It doesn’t take more than a trip to the grocery store to recognize that we live in a time of profound cultural change. Even our smallest hometowns are no longer mono-cultural. Instead, they are mixtures of people from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds. As these new minorities integrate into society, they become bridge peoples, bi-cultural people who, because of their dual ethnic identities, fit in both their home countries and their new locations.
Rather than creating a “clash of civilizations” as some have feared, these ethnic minorities can become connections between cultures. Viewed in this way they become not people to fear, but people who bring opportunity. Bridge peoples need to be embraced by the Church in its future, just as they have been in its past.
Biblical Bridge People
The Bible is full of bridge people, persons who due to their bi-cultural identity were used by God in unique ways. In the Old Testament Joseph, Moses, Esther, and Daniel are heroes of the faith who fulfilled God’s unique purpose through their dual ethnic identities. They were culturally, if not ethnically, Jewish and Egyptian, or Jewish and Persian. It is exactly their ability to slide effortlessly between cultures that God used to make such an impact in biblical history. It is no accident that God prepared their bi-cultural heritage to be part of what he used in accomplishing his purposes.
Bridge people are central to the expansion of the Church in the New Testament as well. Often, we read Acts 1:8 only through geographical lenses, which is certainly one of Jesus’ intended meanings. But, upon closer examination, his words could also be understood through cultural lenses. The apostles would be witnesses first to the Jews, then to the half-Jew/half-Gentile, and ultimately to the entire Gentile world.
This was not easy for the first Jewish followers of Christ to comprehend. It wasn’t until the persecution following the martyrdom of Stephen that the Church began to take the gospel outside of Jerusalem. Yet, even though the Church was crossing geographical boundaries, it still was not crossing ethnic lines. For Peter, it took a vision from God to help him see that the good news of Jesus was for all peoples, no matter their race. God began to use a unique set of people as an intermediate step to move the gospel from the Jewish to the Gentile world.
Partnering with Bridge Peoples
Be a Learner. The most important thing to remember
Adapt to Unique Cultural Characteristics. Incorporate
Meet Social Needs. Often, minority groups will have
Look for Unreached Segments. Perhaps there is
Send from the Beginning. Look for opportunities, right
A prime example of this transition stage is the church at Antioch, the first great mission-sending church in the history of Christianity. As Luke tells the story in Acts 11, it was bridge people who were at the center of the Spirit’s movement to the world. Persecution had spread believers from Jerusalem all the way to Antioch. But the Jewish believers shared the gospel only with other Jews they met. “Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20).
These believers were bi-cultural, at home in both a Jewish and Greek environment. As a result, they naturally began to share the gospel with the Greeks they met in Antioch. What was so difficult for the Jews from Jerusalem was second nature to these believers. They naturally crossed cultures with the good news of Jesus because it was part of their very identity as bi-cultural people.
When the church in Jerusalem wanted to check up on the believers in Antioch, they sent Barnabas, another bridge person (a Jew from Cyprus) to report back. Is it any wonder, then, that when the Spirit chose two missionaries to send out who would bridge the gospel from Asia to Europe that he chose Barnabas and Saul—two bridge people from the original bridge church?
Bridge People and Global Evangelization
With rapid advances in transportation and technology over the past century, we are seeing an explosion in the number of ethnic minorities immigrating to new lands. Whether Indians in Australia, Turks in Germany, Arabs and Africans in Western Europe, or Latinos in the United States, God is creating a new generation of bridge people. Ethnic minorities present an incredible opportunity for the expansion of the gospel and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Our task in ministry, then, becomes not only to reach these new neighbors in our hometowns for their own sake (which is reason enough), but because we need them to partner with us to reach the world. They have unique cultural connections to some of the least-reached peoples on the planet.
For example, as a result of the Moors controlling Spain for over seven hundred years, there are more than four thousand words in Spanish that originate from the Arabic language. In fact, most of what we think of as Hispanic culture, food, language, architecture, and dance is influenced by Arabic and Jewish cultures. Is it an accident that God is bringing millions of Latinos to the United States “for such a time as this”? Could they be some of the ones God will use to finally bring the gospel to the peoples of the 10/40 Window?
God is continuing his work among bridge people just as he has throughout human history. Let us move forward in an attitude of faith as new neighbors with different accents move in across the street.