Last fall I had the chance to meet up with lady who had formerly been only an "online friend." We had never met in person, but had exchanged emails a few times and I enjoyed interacting with her. But a sudden change in jobs caused her family to relocate to Nashville, so we arranged a time to get together for a play date with our kids at the mall playground. As we talked, our kids played together for a couple of hours. Then we decided to grab lunch in the food court. After lunch, we ended up back at the playground for a while longer. What was intended to be a short play date ended up being a five hour soul-baring session between like-minded friends. Over the past several months I have had the privilege to get together several times with this dear friend. She called me on a day she knew would be challenging for me emotionally. She has encouraged me in my writing. She has held me accountable and exhorted me to think differently about various topics. I count her as a dear friend, and after reading her book I am so thankful for her courage to use her voice to share her story with others for our benefit.
Trillia Newbell is a talented journalist and blogger, having had articles featured at Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, Relevant, Christianity Today, and many other sites. But what sets her book, United: Captured by God's Vision for Diversity, apart from these posts, which are all great, is her openness to share her personal story of how racial segregation in the church has affected her, as well as her desire to see things change in our generation.
She points out that Sundays are the most segregated days of the week, as many of us walk into our church buildings surrounded by people who look, act, and talk just like us. But she doesn't just point out the problem, nor does she propose one-size-fits-all solutions for a complicated issue. Instead, she invites her readers into her own life. She tells us of her own struggles with not fitting in during childhood and into her adult life. She helps us feel what it's like to not be represented in the culture of her church. And yet, we know we can trust this sister because she has, by grace, put her love for the church above her own desires, while also fighting for the multicultural church of the future.
I serve on my church's worship team on occasion. Each Sunday, I rejoice to see and hear my brothers and sisters singing in worship to our King and Savior. And I rejoice to see many ethnicities represented in our body. And yet, we are still predominantly white. And this is a complicated issue. It's not as easy as going out and targeting other ethnicities to achieve a more balanced congregation. Trillia Newbell encourages us to look at our own lives and homes. Perhaps our churches are a representation of the collective cultures of our individual members. If I'm not engaging people of other ethnicities outside the church, why would I think they would be found inside the church? Am I loving all my neighbors, or only the ones who look like me?
By sharing the beautiful joys of her own relationship with two friends of other ethnicities, Trillia shows us what we're missing. Cultural differences are not obstacles to be overcome, but rather a precious expression of the beauty of diversity. Unity in diversity is the picture we have of the New Earth in Revelation 7:9-10 - "a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, will cry out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!'" We will ALL cry out in praise of OUR God. How beautiful!
The final chapter of United is perhaps the strongest, in which Trillia shares her hopes and dreams for the future--a dream that her children might one day read this book and wonder why it was ever needed. A dream that her biracial children, and my white children, and my brother's African daughter, and my friends' biracial Korean children, and millions more children around the world will worship together in the unity of diversity. And this is not a call for colorblindness, but rather a call to see the beauty of our ethnic cultures and a hope that we might share these things with one another with joy, knowing we have been created in all our diversity by our loving Creator God.
I am so thankful for my sweet friend, Trillia. I'm thankful for her courage to write on a topic that has divided the church for generations. I'm thankful that she loves the church and is willing to risk much in a desire to lovingly speak truth the church desperately needs to hear. She has spoken this truth to me in matters of race as I've come to her with questions, pulling no punches and helping me understand her perspective.
I heartily recommend this book and pray God might use it to stoke within our hearts and homes a desire to reflect the beauty of diversity in our friendships and our church families.
You can find United: Captured by God's Vision for Diversity anywhere Christian books are sold.