My first passport was made out of construction paper, and my travels were to a room down the hall of a church building in Farmers Branch, Texas, where we discovered the world through the lives and stories of missionaries. From 2002-2008, I used a real passport to travel the world. Now, my travels are in conversation with neighbors from around the globe.
Beginning at age 3, my Bible class at church would “travel” with passport in hand to a mission room a few times a year. Each time we visited the mission room we would explore a new part of the world and learn about missionaries telling others about Jesus Christ in that part of the world. I believe this experience planted an important seed in my life that God watered over the years to love people of all cultures and desire to tell them about Jesus.
To learn more about the design and inspiration behind the mission room that holds a special place in my memories, I recently contacted one of the families who helped to run the mission room: Deon and Susan Fair. It had been over 20 years since I had lived in Texas, and it was a joy to reconnect with a family from my childhood who helped to plant an important seed of faith in my life.
Susan took time to share details about the mission room and their involvement with it. She explained that Don and Sylvia Petty, who had been missionaries to Pakistan, returned from the mission field and wanted to continue to support missionaries so Sylvia made Bible flip charts in the 80s to send to missionaries on the field, and they helped to establish the mission learning center at Webb Chapel, which ran for over 10 years. Susan and Deon worked alongside the Pettys to create a dynamic mission room that my sister and I were blessed to experience.
I took a trip down memory lane when Susan showed me pictures of bulletin boards of the countries featured in the mission room as well as pictures of the missionaries that Webb Chapel supported at that time. The pictures and the conversation sparked memories of visiting the mission room as a child. I remember the colorfully decorated room that was full of pictures and artifacts from the country of focus. We would get our passports stamped when we entered and then sit on the floor in front of a beautiful bulletin board full of information about the country. Someone
would be dressed up with clothing from that country. He or she would begin by greeting us in the language of that country and then share about life in that country. We learned about the customs, food, music, clothing, animals, geography and mission work in that country.
Mission Room: Destination Africa (photo compliments of Susan Fair)
When the mission room was set up like South Africa, Susan shared that she made scones common to South Africa for classes to try. They also talked about the zulu music and showed artifacts that Deon had brought over from South Africa, the country where he grew up.
During my time visiting the Fairs, Deon taught
me a few expressions from South Africa. In addition to English, Deon learned zulu, Afrikaans and xhosa. He mainly spoke zulu and English. Afrikaans was a language spoken around the community, and a mixture of the languages were used during the church’s worship services.
“Sawabona”- “Hello” (zulu)
“Goia mora”- good morning. (Afrikaans)
He taught me a song they would sing on the way to baptisms in South Africa that is in the African language, xhosa. The lyrics are beautiful.
“Tete nkulu we tu”- Please speak with us oh great God”
“Hamba nkulu we tu” - Please go with us, oh great God.”
“Shlala nkulu we tu”- Please stay with us, oh great God.”
There is an amazing peace that comes in hearing worship in another language, a deep connection to the Lord that transcends language: different words but the same heart of worship. I admire the reverence to the Lord and closeness with the Lord in these lyrics.
Ireland was another country we visited in the mission room. Our church supported a missionaries in Ireland, the Coffeys. Susan said that Tony Coffey, who was born in Ireland, played Celtic music for us, showed us pictures of Ireland such as that of an Irish castle and described what it would be like to visit Ireland. He explained that you would need to get a passport and fly many hours to get there. Then, he would tell you what you would see: green with water around because it is a peninsula. He also described the religion of the place, that it is mostly a Catholic country where they worship the Pope. Finally, he would encourage us to pray for the people in the country to know Jesus. Tony Coffey is the author of two books: Once a Catholic and Answers to Questions Catholics are Asking. My parents have his books in their book collection, and I remember seeing one of them on our bookshelf in high school and started to read it when I was having faith conversations with a close friend who was Catholic.
Other countries that we learned about in the mission room were Brazil (see photo below), Australia, Ecuador, St. Thomas and Guyana.
Mission Room: Destination Brazil (photo compliments of Susan Fair)
One mission field that Susan shared about and I remembered as she shared was one that looked like a backyard in the United States. Susan said, “Our mission field is our backyard. We are missionaries in our own neighborhood.” She continued, “Get to know your neighbors. You are God’s instrument for sharing Christ- the hands and feet of Christ, referencing Romans 10:5, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” Where will you travel to today? Maybe next door? To the next cubicle at work? Perhaps to another lunch table? Open a conversation. I encourage you to pray for those around you and to build relationships with people from other cultures. If you don’t speak their language, first remember that a smile is universal to all cultures. Next, ask them how to say “hello” or “thank you” in their language. You will be amazed at what door this will open.
Susan and Deon have a love for people around the globe. They have visited numerous churches in various countries to encourage and support them, including churches in St. Thomas (helped to start a church here), Brazil, South Africa, Guyana, Panama (for the Panama lectureships), Ghana, Chile and Ecuador. It was neat to hear Susan talk about their travels to Ecuador. She shared that the warmth and kindness of the Ecuadorians stood out to her. They would shake her hand and look her in the eye, and listen respectfully and intently to her words. She also marveled at their hearts to serve their very best food, which is unique to what she had tried before. Near the Andes in Ecuador this meal included guinea pig, corn, 7-Up, boiled potatoes and uncultured cheese. She was grateful for their hospitality.
I asked Susan what advice she had for people when meeting those of another culture. She shared:
“In another country, I am humble. I am complimentary. Show your admiration to them and how much courage they’ve had through their adversities. Eat their food. They don’t have to do church with three songs and a prayer. Communion is important...testimony and praises. That’s the table. It’s all about communing with the Lord. We need to be in community.”
“If I am in America, and there is someone from another country, I would be acquainted with them- take them the apple pie- have them over. Include as many people as we can. Don’t overdo it. Form a relationship. Be inclusive. Talking to them. Just be friends with them. Be accepting with them. When given the opportunity, share with them, “The reason I have a faith is because I pray and read the Bible. And if you are interested, I would like to share that with you.”
I asked Susan how her multicultural experiences have impacted her perspective on life. She shared, “Everyone needs a Savior” I identify with people who need a Savior.” Her favorite Bible verse is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I appreciate her heart of Christ that inspires unity: “In His eyes, we don’t have a color. We are all made in His image. We are divine beings. He loves us all.”
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew: 28:18-20
The Multicultural Heart website is more or less a virtual mission room for families! Check out the world map and choose a country to pray for for the people to know Christ. Discover new information about a culture in the blog.
I would love to hear from others who experienced mission rooms as a child or other experiences that planted multicultural seeds in your heart as a child. I also hope this story will even inspire the creation of mission room type experiences for children in churches, homes and schools so that multicultural seeds planted in children today will build bridges in communities among cultures tomorrow by the power of the love of Christ.