“If Elijah and I got married, we’d have tan colored children,” my five-year-old daughter informed me on the way home from school. Elijah was an African-American boy in her kindergarten class, and my daughter found it fascinating to think about all the different skin tones and hair colors her future children might have, depending on who she married. “And if I married Peter, our kids would have blondish-red hair, ’cause he’s got red hair and I’ve got blonde, but if Salwa married Elijah, their kids would . . . ”
As she babbled on, I contemplated her words. Just a few decades ago, it would have been illegal for Elijah and Ellie to even been in the same kindergarten class, much less have the possibility of marrying when they reached adulthood. I’m thankful that laws have changed and hopefully, hearts have, too.
Two years ago or so, I stood in the fellowship hall of the church where I was a volunteer English as a second language teacher. Two students—looking like Louis L’Amour characters with their cowboy hats and boots—were teaching the rest of the students how to line dance. Another teacher asked me, “How many times in your life are you going to have the opportunity to have a Russian and a Japanese teach the boot scootin’ boogie in the basement of a Baptist church?”
Differences dissolved between diverse cultures as the music and dance brought their hearts together. The students still were different—various skin tones, clothes, religions, backgrounds—but they moved in time to the same rhythm.
December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. FDR proclaimed it a day that “will live in infamy,” and America joined the Allies in their fight against the Axis powers. We hated them, they hated us, and thousands of soldiers on both sides were killed. Germans and Japanese Americans were detained in camps across our nation, out of suspicion and hatred and prejudice.
If I had been alive that day, would it have been thinkable that my future self would have students who came from those nations? Would I have been able to imagine the possibility of a classroom of people from places as far-flung as Iran, Korean, Japan, Germany and Columbia? Or that we would chatter and laugh and enjoy each others’ company? Or that my daughters might one day marry a wonderful Christian man who just happened to have a different shade of melanin? Or that we could sit in the same sanctuary and praise God together?
I once had an Iranian student ask me a profound question. Since music is both enjoyable and a great teaching tool, I usually started class with a song. We talked about the lyrics, practiced the pronunciation of words and the intonation of the phrases, and worked on reading comprehension. This day, I played the song “And Your Praise Goes On” by Chris Rice. In the final verse, he describes how people from every nation, tribe and tongue will be praising God with him in heaven.
Nancy stopped me. “What does he mean? People from every nation, tribe and tongue in heaven?”
“Yes,” I said. “Everyone who loves Jesus will be there.” My Christian students from Venezuela and Columbia nodded with me.
“Even from Iran?” She looked skeptical. To her, being Iranian was synonymous with being Muslim.
“Even from Iran.”
It opened a discussion about God, heaven and Christianity. I had to attempt (with the help of my Columbian and Venezuelan students) to translate churchy phrases into understandable English: “get saved,” “have Jesus in my heart,” “trust Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” (Not an easy thing to do, especially when there was the Farsi-English-Spanish language divide.) With a lot of stumbling and searching for the right words, we managed to help Nancy understand that, yes, heaven will have more than just Americans in it.
I thought it was cool to walk into the church basement and see a dozen nations represented. I thought it was cool to see my children play with kids from different backgrounds.
Yet that’s nothing compared with heaven, where every nation, tribe and tongue will have people there, savoring God’s presence. My grandmother is there, probably hugging the baby I miscarried a three years ago, chatting with people from places like Papua New Guinea and Portugal, dancing (no more aching knee!) with children who once lived in mud huts and mansions. No more prejudice or war or stumbling over pronunciations of foreign words. Complete unity.
So why do I put up artificial barriers between myself and believers from other races and nationality? I have the biggest, most important thing in common with them: a love for Jesus Christ. If I’m going to spend eternity in heaven with such a diverse group of Jesus-followers, shouldn’t I start loving them now?