Learning a new language, adapting to a new culture, trying new foods – a missionary to a foreign country would expect all of these challenges. Church planters in the United States might not anticipate such cross-cultural experiences as part of their work, but Orchard Group planters in major cities are discovering the world is right on their street.
Whitney Ingram moved to Miami six months ago to help start a new church with her husband Greg. A recent conversation highlighted the opportunities and challenges of planting a church in and for the city. Here is what she is learning:
Greg and I had a rhythm for hosting people in our home in San Antonio. When we moved to Miami, we quickly learned the diversity of backgrounds makes hospitality more challenging. In our new neighborhood, our closest neighbors are Venezuelan. Hospitality is important to us, so we decided to learn as much as we could about our neighbors and their country of origin. We discovered that people really appreciate when you show interest in their cuisine, their culture, and their language. My neighbor is helping me learn Venezuelan cooking now, and my nightstand is stacked with books about the history of Miami so I can be aware of what shapes this city.
Expect the Unexpected
Church planting books do a good job of preparing you for the obstacles a family faces when they move. Other church-planting wives had prepared me to experience a period of loneliness, which is a natural part of leaving a network of friends and moving to an entirely new city. Hearing about it and experiencing it myself were two different things, though! It took a couple of months before I realized, “OK. I’m truly lonely now and this is HARD.” I’ve never been so excited for my mother-in-law to come visit!
While I expected to face a period of loneliness, I did not expect how much I needed to downsize. Greg and I thought we had done it well. And then you get into your house. Living spaces in major cities are considerably smaller. It was overwhelming when the movers left and the boxes were piled all the way to the ceiling. I hadn’t planned on that!
Some challenges you can prepare for, some will be unexpected. You can’t skip this stage. You just have to keep walking forward. When God called us to Miami He never promised it would be easy, but I have found Him faithful every single day and my faith in Him has grown tremendously.
Within two weeks of our arrival in Miami, I looked for a playgroup to join so I could meet some other moms and our kids could meet other kids. The nearby group was full, with 20-30 other women on a waiting list. I didn’t plan to start my own group, but the need was clearly there, so I started a group for moms with preschoolers in our area. At first, I had to initiate everything. There were times when it was very tiring (and very much like church planting). Yet it was encouraging when the group continued to grow and grow. Today, 50 moms are a part of this group.
This group looks different than I could have ever imagined. Twelve countries and 17 different states are represented. It’s a global group of women from Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Australia, Poland, and Cuba. This represents Miami well – it attracts people from all over the world. Sometimes I think, “This is what heaven will look like!”
Planting a church in Miami has given me a different perspective on the world. I’ve never been in the minority before. But I’ve felt in the minority here, and it gives me compassion towards those who are in the minority in the other parts of the country. The Bible teaches the importance and value of all people, and God is growing my heart for diverse people groups. Our dream is to start a church where anyone from any country will feel welcomed and loved by our community.
I knew Miami would be culturally different. But when I actually started living here, it was a whole different level than I expected. Many, many people speak Spanish as their first language. Initially, I felt a barrier because many people address each other in Spanish. Our whole family is taking intentional steps to integrate into the culture of Miami by learning Spanish. It’s not possible to embrace the challenges of a new place 100% of the time, and that’s ok. But we want to be as open as possible to embracing differences instead of running from them.
Trust God to Provide
God reminds me over and over that He is developing HIS team, not MY team. We’ve pursued people that we’ve wanted to join our team. It has not worked out yet. So there is a level of trusting God to work out His plan. God will bring the right people at the right time.
I discovered firsthand how God provides at our very first playgroup meeting. Several moms showed up and we were outside talking. One woman was from Africa. Her first question to me was, “So what does your husband do?” I was immediately afraid. How she would respond? There’s no better way to shut down a conversation than to say your husband is a pastor, especially of a church that doesn’t exist yet. This friendship would be over before it even started!
God knew I needed friends. This woman from Africa was a believer, and she lived in our neighborhood. Here I was, at a playgroup with a bunch of women I had met online, and the first woman I introduced myself to was a Christian who understood church planting. God gave me a gift in her friendship, and reminded me that He knows and provides what we need.
Whitney and her husband Greg moved to Miami to help start a church in one of the most un-churched and diverse cities in the United States. She is the proud mother of two wonderful kids. Whitney is a “retired” nurse who loves being a stay-at-home mom.