Where are you from?


The answer to the question “Where are you from?” comes in flawless Zurich German: “Vo Züri” (from Zurich). Even when I ask again, I get the same slightly irritated answer. Has that ever happened to you? Irritating! But have you ever thought about how, for example, a second or third generation black Swiss feels, when a white person asks him this question?


Two things go through my mind:


Firstly, I am always amazed at how naturally our grandchildren play with children who look different to them and/or come from different backgrounds. They have no fear. It is only when each side chooses who will be in their team to play a game that they discriminate – but not for reasons of skin colour.


Secondly, in the early days of the Church, groups in which Christians gathered together were a reflection of society. A melting pot of different nationalities and classes, with the difference that they mixed in Christian communities and a togetherness developed. Admittedly, this did not happen without friction and conflict, as we can read in various books in the second part of the Bible. But it was a goal and often a reality.


The mission statement of our local church says among other things: “As a community-oriented enabling church – we reach out to people and welcome them.” How do we do that? Certainly not with the well-intentioned (but often not appreciated) “Where are you from?” question. That doesn’t send out a welcome signal. Approaching people and welcoming them means allowing them to get close. Our Swiss culture is moderately good at that. This was confirmed by a recently published study on neighbourliness, which concluded that Swiss neighbours are both friendly and distant towards each other. And this was also confirmed to me by a German person in our church who said: “My wife and I and also our German colleagues are hardly ever invited to the home of Swiss people.”


This is not only a Swiss phenomenon. Exclusiveness is widespread among Christian churches. And, unfortunately, it often happens between churches of different ethnicities as well. There are good initiatives by National EAs. One great example is EA UK with its One People Commission: “It exists to celebrate diversity while promoting unity. It is the gathering together of God’s one Church in all its vibrant expressions, modelling the unity of God’s people.” As EEA we have been trying to get a network started at European level but have not made much progress. So this is a task to be tackled by my successors.


I believe that as Church, we really need to aim to live a welcoming culture, a culture that actively creates closeness. A culture which will create that oneness we often talk about as Evangelical Alliance. It sends a strong signal. In the Gospel of John, Chapter 17:20 and following, it says about oneness “that the world will know that the Father has sent Jesus” and that his love will also become visible. God has come very close to us through Jesus. If that does not awaken in us a longing to be close to people, then something is still not quite right. So let us strive for God to make this closeness, this oneness, our reality. I believe that this will create an irresistible culture of welcome to the Kingdom of God. The Evangelical Alliance is a great platform to see this happening from the local church to groups of churches and to the national, continental and world level!


Let’s keep dreaming and working towards this and expect great things from God!


Thomas Bucher, General Secretary

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