Open Mic with Pastor Gary Russell

While I did not assume the pastorate at Bethel German Assembly of God in the same manner that Joshua received his assignment, I still felt much the same way when the Lord spoke to him in Joshua 24:13 “And I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you built not, and you dwell in them; of the vineyards and olive groves which you planted not do you eat.”

While serving in the geographic District (Network) that surrounds this little lighthouse in the middle of Southeast Portland, Bethel was always referred to as, “The little German church.” We knew very little of language districts, let alone the German District, and one can imagine my shock when I discovered that this great German District was actually older than my home geographic district. When I came into fellowship with Bethel in the summer of 2011 it had already developed a reputation in the neighborhood of being “a house for all nations”. I would be remiss in this article if I did not acknowledge the long-standing history of my German brothers that longed for this corner to go beyond the German people and be a place of outreach for every tribe and every tongue. I am honored that the Holy Spirit would engage me in this marvelous history of reaching the world from our little neighborhood.

How we came to Bethel is a story for another telling, but what is important to note is that when we came we found a body of believers that were already embracing the vision for the church in our city that had long been in our heart. A church that would look like heaven, a church that would be as Jesus said, “a house of prayer for all nations.” In this little congregation there were natives of America as well as The Phillipines, Indonesia, Africa, Germany, Poland, and Nigeria. I sure there were others but we have not yet been able to track all the nations. Rather than homogenize these, we chose to celebrate them and find ways to showcase the various cultures and the blessings they brought to the Body of Christ.

In addition to the Believers that meet as Bethel, there are 4 other bodies that meet on Sundays, and 2 para-church ministries that meet throughout the week. None of the “tenants”, which is really a tongue-in-cheek reference are Assembly of God. Some of them are not even Pentecostal. Some are very Pentecostal, yet very independent. They all love Jesus and proclaim the gospel as Paul said in Phillipians 2. We made the decision a long time ago as church planters in our geographic district that if somebody was doing something that we wanted to do, rather than try to compete with them we would join them. In our opinion, the only reason for starting a new work that someone else is already doing, is because you think you can do it better. That’s not an acceptable reason for us, we would rather help someone do it better and honor their vision and calling. So today we house an independent Church of God in Christ type independent fellowship, a Baptist Vietnamese Fellowship, a Methodist Micronesian Fellowship, and a Miracle Life Fellowship. We also support a group of independent women primarily from the Foursquare Fellowship that needed a place to dance, and shout, and worship, and intercede for revival. i.e. Womens Aglow without the meeting, structure, or restraints. They have changed the atmosphere in our building. We also house a group of folks that are, shall we say, a little on the fringe of their own fellowships, that are looking for a place to have dinner then get very Pentecostal on a Friday night.

People ask, “How did you do all this?” All I can say is, “Thank God for my predecessors”. They reached out to these groups and welcomed them because they themselves had been immigrants at one time. They knew what it meant not have a place and so they determined they would help others have a place if they were able. All we have done since being at Bethel is to celebrate the diversity that we have been given. I tell them I’m just the son of a poor white pig farmer and logger from the hills of Oregon. I don’t know anything about political correctness or ethnic prejudice. All I know how to do is learn from those that are different than me and celebrate their uniqueness.

Each group is autonomous, we honor each Pastor as if he were a visiting dignitary. We sometimes attend their services, and we invite them to special events we hold. In the summer we do a big “All Churches” potluck in the backyard and at Thanksgiving we invite all the ministries to join us for a Thanksgiving meal that we want to look somewhat like the first thanksgiving, but more like heaven. We try to find ways to be with them and to honor who they are and what they bring to the Kingdom.

We are in process right now to find at least 2 other congregations that can help us share the expenses of an off-campus facility so we can launch another church plant. One in the morning, one at mid-day, one in the evening. Each with a mid-week slot, and if we can pull it off a coffee shop during the week and Karaoke and Open Mic events on the weekends.

All I can say in regards to building for all cultures is, don’t ignore the differences, celebrate them. Find a way to showcase the things that are not you. We won’t be happy until we have every flag represented in every service. Bethel means House of God, we believe intended it for all nations.