This past week I had the privilege of taking part in a weekend conference for the Chinese Evangelical Free Church of Los Angeles. Like many Chinese churches, this church consists of three congregations: English, Cantonese, and Mandarin.
Though the whole conference was great, perhaps the most impactful moment came on Sunday morning as all three congregations worshiped together. We sang the same songs, and words were displayed on the screen in both English and Chinese. We were told to each sing in our own language, and the worship leaders shifted between singing in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin (or maybe just between English and Cantonese OR Mandarin—I have no idea).
Here’s what this was like from my perspective as a visitor. The tunes were familiar. The instrumentation and setting were familiar. I had sung these songs before and genuinely worshiped God through these words.
But around me: a kind of controlled chaos. It’s almost like being at a concert where everyone’s trying to sing along but doesn’t quite know the words. Or being in a church service when the worship leader introduces a new song: everyone wants to sing, but they don’t quite know when to sing which words. I could hear others singing in English, but I could hear other sounds mixed in as well.
A touch disconcerting? Yes. Initially. But highly moving? Absolutely. The thing is, the slight challenge of continuing to sing when all of the sounds don’t match exactly was quickly drowned out when I considered what was happening.
We all had the same love for God in our hearts. We all had the same basic concepts that we wanted to communicate in song. And when we pushed those words through our vocal chords and out into the room, the sounds didn’t match. But God heard our voices and the cry of our hearts. He was worshiped in three languages simultaneously.
If you think about it, that’s an extremely simplified version of the praise he will receive when people from every nation, tribe, and language praise him in unison (Rev. 7:9). God loves diverse praise, and this was a small taste of the full reality.
That morning, our mismatched words didn’t fight each other as though two people were trying to sing different melodies at the same time. They complemented each other, like a well-sung harmony—not identical, but creating a fuller and more beautiful sound.
For me, it was a reminder that what unites us is greater than what divides us.
I don’t understand Cantonese or Mandarin, and I wasn’t the only one. Others could not understand much English. I was very different from many in that room in terms of my national heritage, my cultural assumptions, my communication style, and the overall look and feel of my everyday life.
And yet I stood there with hundreds of people who were more profoundly like me than not. The color of our skin didn’t match exactly, but we had all received matching hearts, compliments of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:25-27). We couldn’t all communicate directly, but the Spirit was producing the same fruit in all of our lives (Gal. 5:22–23). Our lineage stems from different continents, but we are all citizens of the same country—and I’m not talking about America (Philip. 3:20). We walk different paths every day of our lives (aside from this one weekend), yet we are all following the footsteps of the same Man.
This was a powerful reminder that I am inseparably connected and eerily similar to people I have only briefly met (and multitudes I have never and will never meet) and who externally are almost nothing like me.