Jaewoo Kim on Making Room for Multicultural Worship
To worship in line with the Lord’s Prayer—on earth as it is in heaven—requires making room in worship for stories, songs, and gifts from many cultures. Doing so depends in part on how churches form their views about refugees and immigrants.
Jaewoo Kim is a multicultural worship leader and songwriter. He serves in public relations and ministry development at Proskuneo Ministries, which aims to bring nations together in worship on earth as it is in heaven. He lives in Clarkston, Georgia, where over sixty languages are spoken within a 1.5-mile radius. In this edited conversation, Kim talks about how openness to seeing God’s image in others shapes congregational worship.
What have you noticed about how (or whether) churches include or talk about refugees and immigrants in corporate worship?
As an immigrant myself, I always read Scripture from the perspective of a foreigner. I’m conscious of my status and how I’m viewed by others in a society where I’m considered as a minority. I believe there’s a huge difference between reading Scripture about refugees and immigrants versus reading Scripture as a refugee or immigrant.
I wonder how it would change the narrative of worship each week if a congregation could embrace the biblical reality that, as Christians, we are resident aliens in this world. If we treat refugees and immigrants simply as a trending issue for Christians in this era, we may lose interest after a brief time, and our discussion may not go beyond the tension between safety and compassion. As leaders, our goal should be to help the congregation see that each follower of Jesus is a stranger and alien in this land. This understanding will bring a wide and sustained impact on every aspect of corporate worship.
What do you wish more Christians understood about refugees and immigrants, including immigrants without documents?
I wish more Christians would gain their understanding of immigrants through personal relationships instead of through the media. When you have friends who are immigrants or refugees, they become your primary source of gaining inside information. It’s important that we learn to see refugees and immigrants as imago Dei [made in God’s image] and not to define them by their label. We are people, not issues.
Fear of the unknown grows in an environment of assumptions and cultural bias. Fear of the unknown objectifies others and can even demonize them. But when you know someone on a personal basis, it starts to make sense. It’s no longer black and white. It’s complicated and much more complex than we hear from the media. You discover that imperfect laws and an imperfect legal system were designed by imperfect human beings.
I wish more Christians would make intentional efforts to make friends with refugees and immigrants in their community. I wish more Christians would have access to inside information and real-life stories before they build convictions based on assumptions. If you have refugees or undocumented immigrants on your ministry team, their stories and struggles will start to have an impact on your life. The best way to learn about refugees and immigrants is to establish true friendship with them.
Given the differences in political positions and favorite media sources among Christians, is it possible to find biblical common ground?
It’s important to find and build a common ground where Christians from different sides of theological and political spectrums can dialogue. Biblical hospitality is an important concept which includes, but is not limited to, refugee and immigrant issues.
In Matthew 25:31–46, the king separates the sheep from the goats based on the hospitality offered to society’s most vulnerable ones. And in that story, there’s no explanation or judgment about why the people became hungry, or strangers, or were sentenced to prison. The story only lists the states of vulnerable ones and the acts of hospitality.
As Jesus refers to the “least of these who are members of my family,” we can find common ground in practicing hospitality toward refugees and immigrants who are Christians. In 2016, about forty percent of refugees resettled in the US were confessing Christians. And, the next step will be to find common ground in extending hospitality to non-Christians, and even to people of different religions, while emphasizing the importance of pursuing our own safety and religious freedom. It’s helpful to remember that a biblical word for hospitality is philoxenia, which simply means “love of strangers.” This is the direct opposite of xenophobia, meaning “fear of strangers.”
What first steps would you recommend for worship change in congregations where many people think of refugees/immigration as a divisive political issue?
Our goal must be to restore the Christian identity of being strangers and foreigners in this world and at the same time citizens of God’s kingdom. We must welcome refugees and immigrants among us and recognize that we can learn from each other and mutually benefit one another. We must not see refugees and immigrants as mere beneficiaries of our gifting and privileges. We must approach them with the attitude of a learner who is willing to be taught by them. We must invite them into our worship-planning sessions as decision makers and be willing to be led by them. And we must ask them to serve on our worship teams as major contributors and be willing to be served by them.
What else might churches do to learn from and with refugees and immigrants?
Conduct a Bible study on biblical characters who were immigrants, such as Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Esther, Ruth, and Paul. Invite Christian refugees and immigrants to your small group. Listen to their stories. Read together a passage from the Bible and listen to each person’s different perspective on it.
Invite refugees and immigrants to your worship team. Give them time to teach their songs in different languages and from different Christian worship traditions. Incorporate their songs into congregational worship. Invite refugees and immigrants to pray, read Scripture, or share their stories during corporate worship.
Hear Jaewoo Kim speak on mutuality and global concerns (including human trafficking) in worship at the 2018 Calvin Symposium on Worship. Enjoy songs from refugees in a symposium vespers service. Sponsor a teen or young adult to attend the annual Proskuneo Worship Institute, a two-week intensive experience of leading and worshiping in a diverse community.
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