‘A house of prayer for all the nations’
My name is Kemeri Liévano. I am a proud Australian, born and raised in Adelaide from a family whose history in this country traces back to some of the first free settlers in Victoria.
I am also very proud that I’ve had many diverse influences in my life. As a child, my mother read to me in Italian, shared exciting stories of her years living in Europe, and sent me to German school each Saturday. I played with the Cambodian Chinese kids from the Cantonese refugee service at my church and remember crying when my Chinese church uncles cried singing hymns in their mother tongue.
I loved listening to my Nan’s records of Welsh men’s choirs and tried to prove I didn’t have two left feet at Scottish “bairns” dancing each week and céilidhs at the Caledonian Club.
My Dad’s Mum attended Aboriginal metro-mob church with services in English and our church’s ministry partnership with this church helped shape much of my understanding of First Peoples’ ministry in the suburbs.
We usually ate Italian food at home, we made gnocchi and pasta sauce by hand and mainstream Australian potluck was Sunday fare at my Nan’s. My Nan’s street was my neighbourhood heartland, with all our Greek and Italian nonnas who passed us fruit and pasta over the fence and looked out for my Nan. It was here that I most keenly felt part of an intercultural community.
In many ways, my childhood was a typical late Gen X/early Gen Y in 1980s Australia, but I did find myself drawn to explore God’s gifts of language, culture and identity from an early age.
My Nan prayed dozens of her family members into God’s arms after finding her way back to him herself. She taught me God’s house was for everyone, that God’s house was “a house of prayer for all the nations” (Isaiah 56:7).
I learned from her generous desire to “hold lightly” her own felt needs around worship styles and release leadership to younger generations and CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) leaders with different missional needs, as the Spirit led. I am so grateful for her leadership and quiet example in this regard.
I believe that a truly intercultural church is one where we all learn from, care for and minister to each other, each with our varied and beautiful gifts. Naturally language and culture lead us to celebrate often in our own distinct ways, but where power is put aside, relationship flourishes and so does unity in the Spirit.
A truly intercultural church is our aspiration; where humility, grace and wisdom lead us into new conversations around governance, sustainability, worship and formation for ministry. This confluence shapes us effectively for the mission field around us, where more than half of Queensland is CALD.
The wisdom of releasing worship to be more missional in its style and format, rather than requiring our own needs to be met in corporate worship, is both a catalyst and a sign of a kingdom mentality rather than a territorial one. It requires us to be prepared to sacrifice our own natural human ethnocentricity at the altar and allow God to shape worship in spirit and truth for the mission field we are called to. This release of control not only creates space for intentional intercultural participation, but helps stem the alarming ebb of younger generations away from culturally inflexible monocultural church.
As a pastor and linguist, my ministry in aged care chaplaincy with Blue Care Gold Coast Cluster introduces me to migrants and Aboriginal Australians who have not always been supported in their acculturation and ownership of their unique cultural identities and provides lovely opportunities for affirming God’s gift of culture and language as a lens for the gospel and for church life.
I am increasingly aware of how vitally important cultural safety is to all of us, in particular seeing how age can fade our recent memories and those language skills acquired later in life. The need for affirmation of culture is one shared by CALD and mainstream cultures alike.
My family is a multicultural, multilingual family trying to raise six kids speaking Spanish as well as English, belonging to a beautiful mainstream local church (St Mark’s in Mt Gravatt, Brisbane) and regularly attending Portuguese language services.
Our kids are learning to define their own cultural identity as second gen with a focus on finding God’s plan for them in this generation.