Monica’s Story OR The Gospel, Globalization, and the Panama Canal
I don’t believe what happened today. It was a simple, small church baptism. I’ve been involved in small church ministry all of my adult life and have been lucky enough to serve in pastoral roles in two small churches. But today the entire world collided in a grand act of God’s grace, global commerce, and small church chaos.
I’m not sure where to begin, so I’ll jump right in. I currently serve a small 120-year-old congregation in a large aging building in Brooklyn, New York. The church is not unusual for the area of Brooklyn it is in. It struggles to keep the lights on and houses several non-English worship services to address the pockets of recent expatriates from China, Egypt, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Russia, etc, etc. The amazing diversity is radically unusual I realize, specifically because it is located in Brooklyn. So let me tell you about what I saw at the baptism today.
Standing in front of our church, immersed to my knees in tepid water, I shared Monica’s story as she stood beside me. Monica was born in Panama. One of four children, born to Chinese immigrants working there, Monica started asking for a Bible to read when she was eight years old. At age eleven, Monica was sent alone, to live with her aunt in Brooklyn. Her Aunt had accepted Christ as our Chinese-speaking sister church did outreach Bible Studies in the garment factory that she worked in. Of course being around Christians and being apart of our youth group only fueled Monica’s interest in God and the Bible. Today, Monica is finishing the 8th grade and is ready to declare to the world, that she has found a savior in Jesus and that we are her family of faith. So before us stand Norwegians, several in their 80s, some of whom came to work in the garment factories in New York, and who founded our church many years ago. Before us stand individuals who are Chinese, Belizean, Egyptian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican Republican, Russian, Italian, and probably more.
In Panama today there is a huge ship sitting in tepid water, filled with containers from China, waiting for the grand opening of the new, larger, Panama canal. Today in Brooklyn, there are still a few container ships that pass through New York’s harbor. Some probably bringing fabric to the garment-district and employment to recently immigrating peoples from around the world. And today, I stood next to Monica and watched the waters wash over her face in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today I watched the members of every continent and a dozen countries cheer and clap and praise God together for Monica’s story of salvation. God’s hand brought her through immigration, separation from family, struggling with five languages, and striving to keep up with school. Monica read in broken (but improving) English from Isaiah 41:10 - “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
So today the entire world collided, and I was undone once again with God’s power and the beauty of being privileged to serve such a diverse congregation. What could possibly follow that!
As I collected my things my wife reminded me we were taking a new couple out for lunch. They have just come from the West Africa, so of course we had to introduce them to their first tacos… The adventure continues.
Christopher Hooper recently began serving as pastor of First Evangelical Free Church of Brooklyn, NY (http://firstfreebrooklyn.org) after working in an executive pastoral role for several years at Open Door Fellowship Church in Denver, CO (http://odfdenver.org). His wife and ministry collaborator Holly has supported him for a couple of decades while his boys, Maxwell and Miles have brought him joy and pride for over a decade. Chris doesn’t tweet (but enjoys those who do), and can often be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.