By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Take a look around, Noemi Chavez told her Chapel audience Monday morning.
Look at the people in your life, especially the people in your church life. Do you see people just like you?
Look at what you’re doing in your church. Do you see any growth?
Look at what you’re doing about it. Do you see any new paths – paths that lead to people who aren’t like you?
The lead pastor of 7th Street Church in Long Beach, Calif., brought a message of unity and diversity to Grand Canyon University, but it also was a message that challenged listeners to get out of their comfort zone. She told the students that most of them have been raised in churches divided along ethnic and social lines.
“Our churches, as segregated as they are, are not preparing our young people for the real world,” she said.
Chavez shared what it was like for her when she and her husband, Joshua, felt called to leave behind their Latino community in Los Angeles, where she was an English teacher, and move eight miles south to start a church in multi-ethnic Long Beach.
It was jarring to encounter people who weren’t like her, people who told her she had an accent. Her reaction: “No, YOU have an accent.”
But a key part of her belief system is what God calls us to do, as laid out in 2 Corinthians 5:20:
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
Chavez’s take on that idea is, simply, “It doesn’t matter what season you find yourself in. It is God’s desire that you and I would respond to this commissioning from God: that we are His ambassadors and that God is making His appeal through you and through me to all of humanity – not just the humanity that we’re familiar (with) and we feel safe around, but all people.”
Soon, she found herself ministering to many people who weren’t at all like her, people who came from broken homes and hadn’t known the stability her parents provided when she was growing up. It gave her new wisdom and understanding.
“I couldn’t sit there and say, ‘God, I’m the wrong girl for the job. God, You made a mistake. I don’t understand how I could relate to her brokenness. She’s comes from a different kind of family, a different background. She’s made choices based on her upbringing; that’s not how I was raised, God,’” she said.
“And God said, ‘You are My ambassador. You are called into those spaces because My grace and My love (do) not have any boundaries or barriers. I am able to reach people if you would allow yourself to be a vehicle of that.”
And that’s the key, Chavez emphasized. It’s nice to say the right things, but it’s quite another to do them, as James 2:18 proclaims:
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
One of Chavez’s favorite authors is Mark DeYmaz, who wrote, “Systematically segregated churches are undermining the credibility of our witness.”
She urged students to spread the Gospel beyond people they know, people with similar upbringing – to realize that Jesus is always trying to bring people together, and that is our mission, too.
“I think there is nothing more powerful than the church being a part of that witness, but it’s going to take you being willing to be uncomfortable and you not sitting in a space where it’s just safe and familiar while there’s a world around you that is at war,” she said. “Our nation is divided for so many things, and yet the body of Christ should be more united than ever.
“What if the church became the training ground for these next generations to flourish, to connect, to infuse our culture with a faith that says there’s power when the body of Christ comes together?”
Chavez is doing more than pastoring her church. She also founded Brave Global, for sex-trafficking victims in the foster care system. She likened the experience to what happens when a hair tie keeps getting stretched.
“God began to stretch me and stretch me until I lost my original shape,” she said. “And, I’ll tell you, I don’t ever want to go back to who I was before. My life and my view of God’s kingdom and the beauty of the bride of Christ has been stretched in such a way that I’m able to see the move of God in people’s lives in ways that I never would have been able to see if I had stuck to my own little Mexican world.
Attendance at Brave events keeps multiplying, which convinces Chavez that “when you are willing to say yes to God, you will be blown by what God is willing to do.”
That’s why she trusts His lead. That’s why she’s committed to creating “believers from multi-ethnic backgrounds (who) stand united not for a cause, but in life and community.”
She said in closing, “Whenever God calls us to action, it’s never safe, it’s never comfortable and it’s never familiar. So get ready – get ready for the God adventure. Get ready for God to do things through you where you don’t just become a really awesome young Christian who knows all the songs and the quotes but who’s actually living out things that people want to write about and talk about.”
And when you do that, look out.
● Chapel replay.
● Next Monday’s Chapel speaker is Riccardo Stewart of Redemption Church in Tempe.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.