30 March 2024

Intercultural Mission Conference 2024: Life together beyond labels

Captain Wan Gi Lee

A photo shows people from different backgrounds seated in comfy chairs around a table and having a conversation.

Captain Wan Gi Lee reports from this year’s Intercultural Mission Conference.

The Intercultural Mission Conference held in Northampton was a real attempt to help us share our stories beyond our differences.

The event welcomed more than 100 friends from different corps and centres across the UK and Ireland Territory. It truly demonstrated our rich diversity, with people from a wide range of cultures, including Africa, Europe and Asia.

In the TV show Modern Family, there is a conversation between characters regarding ethnic diversity. The school principal says: ‘We have children here from many ethnicities, and we try to make them all feel included.’ The grandad of the family, Jay, says: ‘Be that as it may, history does not record Pocahontas asking John Smith to pass the sashimi roll while Myles Standish helps himself to gluten-free huevos rancheros!’

Jay’s understanding can help to illuminate something about our own understanding of multiculturalism. We see cultural differences, but we don’t know how to put them together: we can mishmash them, instead of interweaving them into a shared story and reality. The Intercultural Mission Conference was an opportunity to interweave our own stories in God’s story, beyond all kinds of labels.

A photo shows a large crowd of people engaging in worship.

Times of worship, fellowship, teaching and testimony were all put together as a collective effort to help us see who we are as Kingdom people. At the end of the conference, the Rev Bev Thomas, the keynote speaker for the weekend, said that she was very encouraged by the wide range of people gathered. But she also challenged us on not mixing up the terms ‘multicultural’ and ‘intercultural’.

The newly formed team of territorial intercultural mission officers welcomed the delegates and shared the leading of the programmes in different ways. The 12 officers from across the territory also held a panel discussion on the final day for an open talk with the participants. Through the discussion, many questions and answers were shared, which also showed this wrestling of going beyond multiculturalism into a shared life of intercultural mission.

Territorial Leader Commissioner Jenine Main said that the intercultural mission team is a significant step to moving forward in bringing people together and in engaging with deeper dialogue and action. She acknowledged that there are still lots of things to do to improve and create an intercultural and inclusive Church on all levels, including leadership.

A photo shows a group of people from different backgrounds smiling and laughing while sat in comfy chairs.

Many agreed that the highlight of the event was the open testimony time on the second night, in which several stories of suffering and hope were shared. Members of the Roma community, for example, shared their lack of ‘home’ in their travelling community tradition. Their experiences of branding and mistreatment were painful to hear. However, when they thanked God as they had found their real home in him and in church, there was a divine beauty in how they had been made strong and brought closer to Jesus.

The weekend was a fresh reminder to share life, as theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in his book Life Together: ‘A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses.’ What we witnessed in the conference is the territory’s aspiring desire for life together, to be ‘one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).

Written by

A photo of Wan Gi Lee in Salvation Army uniform

Captain Wan Gi Lee

St Albans

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Journeying together, respecting each other's cultures, and starting to tangibly see God's Kingdom now, right before our eyes.

The UKI Territory’s team of intercultural mission officers introduce themselves.

A collection of posters and flyers translated in a number of languages that can be used in your corps or centre.

Stevie Hope reports from Belonging and Believing: The Big Conversation.