I remember the first time I stepped foot into the meeting room of a campus ministry I’ve never been to. I brought my friend along for mutual support and almost instantly, thousands of questions and anxieties began compounding through my head as the night drew nearer.
For some reason, when you’re walking into a new church or Christian gathering, where you know nobody and nothing about how things are going to be, your senses become heightened to an extremely sensitive awareness of every minuscule detail: the body language of others around you, the choice of worship songs, which Bible verses are plastered across the bulletin, what people are engaging in conversation about, or the general dress code.
You start reading into everything, become overly critical, and find yourself judging other’s actions even when they haven’t particularly done anything wrong towards you. When I finally mustered the courage to walk through the doors of the classroom, I first noticed that nobody rushed at me and my friend with open arms, a loud cheer bursting from their lips, with an eager excitement to learn every single aspect of our lives.
After the night concluded, I instantly noticed that nobody talked to us after the service was over, with my friend and I awkwardly glancing around in hopes we would be spotted. We soon ended up migrating to the door and I literally stepped in the middle of the doorway, contemplating whether we should make more of an effort to get to know others. The desire quickly vanished; we stepped out into the dark, and never came back.
These experiences are memories you don’t forget. Yet, the irony of this experience was that my friend and I were involved with another campus ministry where we were charged with an underlying responsibility of welcoming newcomers…and that was a responsibility I wasn’t doing well to uphold. And even though some of these newcomer feelings were unreasonable and almost foolish, you find yourself unable to think rationally when put in a situation like that.
From then on, I vowed to welcome every single new person that walked into our fellowship room. And yet, this passionate zeal slowly diminished over time, occasionally popping up its curious head through a regret or vague longing to approach the awkward bystander, but shortly disappearing through a myriad of excuses.
I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum, and it’s safe to say that it’s challenging to introduce yourself as a new person or greet a newcomer. It’s very challenging. There’s always a feeling of unease putting yourself out there, as if the person’s acceptance or outright rejection (at least it seems to be that way) defines entirely who you are.
So we’re careful to reveal ourselves. We make easy, comfortable chit-chat that doesn’t go beyond the “I’m good” response to “How are you?”. We keep our guard up, cautiously treading through conversations as if everyone was out to get us, a calculated “trust” that ends up pushing others away. We fear rejection and awkwardness, so we stick to those that we’re close toand unintentionally seek to divide into cliques rather than build community.
I’ve definitely been guilty of committing the surface level responses to other’s genuine questions that desire to get to know me better. And yet God is revealing that this is not how it should be. There is something deep within all of us that screams for a sense of community, a community that God has designed for us to encourage, edify, love and support one another as we grow together as one body, regardless of being a newcomer or someone who’s been going to the same gathering for years.=
I stumbled across a passage in Romans that addresses this very issue and provides a foundation for us as we learn to selflessly welcome others:
Romans 15:5-7 says:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
God desires us to live in such peace and harmony with each other that we can truly be one voice that glorifies Him. And this is exactly how we can achieve this sense of harmony and joy: by welcoming everyone, just as Christ has welcomed us into His family.
I’m reminded of Romans 5:8, that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is how deep His love reaches, that although we completely rejected Him, deliberately sinned against Him and outright pushed Him away, He still loved us through it all, and died a gruesome death to wipe all those transgressions away. How then, can we not even show just a glimpse of that love to new people around us?
With a profound awareness of our value in Christ, may we learn to step outside of our comfort bubbles, push through the pain of the unknown, and walk in love and grace, extending Christ’s love to others.
Author: Micah Shyu