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Michigan Churches Strengthen Intercultural Friendship

Michigan Churches Strengthen Intercultural Friendship
Greg Chandler

On a Sunday afternoon in February members of Trinity Christian Reformed Church in Grandville, Mich., and members of Rosedale Park Baptist Church, about 150 miles (240 km) to the southeast in Detroit, gathered to listen to and talk with one another. It was a continuation of an intentional cross-cultural relationship they’ve been building for the past eight years.

Members of both churches see opportunity for greater interaction and closer interracial ties. About 25 Rosedale Park members visited Trinity on February 18, and Rosedale Park pastor Haman Cross Jr. presented the message during morning worship. The service was followed by a luncheon and a discussion where members from the two congregations discussed questions such as What does it mean to be white in America? and What does it mean to be black in America?

Trinity pastor Gerry Koning says discussions like this are critical in this age, and that the church cannot ignore the current political climate or its implications.

“Ignoring it only leads to ignorance and more distrust rather than understanding and empathy and working together to find solutions,” Koning said. “A striking example of this ignorance is the hesitancy to promote racial unity in and among the people of God, we who claim to follow the very ways of Christ.”

Cross says he's encouraged by the willingness of people from his own church and Trinity to answer some of the hard questions about race and faith.

“What we're finding out is that the young people, both black and white, have been waiting for this kind of conversation,” Cross said. “They're saying, 'Let's talk about this, let's be real about it.'”

Besides the two pastors preaching in each other's sanctuaries, Trinity and Rosedale Park have joined together for mission projects over the past few years. Koning and several other Trinity members have also assisted at a camp operated by Rosedale Park near the Michigan-Indiana border. Koning and Cross have suggested taking the exchange to a more interpersonal level, with Trinity members staying overnight with Rosedale Park families and vice versa.

The discussion concluded with a prayer, participants holding hands around the tables.

Trinity member Ethan Scholma, 20, has made at least six visits to Rosedale Park over the years for various service projects. He says the exchange has helped people from both churches gain greater understanding of each other and dispel stereotypes.

“Growing up, [we think] everybody's different, but we're all so much alike,” Scholma said. “We might eat different foods, we might talk with a little different tongue, but the common core is that we're all  rooted in Jesus Christ.”

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