In our culture, diversity gets celebrated each February. Schoolteachers pin up the faces of American black heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, and Thurgood Marshall. Churches break out old Negro spirituals and host black pastors to preach. Black History Month provides a wonderful time for celebration and reflection. But if we are truly going to build diversity within our churches, it must be more than once a year, and it must start outside the four walls of the church building.
God provided me with a unique opportunity to celebrate diversity when I was a campus intern for my church. I was 22 when I began doing outreach and evangelism with my church’s college ministry. When I began knocking on dorm room doors at the University of Tennessee, I was filled with excitement and anticipation. I thought to myself, Who will reject me? Who will come to know Christ this year? What will I say when the door opens? If no one answered, I would simply slide an invitation to our ministry kickoff under the door.
One of the girls I invited, Liz, came to a ministry kickoff. She was white, wore cowboy boots, listened to bluegrass, and was from Oregon. I was black and wore casual business attire; I listened to jazz and liked to think I was from New York City. (I’m from Tennessee.)
As we got to know each other, we playfully ridiculed each other for our differences. We were polar opposites in so many ways. But in time she bought me a bluegrass CD, and I had her over for a black Southern-style Thanksgiving dinner. (Yes, it’s different—a little collard greens and giblet gravy, just to name a few items.).1