Ethnic Unity Via Marriage
Married couples active in Assemblies of God ministry may be a key in helping to bridge the racial divides plaguing much of American society.
There are multiple Assemblies of God interracial ministry couples involved in such spiritual undertakings as megachurch pastor, executive staff, and addiction recovery.
Many interracial couples report that leading from a pair of ethnicities is beneficial to ministry.
“It helps to break barriers of prejudice and racism that are in human hearts,” says Awakening Ministries International founder and former U.S. missionary Will Jones, who also is staff evangelist based at People’s Church in Oklahoma City. Jones, 31, is African-American; Jennifer, 34, is his white wife of six years.
“When people hear our story of how God put us together and how God is blessing the ministry in which we serve, it gives us opportunity to have conversations with young couples of different ethnicities who are dating,” Will says. “There is still very apparent prejudice in the pews of our churches. But God is using interracial marriages to break that.”
Raydon C. Haskins became a U.S. missionary with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries at Indiana University in Bloomington in August, after serving at Indiana State for five years. Around 450 students attend Chi Alpha main services weekly, and even more are involved in core groups. About 70 percent of undergrads are white at the school. Haskins, who is black, believes ministering with his white wife, Kimberly, is beneficial.
“It shows a picture of the gospel,” says Raydon, 30. “People of different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds — when submitted to Jesus — can work through differences.”
“It communicates to students that we really do love all people,” says Kimberly, 36. The couple wed in June 2017.
Todd and Synoilva Halbach, both 53, are Milwaukee-based U.S. missionary associates with Special Touch Ministry and have been married for three years. Todd, who is white, and Synoilva, who is black, agree that unity in Jesus erases racial differences.
“When people see the love of Jesus that we have that binds us together, they look at our hearts rather than the color of our skin,” Todd says.
Tim and Consuela Parsons, co-lead pastors at The Journey Church in Avon, Indiana, since February 2017, understand the significance for interracial couples to worship in a church where they both feel comfortable. Tim is white and Consuela is biracial, but identifies as African-American.
“Churches tend to be monoethnic,” Tim says. “It’s important for a couple to attend where neither feels unvalued or unheard.”
The Journey Church has grown more multiethnic since the couple arrived nearly two years ago — from 95 percent white to one-third minority, primarily African-American, Hispanic, and Filipino. Avon is an Indianapolis suburb that is 86 percent Anglo, according to the latest U.S. census.
The diversity at The Journey Church is especially noticeable in the number of multiethnic children, some of whom have been adopted or are in foster care. Tim and Consuela, married for 18 years, have four children.
“People see the diversity in our marriage and immediately make the correct assumption that we care about diversity,” says Tim, 41. Still, he is careful not to overemphasize race from the pulpit. For now, white people tend to gravitate toward Tim with questions and African-Americans to Consuela.
“Not everyone is in the same place on that conversation,” Tim says. “I have to take great care that I’m not alienating one group of people in the name of unity.”
Consuela, 42, says such conversations are addressed in small group settings or one-on-one where dialogue is possible. As the church grows in diversity, she anticipates the topic to be addressed more in preaching.
“As we become more multiethnic, there will be a higher expectation to know what to do in the community about racial issue problems,” Consuela says.
EFFORTS TO EDUCATE
Jamil Stell, who is African-American, and his wife, Vanessa, a 31-year-old of Mexican-Filipina heritage, worked in Chi Alpha Campus Ministries even before marrying eight years ago. The Stells, who have three sons, currently are directors of the U.S. Missions campus group at California State University-Stanislaus in Turlock. Jamil says he has witnessed more progressive attitudes in the Assemblies of God compared to when he started ministering. At least in California, he says, there are more platforms for intentional ministry by minorities than before.
The Stanislaus campus group has only a smattering of white attendees, with most students having Mexican, African-American, and Filipino ancestry. When he is training leaders, Stell says he focuses on urging students to seek contacts beyond their cultural comfort zone. Any ethnic group can get stuck in prejudices, he says.
“A small group should be larger than your ethnicity; it should look like heaven,” says Stell, 33. The Chi Alpha team holds a monthly “cultural expression” event where students learn about the customs of international students from another country such as Japan or Morocco.
Will Jones concurs that racial understanding has improved among AG constituents.
“We’re not where we could be, but churches really have become more aware,” Jones says. “Some are still figuring out how to have a comfortable conversation about it. While there remains some obliviousness to the issue, more churches are being intentional about hiring minority staff to reflect the demographics of the local community.”
Jones says he tries not to take offense at comments he’s heard. But on the infrequent occasion when a churchgoer refuses to greet him and his wife because they are an interracial couple, he turns proactive. A pastor who invited him to preach warned him that a certain white lay leader in the church didn’t like African-Americans. Jones warmly hugged that man, who initially resisted. But by the end of their time together, the man repented and asked for prayer to stop struggling with his disapproval of blacks.
Raydon Haskins says while ministry leaders can address racial issues from a biblical perspective, the Lord must change hearts.
“God created all people in His image,” Haskins says. “We’re all sacred to Him.”
Ministry to the physically challenged and developmentally disabled may be the area where flesh tones matter least.
“People with special needs and disabilities love people because of who they are,” says Synoilva Halbach says. “They don’t say, ‘I’ve got a black caregiver.’”
Some couples report that the most opposition they’ve encountered isn’t from people in the pews but family members in the home. Raydon Haskins, Synoilva Halbach, and Will Jones all say several relatives wondered aloud why they didn’t choose to marry within their own race.
“People in an interracial marriage have to get past culture differences,” Kimberly Haskins says. “Our cultures are different, and there are things we have to work through that people of the same race don’t.”
“Having a diverse team, rather than a diverse spouse, has really helped us,” says Jamil Stell. “It’s more welcoming for students to see diversity in the room so that they realize this isn’t an all-white Movement.”
Slider Images: Slide 1: Jamil and Vaness Stell; Slide 2: Raydon and Kim Haskins; Slide 3: Sunoilva and Todd Habach; Slide 4: Will and Jennifer Jones
Top Image: Tim and Conseula Parsons