept the Gospel and be a part of the Adventist church.
How has the Minnesota Conference helped to support these churches/people groups?
In some cases we have provided pastoral leadership appropriate to the culture or language group. We have also provided financial resources for evangelism and Bible work.
Personally, I really enjoy working with the different cultural groups because there is a faithfulness—a bright hope that is wonderful to see. So many of these people share with me how they see God at work in their lives. It feels good and is fulfilling to know that I can help these brothers and sisters, even if it is just a little bit. I ask myself, “If I had to move to another country coming with no knowledge of the culture or language, who would I trust?” These people are coming to the Conference. What an honor! I see the growth of the Minnesota Conference among the ethnic churches as huge strides forward for the kingdom. The appreciation of even the smallest thing that we can do for them is wonderful. If we buy a used van for a church or give a small evangelism budget, which to some would seem miniscule, they are still so grateful. I appreciate and enjoy working on questions of policy for them; it pushes me and stretches me to understand where they are coming from and learn how best to help them. And of course, I enjoy being exposed to the various cuisines from around the world.
Could you share an experiences you have personally been involved with in supporting a church/people group?
I recently had the chance to officiate a Karen wedding in which I had the assistance of an interpreter. With the amount of ceremony and tradition that is involved in a wedding, the translation alone was a challenge but very rewarding. The pastor, See Nay, asked that I do the entire wedding so he could observe and learn how to officiate. The wedding was a great mix of Karen and American traditions. When the service was finished a young woman, who is a member of the Karen church, came up to me and said that she so much appreciated the service. She felt I really understood and respected their culture. It was heart warming to connect and be able to serve this community of people who are a part of our community of faith. What I have realized is that I am blessed to have friends, brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world, who are all a part of the greater community of faith in the Minnesota Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.