18 January 2023

One Church, many flavours

Lieutenant Nazia Yousaf

Photo shows spoons displaying a variety of seasonings on a dark background.

As the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18–25 January) invites us to consider racial injustice, Lieutenant Nazia Yousaf encourages us to be inclusive as we expand God’s Kingdom together.

I was born and raised in The Salvation Army. Our door was always open and the kettle was always on the stove. As an officers’ child, I was taught to greet everyone with a smile, whether I knew them or not. Many years later, that is still part of my personality.

I was born into a Punjabi family, but my parents were appointed to Karachi, the port city in the south of Pakistan where people from all over the country go to make their living. Because of this, my accent wasn’t Punjabi. I have two uncles, one from Karachi and one from Iran. Both are good cooks and brought different cuisines to our family as they made Sindhi and Karachi dishes. After a few years, my parents went to Lahore and they took that multicultural taste with them.

While living in the Salvation Army compound in Lahore, we benefited from different thoughts, cultures and world views through missionaries from around the globe. All these experiences have helped me to become open to listening, knowing and understanding people and their uniqueness.

I returned to Karachi to take up nursing and lived in residence. This time, I experienced living with different denominations of Christianity. Through my friends, I came across different beliefs and practices. My mind was blown away by the many similarities in our faith.

I went through a long process of accepting my calling as an officer. At William Booth College, the community was so welcoming and accepting. So many people called me to their place for dinner and were equally open to tasting my cooking and food. It was a beautiful example of acceptance and celebration from both sides.

Three years ago, when I arrived in the UK, the most exciting thing for me was to taste different cuisines. So many colours, smells, textures and flavours! If you ask a young British person what their favourite food is, they might say ‘tikka wrap’, ‘Italian’ or ‘Chinese’. The world today accepts and acknowledges diversity in cuisine. Now imagine what it would be like if people years ago never made any changes – we would never know what we were missing.

In the Old Testament, Ruth and Naomi were from different cultures and backgrounds. In the book of Ruth, she replied when Naomi would send her back: ‘Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God’ (1:16). Ruth followed her heart and went with Naomi to Bethlehem and her influence on others increased. Instead of looking down on her as a foreigner, the Hebrews accepted her into their society. Ruth and Naomi’s story wasn’t one-sided; they both tried to understand and support each other.

Today are we as open to accepting each other in our Church as we are open to change in our cuisine? In the parable of the great banquet, Jesus said that the master of the house told the servants to ‘compel them to come in’ to the great feast (Luke 14:23).

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:18 that there are many parts, but one body of Christ. Are we ready to play our part? Are we willing and intentional in our efforts to spice up the Church and our congregations? Are we allowing others to use their gifts and talents to expand Kingdom business so everyone can feel welcome and accepted? What is stopping us from becoming an inclusive, diverse Church?

God has placed you where you are to enrich the land with your gifts, talents, story and values. Are you afraid to use your gifts because you fear rejection, or because it takes too much energy? I encourage you to offer your skills and talents. What new flavour can you bring forward in the Church that people would recognise as belonging to them and make them want to be part of it?

I have a vision for the day when The Salvation Army reflects that young British person who has tasted and can enjoy all different cuisines. Just as they own that diversity, one day all these different flavours of worship will be accepted and celebrated. One body in Christ, different parts. One Church, different flavours, all equally important.

The change might not come easily, but we cannot be satisfied with excuses for keeping the menu the same. People will go to other restaurants.

Written by

A photo of Nazia Yousaf in Salvation Army uniform

Lieutenant Nazia Yousaf

Corps Officer, Stockport Heaton Norris

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