Here at our Charlotte, North Carolina, headquarters, we have something very exciting—our Living Church of God database! Well, at least our database architect thinks it is exciting, and in many ways, he is right. This database contains contact information, literature requests, the Church’s accounting records, and other helpful information. And it is regularly backed up securely. Every time we publish a new issue of the Tomorrow’s World magazine or the Living Church News, we do a query—or “pull”—of the up-to-date mailing list. If you are a subscriber or member, you are in the database, and that is how you receive your magazine. We also use the database to run statistical analyses of our operations. We cannot do the Work without it. Our operation depends on the database!
However, I would like to tell you about something that is not in the database.
When I was pastoring in South Florida, the Ft. Lauderdale congregation was perhaps 40 percent Hispanic, 20 percent of African descent (Jamaican, American, Haitian, and others), and maybe 40 percent Anglo (like me). How did I know that? The only way I could know was by looking around the congregation—not by asking to look at the database. That is because your ethnicity is not in the database, and never has been.
The United States government records a lot of information about its citizens’ ethnicities, and so do many other governments and organizations. However, the Church headquarters office has never kept track of anyone’s ethnicities—neither our members’ nor our subscribers’. I think that is very appropriate, and I’ll tell you why.
Different Countries, Same Spirit
First, a story: My wife and I had the privilege of taking a long trip for the Fall Holy Days in 2015 to serve the congregations in Australasia. We left Charlotte on a Tuesday, and following a layover in Los Angeles, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, the following Friday—after losing a day crossing the International Date Line. Although our bodies were a half-day off schedule, seeing the brethren of the Auckland church for Sabbath services and the Feast of Trumpets was invigorating!
The majority of the congregation in Auckland is ethnically Pacific Islander, from such places as Vanuatu, Tonga, and Fiji. Some indigenous Maori also attend there, while most of the other brethren are of European descent. The entire congregation gave us a wonderful, warm welcome, which made us feel right at home from the moment we arrived at services.
From New Zealand, we traveled to Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia, for the Sabbath and Day of Atonement, respectively. Such beautiful cities! As always, our Aussie brethren welcomed us like family.
We went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for our next Sabbath, and then spent the first half of the Feast of Tabernacles in Melaka, Malaysia. The ethnic Malays are Muslim, and since Malaysia is officially a Muslim country, there are serious penalties for Muslims who convert to other faiths. Non-Muslims may freely convert to Islam, and the Malaysian government actively promotes this, while enforcing a variety of other laws and statutes that limit what members of other faiths may do.
As a result, the Malaysian members living there are mostly of Tamil Indian descent, part of a non-Muslim minority. The women wore beautiful, colorful saris to services—usually a different one each day (and my wife, Marcia, looks great in a sari!). Although we were strangers in the country and far from home, when we walked into the room for services, we immediately knew we were with Church brethren. It was that way in every congregation that we visited.
The second half of our Feast was spent in Baguio, Philippines. The wonderful brethren there received us as their brother and sister, just as we had experienced elsewhere.
In total, I gave ten sermons in four countries during that Holy Day season of 2015. In each location, the brethren expressed love and support for Dr. Meredith, appreciation for the Work, and love for and unity with their brethren in the U.S. and in other parts of the world. And they wanted me to convey their love to the rest of their brethren!
Throughout the world, the Living Church of God had more than 50 Feast sites that year—many quite small. God is calling out small groups of people all over the planet—some in remote places. For instance, one year, Mr. Gaylyn Bonjour, head of the Mail Processing Department at Headquarters, went to a small village in a remote region of northeast Brazil, very near the equator. There, he held the Feast for 147 people who have been keeping it as members of LCG for 13 years. The village is too small to find on a map, but God knows where His people are. He is calling out small groups in remote areas all around the world, giving them eyes to see and ears to hear the same things all His other begotten children see and hear. Their faith and practices are the same as those of other brethren around the world.
You can go to the Feast in Kenya, Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Sri Lanka, and many other places and immediately know that you are with God’s people. That is because the Spirit we have in common is quickly recognizable!
“You Are Abraham’s Seed”
During the first century, Paul wrote to the Galatian Church in what is modern-day Turkey, telling them, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26–29).
We are all joint heirs together! Of course, God is completely aware of our different ethnicities and can trace our genealogies all the way back to Adam—no detail about us escapes the knowledge of the One who loves us (Luke 12:6–7)! The brethren I met were often different from me in appearance, customs, dress, speech, and culture. Moreover, God knows that our ethnic differences can be important to us in this age. God created ethnic diversity, God loves the ethnic diversity in the world, and so should we. Of course, every culture in the world also finds creative ways to sin, and God certainly doesn’t approve of that. Yet, so much of what we do in our multitude of cultures is well within the loving boundaries of His divine law—all expressing ways to act on the principles in that law! However, in the most important sense—that concerning who will be in the Kingdom of God—our ethnicity is “not in the database.” When you travel and meet so many diverse brethren, you realize this. God identifies His begotten children in a different way—by His indwelling Spirit, by Christ living in us. That identifies His holy people.
Dr. Meredith and Mr. Weston have both said that there is a great sense of unity among God’s ministry. As I traveled, I also saw a great unity of purpose among the brethren around the world. I saw firsthand their love for their fellow brethren, their support for the Work, and their excitement about God’s truth. And they greatly appreciated being able to fellowship with members from other parts of the world.
Speaking to Christians in Ephesus, Paul wrote,
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Ephesians 4:1–6).
As my wife and I traveled, we experienced that scriptural truth firsthand all over the Australasian region. However, the time will come—and now is—when there will be increasing ethnic tension in the world—“ethnos against ethnos” (Matthew 24:7). But may we never let it come into God’s Church! Let us commit ourselves to doing as Paul instructed us: Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.