On Thursday morning our group headed into downtown Atlanta to experience the Center for Civil and Human Rights. The Center's mission is to remember the events of the Civil Rights movement of the 60's and engage people about the need for basic human rights in our world today. It's a powerful experience, a reminder of our fallen world, and a call to help those who are powerless and marginalized.
When we were done touring the center we walked across Centennial Park to the CNN Center for lunch. There we gathered together and were challenged by Pastor David Park, lead pastor at Open Table Community Church, to consider our place in the discussion of race. He asked us how we, personally and as the church, were engaging those of other races and marginalized groups in our community. He asked why the Christian church wasn't a combatant when it comes to helping those affected by sex trafficking, slave and under payed laborers, and other oppressed peoples. Hard questions without easy solutions, but something we must consider to play our part as followers of Christ tasked with loving our neighbor.
For the afternoon we were given the chance to explore and do a number of different activities around Centennial Park. The rain and hail put a damper on some of these plans so a few people headed to another world market in DeKalb county. It was a good afternoon to hide indoors for a couple hours.
For dinner we reconvened in the vans and headed to the home of missionaries Kent and Becky Good. Kent and Becky served in France for 25 years setting up church plants. They loved France but were asked by the mission to serve in Cambodia in 2004. Their role there was to support others establishing church plants. After nine years they were led by God to step back and let the ministries there stand on their own. Now the Goods are in Atlanta serving with Encompass to establish churches in this diverse region. Please keep them in your prayers as they being this journey anew in Atlanta.
Atlanta being the home of so many diverse people groups and ethnicities, a large part of our cultural experience has been through foods from around the world. Nearly every lunch and dinner has given us a little more insight to cultures that often seem out of reach to Americans.
But on Wednesday morning we stopped for donuts. Because sometimes you want a donut.
Sarah’s Donuts is highly recommended. 🍩
After that quick distraction we got back on track and headed to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir here in Atlanta. This enormous and beautiful structure was built in 2007 for the Hindus of Atlanta. The entire mandir was built with limestone and Italian marble, with no steel or supporting structure. In fact all of the intricate carvings were created in India and shipped to the United States to be assembled on site. A truly beautiful work of art. Unfortunately we were unable to take photographs of the interior, but there are a couple photos available here.
For lunch we went to an Indian restaurant where we were able to try a wide variety of delicious dishes. After our meal we heard from Emmanuel about his life in Hinduism and why he left that faith to follow Christ. He shared his own struggle with that religion being unable to answer his questions. It was a college roommate’s testimony and actually getting answers to Emmanuel’s questions that lead to him coming to know Christ.
His conversion to Christianity from Hinduism was not celebrated by his family, but rather caused a tremendous amount of strife and anguish. His father gave ultimatums and threats, telling Emmanuel about the shame he was bringing to their family. But he wouldn’t back down from his faith in Christ. Emmanuel faithfully served Christ for many years and was happy to report that his father accepted Jesus as his Savior just two years ago.
That evening we met up with Rosa Munoz. She and her husband Jesus planted churches in Florida for many years as part of Encompass. They’re now in Atlanta working to support church plants here. One of the ways they make contact is by offering free ESL classes. So we walked neighborhoods and just invited people to the classes praying that God would bring people. Please keep Jesus Munoz in you prayers. He was unable to join us because he was feeling sick that night.
That night many of us were able to experience Ethiopian food for the first time. I don’t want to speak for everyone else on the trip, but I will: Ethiopian was the best meal we’ve had all week. We highly recommend that you seek one out and try it for yourself.
Alright, We’re catching up! More updates to follow!
The past three days have flown by here in Atlanta. John Ward, the Director for Recruitment and Mobilization at Encompass, warned us that we might experience cultural whiplash this week. We’re beginning to see what he means.
On Tuesday morning our emphasis was on reaching Islam. While at Encompass’ office we had the chance to hear from Jayson Georges, a missionary to Central Asia for 9 years. His first instruction? Forget what you’ve heard about Muslims. He wanted us to understand that the world has over 1.6 billion Muslims and that for most Americans our exposure to Islam is often very limited. A large portion of our conversation was about the similarities and key differences of Islam and Christianity. Jayson has worked hard to bridge the Western world's understanding of Eastern culture's system of shame and honor. He has a lot of resources and a book available at his website, http://honorshame.com.
Then our group was given a great opportunity to tour a modern mosque near downtown Atlanta. The building was a beautiful structure and we were given a tour by a man named Muhammad. He shared a little bit about his story coming from Lebanon and settling in Atlanta. He was very gracious with his time and patiently answered the group's questions about Islam. Much of this conversation was about the same differences and similarities we had discussed earlier in the morning. After a brief tour of the upper balcony, an area used to separate the female and male worshippers, we headed out to lunch at a delicious Mediterranean restaurant that Muhammad had recommended.
That evening we had the pleasure to work with our new friend Pastor Kola Amigun. He's starting a new church plant, New Creation Church, and we were able to walk with him to pray for surrounding neighborhoods and hand out information about this new church.
Our first day in Atlanta was all about diversity and our introduction to this unique part of our country. We started the day at Encompass and their offices on Buford Highway in Atlanta. Buford Highway in Atlanta is the main road through one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the entire country. In fact, in a 15 mile radius around Atlanta there are over 200 languages spoken by those in the community. Nearby Clarkston, GA, called the most diverse square mile in the country, accepts 2,500-3,000 refugees every year. All of this to say that Encompass' placement in this community is not by accident. People are coming and Encompass wants to meet them where they are.
To give us a little bit more perspective we walked to a local market unlike any we'd ever seen. From the outside the Buford Highway Farmers Market might be mistaken for a large grocery store found anywhere in the United States, but take a walk through the aisles and you'll be treated to foods from nearly every corner of the world. The grocery reflected it's community and it's staggering diversity.
Back at the Encompass offices we we're given a moving demonstration about refugees. Our group was given the chance to experience just a drop of what it might be like for a refugee being placed in a country they know nothing about. Refugees, fearing for their lives, must flee from their homes and make incredibly hard decisions. Sometimes those decisions are made for them by forces out of their control. So when refugees come to this country they are often just looking for a little support and for friends to help. That's where the churches in this area come into play. They can be those friends and give assistance to those in need.
It was a big first day. Keep praying for us. Today we get the chance to tour a mosque and learn a little about Muslims practicing their faith in this country.
Sunday, 7am: And we're off!
Please keep the 10 of us headed to Atlanta in your prayers this week. We're traveling today and will arrive later tonight in Atlanta. Tomorrow we begin our time of learning at Encompass Worldwide. More information about our trip is available on Encompass's website.