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March 24, 2011

Sweden: Celebrating Diversity

The Mongolian congregation at New Life is going strong and builds each month. There are several other such groups meeting in New Life, from Russians to Ethiopians. "The goal is to be together in one fellowship, not divided up according to culture or language.”

  • Sweden's Diversity

    The diversity of New Life Church mirrors the fact that 20 percent of Sweden's residents are immigrants.

  • Many Groups Together

    There are several groups that meet at New Life Church, including Mongolians, Russians, and Ethiopians.

  • Growing Community

    Multiple housing developments are going up around the New Life Church, which will provide many new outreach opportunities.

The Mongolian congregation at New Life is going strong and builds each month. “On a given Sunday, you will see 35 Mongolians at New Life out of a network of more than 100 because many work in restaurants on Sunday,” said Pastor John van Dinther.

“They already have six cell groups among them. We hear stories that this same thing is happening among Mongolians outside of their nation wherever they gather in the world. It seems to be God’s time for the Mongolians.”

There are several other such groups meeting in New Life, from Russians to Ethiopians. The growth is so prominent among these groups that TEAM missionary Beth Webster notes that focus must be kept on the Swedes in the city that need to be reached. “The proportion of Swedes to internationals was about 65% / 35% in 2004 when we came, but it is nearer 50% / 50% now, and we want to be careful not to lose more Swedes by putting too much emphasis on the non-Swedish groups," she said. "The goal is to be together in one fellowship, not divided up according to culture or language.”

Founding member of New Life Stockholm and church planter in Göteborg, Hasse Persson, believes that New Life must remain “a Swedish church with a strong international profile that is open to people from all kinds of backgrounds not just ethnics or coming from different countries but socially coming from different kinds of lifestyles and situations.”

This sentiment is echoed by Swedish pastor, Kjell Waern. “We have been able to create a culture that is welcoming; receiving people as they are,” he said. “Language and cultural barriers that are prevalent in society are much lower here. We welcome the refugee as much as the doctor, the addict as much as the businessman, the criminal as much as the social worker…" Pastor John van Dinther thinks of New Life as a reflection of heaven here on the earth as the church represents the multi-ethnic and mixed social statuses of people in the kingdom of God. This blending also reflects the society in Stockholm making the church relevant to the community. “It is a beautiful picture of the church because some people might be weak in some areas but they have so much to give in other areas, and others who seem to be doing well – well established, well educated and well paid – will have other issues. It is a beautiful blend but a tremendous challenge to the Church.”

The diversity experienced at New Life Church in Stockholm is a vision shared by the first new church planted in Göteborg. Elder, and member of the church planting team, Tatyana Yurchenko is originally from Ukraine. She works along side team members from Norway, Indonesia, Hungary and Nigeria. A large port city on the southwest coast of Sweden, Göteborg is a gateway for people coming from all over the world to this wealthy and open society. Work, education, healthcare, civil rights – everything, except maybe the winter weather, attracts masses of people from many different countries. Göteborg is a church in transition as leadership is being turned over from the church planting team to a local pastor and elders. The church has also completed a big renovation project turning an old building used as an infirmary for soldiers into a modern multipurpose church building complete with a café for Swedish fika (coffee and conversation) nights. According to Tatyana, Göteborg wants to follow the vision of New Life Stockholm reflecting the multi-cultural character of Sweden’s major cities along with a vision of God’s multi-ethnic church. “We work hard to make everyone feel at home; it is like home here,” she said.

Part of creating a welcoming environment is discipling new believers. Amy Maxcy decided to come to Sweden after reading the Websters' story in Horizons. She is focused on training cell group leaders and encouraging new believers to grow so that new people can be received and cared for in the church.

Hasse Persson is optimistic about the growth of the new church. “I really believe that this building will not be able to hold all the people in a very short time,” Hasse said. One promising sign is the growth of the surrounding area. The church building once stood in an empty field just on the outskirts of the city center. Now hundreds of apartments are being constructed around the site. The sound of heavy equipment and construction workers encircles the building continuously. Soon it will be the buzz of a new community; a Swedish community with a strong international profile. Sounds like the kind of place where New Life needs to be.

-Written by Ray Scott
-Photography by Robert Johnson

[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, March 2011]

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