Stephen Tourville is director of Intercultural
Ministries for Assemblies of God Home Missions. He recently talked with
Scott Harrup, general editor, about the changing face of America.
Evangel: What were some of your early intercultural
I was raised to believe that racial prejudice was not consistent with
biblical principles. My relationships with people of other ethnic groups
were never strained. Ive always had friends from different backgrounds.
All through my pastoral experience weve had people of color as
a comfortable part of our congregations.
Evangel: How are the demographics of the Assemblies
of God changing?
Tourville: We have 410 Asian and Pacific
Islander churches, 202 African-American churches, 1,838 Hispanic churches
and 181 Native American churches. This growing number of non-white Assemblies
of God constituents reflects the changes in the population at large.
We are rapidly moving into a diversity that is unparalleled in history.
More than 20 percent of the U.S. population is of a non-Anglo background.
That figure is expected to surpass 50 percent by 2020. In many of our
larger cities, that is already the case. According to the U.S. Census
2000, California is now more than 50 percent non-Anglo.
Evangel: Within the Fellowship, what are some
responses to those changes?
Tourville: I meet many people with the attitude
of 1 Chronicles 12:32, where the men of Issachar "understood the
times" and knew what Israel needed to do. Our leadership realizes
this is an opportunity that God is giving His people to reach out to
people of a variety of backgrounds. Its important that we as a
Fellowship declare that racial differences are not to be our focus if
we have a Christlike spirit.
Evangel: What services does your office offer
to ethnic Assemblies of God entities?
Tourville: The purpose of Intercultural Ministries
is to reach the culturally distinct groups of America through our outreaches,
our home missionaries and our local churches. We seek to increase communication
and bridge any gaps that may exist between various ethnic communities
and our Fellowship. We offer regional conferences at the invitation
of our districts. These communicate the need for diversity awareness,
encourage pastors and churches to embrace minorities, and highlight
the ministries of our missionaries.
Evangel: What steps do you take to identify with
the groups to whom you minister?
Tourville: Youre never going to be
effective in what you do if you try to be someone other than who you
are. I accept who I am and I encourage everyone I deal with to do the
same. As we recognize differences, we can become sensitive to each other.
We must not stereotype people but see them as individuals.
Heres an example. A deaf person may go to
the altar for prayer. A stereotypical response assumes that person is
praying for healing. But that person may have a need that has nothing
to do with how well he or she can hear. Its easy for us in our
individualistic society to view others through our own lenses. We need
to learn to see others through their own circumstances.
Evangel: From a theological viewpoint, why is
it vital to reach out to all peoples?
Tourville: In Galatians 3:26-29, Paul emphasizes
that there are no divisions in the body of Christ. We are all sons of
God and Christ is our common denominator. In Revelation 5:9,10 people
from every language and background are seen worshipping at the throne
of God. We learn from 2 Peter 3:9 that God is not willing that any should
perish, but that all should come to repentance. Reaching across cultural
lines to communicate the reality of who Christ is must be our heart
as believers if we are going to have the heart of Christ.
Evangel: Any other comments?
Tourville: Intercultural Ministries is a
very diverse department. There are approximately 40 groups to which
we minister. This includes outreaches to Native Americans, Alaska Natives,
Jewish, Middle-Eastern people, Samoan, Tongan, black, Chinese, Filipino,
Hispanic, deaf, blind, people with disabilities, the inner city, Asian,
Gypsies, Haitians and other ethnic groups. In addition, KidCare America,
an after-school childrens ministry, is currently being launched
nationally. There are more than 100 million people in America who can
be impacted through our department.
Just as God promised Abraham that all the world
would be blessed through his offspring, I believe all the world is being
blessed through the spiritual heritage that has been Americas.
The world is coming to America so that the church in America can reach
out to them during these times of transition.