"God is involved in a lot of ways in hurricane Katrina," said Seth Pruitt, the worship leader at Ethnos. "God is sovereign. He allowed Katrina to occur. In allowing it to occur, He has a plan beyond my understanding. Maybe it is to open people's eyes to the importance of compassion, now that the hurricane has come and gone. Or it reminds us of the frailty of human life. It may help people see the acts of evil and selfishness that exist under the surface of our civilization. Ultimately, why God allowed it to happen, I don't know.
"I do know that God does not delight in the suffering of people," said Pruitt. "He is intimately aware of every person He's created. It doesn't please Him when people die. Personally, I don't think God is pouring out His wrath on the city. All the wrath of God, the Father's wrath, was poured out on His Son. God is very gracious in his dealing with us. Everyone has been given a time to accept His grace and we can avoid His wrath if we accept it. This is hard love. I know it isn't much comfort to someone who lost their children in the hurricane. I grieve with [the people who experienced loss]."
A number of Christian groups have said the hurricane was a form of punishment from God. The Columbia Christians for Life said that the storm was God's way of punishing Louisiana for having ten abortion clinics and to prevent Southern Decadence, a gay-themed bash, planned for Labor Day weekend. Another group, Repent America, stated, "Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city. From 'Girls Gone Wild' to 'Southern Decadence,' New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. May it never be the same."
Pastor Yucan Chiu disagreed with the responses from these groups. "I think it is presumptuous to determine what God's motives are. Unless we have a direct revelation from God, Christians shouldn't say those kinds of things." Pastor Chiu added, "The amazing thing is that God hasn't done this to all of us. Sin has distorted creation and the human heart." Yucan said this is why he wants people to hear about Jesus, who provides forgiveness for sin.
Ethnos is Greek for an ethnic people group. Central to Ethnos' vision is to reach a variety of ethnic communities. "In the UTC area, there are 40 languages spoken at the local elementary school," said Pastor Chiu. "We want to help people realize that Jesus is unique and culturally relevant to all people." Chiu said he is intentional in his outreach to numerous cultures. In Ethnos' membership class, time is spent on multicultural training. Chiu cited numerous Bible passages, such as Galatians 3:8, which emphasized God's desire to reach all people. "People are attracted to Ethnos because of our multicultural vision, so they come knowing and wanting to experience many cultures. We are a real mix, which includes low-income families, Ethiopians, Gypsies. I'm a Chinese pastor; we have a white worship leader, and we often sing worship songs in Spanish."
"Multiracial churches honor God," said Seth Pruitt. "God put it on the heart of Pastor Chiu to pursue a multiracial church, and he has been obedient. It isn't something that can be programmed." I asked Pruitt why more churches don't have multicultural success. "It's hard enough to come together and reach out in faith to a God who is unseen. Then, add to this the discomfort of multiracial services. For many it's too much." Seth Pruitt believes it is sin to not pursue diversity. "It is a falling short of what God has intended. Whenever we fall short, it is sin. [Christians] need to pray and search the scriptures to inform us of God's heart for all people. Ask God to teach us His heart to make a practical difference because we need to reach all people." Pruitt mentioned cultural changes he has brought into worship. "I've been studying Indian music at http://Aradhna.com to bring in some of these elements. We use a sitar in the worship music. We sing songs in other languages, or we have had Ethiopians perform a song."
Last Thursday I attended a midweek Ethnos community group. The community group met to discuss different characteristics of Jesus. The group sat on couches and chairs in Seth and Courtney Pruitt's living room. After introductions, the women and men split for a time of accountability and prayer. In the men's group, men who requested accountability wished to discuss pornography, relationship problems, and work. Seth Pruitt asked the group to pray for him, that he would be a better witness to a coworker in the office. A college student asked for prayer for depression. The student desired to feel closer to God. After everyone spoke, the group prayed for each other. When the women returned, Steven Lee, the facilitator, requested that the group spend the remainder of the evening in prayer about the hurricane Katrina.
I asked Seth Pruitt what happens to the people who died in the hurricane. "The person who dies without Christ will face God's wrath," replied Pruitt. "Christians who die go to a new life with God. They go to a new creation that Jesus is preparing for us called heaven."