Since November 2011, my schedule has allowed me to gather with a group of believers in Saint Paul, Minnesota on Saturday evenings. This assembly, International Village Church, is led by a good friend of mine. It’s been a great blessing to continue growing spiritually with these brothers and sisters. We meet in a storefront, drop-in center where, throughout the week, refugees and immigrants are receiving practical assistance (ESL instruction, job search assistance, etc.) and being ministered to with the love of Christ. This center also opened in early November, and it’s already meeting needs in the community, with even greater things yet to come.
On February 4th, my friend, John, led us in a great discussion based on Genesis 29-30, which two days later he turned into a blog post titled “Formula for Frustration.” I’d like to share that post here (which is no longer available at his former site). Ultimately, this message is about maintaining hope by cherishing, holding onto, and focusing on the tremendous spiritual blessings we have in Christ:
On Saturday at church, we attempted to plow through the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah in Genesis 29-30. What a messed up, real, yet hopeful story of God’s blessing in the midst of chaos. My thoughts centered on the reality that God continued to bless Rachel and Leah in the midst of their longing for other things. Rachel was given love from her husband, and Leah blessed with many children. Both were said to be blessings from the Lord. We find these two ladies continually crying out for something they couldn’t have.
Contentment is a nasty ordeal, isn’t it? Perhaps one of the easiest ways for us to lose focus on the blessing of God over our lives is to think about what we don’t have. What we’ve lost. What we wish could be. If I was just in that place, that job, married to that person . . . and on and on the ride goes. We’ve all been here. Perhaps some of us live here. And it is certainly a formula for frustration. A sure way to stay miserable – just ignore the blessings of God poured out over our lives.
At times I have thought that American culture is completely backwards when it comes to being content in our current situation. Craving for money, power, and success truly does rule our lives at times. I’ve often idolized pieces of African, Asian, and Latino culture because of the strong relational focus they bring. While these traits are wonderful gifts from the Lord, discontentment knocks on all of our doors. It pounds and pounds to the point where we either deal with it or continue to ignore it. Every culture, every family, every person deals with this gnawing feeling to try to escape and not deal with what is before them.
What then would this mean in challenging the most vulnerable to embrace the blessings God has given them? While the refugee highway may be paved with pain, loss, and tears, it is also a place where God continues to lavish his rich blessings. God gives many who are stranded on this highway the ability to keep going, keep moving, and stay hopeful. What a gift. That hope can come from no one other than the Sustainer of all things who continues to bless. I don’t know if I have what it takes to survive on such a highway, but I do know what it feels like to lose things, people, and abilities that are precious to me. My dear friend Paul taken by a logging accident in college. My eyesight taken away day by day. Seeing dear friends and colleagues struggle deeply through horrible train wrecks in their marriages and careers. It isn’t exactly a refugee highway, but it sure has the markings of hell that roll over many parts of the globe.
Into this we all have to learn how to speak of, sing out, and perhaps scream aloud the rich, wonderful, extravagant blessings of God. He is the Source. He holds it all together. We can’t afford to live in frustration by ignoring His strong hand in all things.
International Village Church is “a new church north of downtown St. Paul, with a heart to serve the diverse ethnic groups in our city.” In addition to the already-established Hmong population in this area, the surrounding neighborhoods feature a growing number of refugees from Somalia, Myanmar (the Karen people), and Bhutan. John and his wife have been living in this community for about three years. John says this about the work and focus of International Village:
International Village is a community-focused, drop-in friendship center and church planting ministry in St. Paul. We strive to see people empowered vocationally, educationally, and spiritually while remaining a launch pad for various ethnic ministries throughout our area.
We are a new ministry project of the Minnesota Assemblies of God and International Teams MSP [Minneapolis/Saint Paul] that reaches out in practical ways to our new neighbors all around us. Over the past three years we’ve met new refugees at the airport, provided basic necessities when they first arrive, taught them to ride the bus, helped in learning English, as well as a variety of other practical needs. These needs have primarily been met through meeting people at their apartments and helping them navigate through the gauntlet of choices that we have in this great country.
Now, with the opening of International Village, we will strive to be a place where many of these needs can be accessed more quickly and in a more concentrated way. We will function as a neighborhood resource center and faith community. The goal is to be a center that continues to demonstrate the social service needs that we’ve been addressing thus far, while adding to it concentrated Bible studies, ministry development, and the training of ethnic ministry leaders.
God has sovereignly arranged for an increasing population from amongst the unreached people groups around the world to relocate and spring up here in the US, especially in urban centers. Here they will have far greater access to the gospel than in the lands from which they came, and more so as the Church recognizes what God is doing and what great opportunities are before us. It’s encouraging to see God raising up efforts like International Village to meet this challenge.