By Cameron Arensen

“Same, same… but different.” This phrase came back to me as I stood, coffee cup in hand, chatting with new friends.

The phrase? It is a useful one for those of us who live in a country other than our own; especially a country where English is not the only language being used. Hold up a garment you want duplicated by a local tailor (or a part in a hardware store) and say, “Same, same!” It works almost every time. Of course, if you want some alterations to the original, you add, “Same, same…but different.” That also works…some of the time.

My setting? I was in Beijing, China attending a conference for pastors and leaders of international churches in China. I live in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where I have served as pastor of an international church for more than 20 years. Different region, different culture, different setting, and yet as I listened to the experiences and challenges of these leaders, the phrase fit: Same, same… but different.

Let me start with the differences. Every international church is different from every other international church. The local politics and national and city settings are different. The demography of the expatriate population in each city varies, as well as the demographic (and sometimes denominational) make-up of each congregation. The history of each church is different, which affects the unique personality of a congregation and its values. The sizes of the congregations also vary, from small fellowships of less than 100 worshipers to congregations numbering in the thousands.

Yet, every time I spend time with pastors and leaders of other international churches, I am impressed by the “same, same” we share. Certain common themes emerge; diversity, transience, complexity, venue challenges, and constantly changing government regulations set by governments that are ambivalent about if not hostile to the presence of Christian churches. Yet all these challenges are offset by a recognition of the incredible opportunities for kingdom impact that lie all about us.

I love interacting with other international church pastors and leaders, because they understand my world and I understand theirs. These are my true peers. They “get” both the challenges and the opportunities of the international church. For ten years, I have been part of the Missional International Church Network. I have attended all but one of the MICN conferences and for the last three years I have been part of the leadership team. This year we met in China for our annual leadership meeting. We chose Beijing for two reasons. We are considering holding our annual MICN conference in Beijing in 2014 and we wanted to check it out before we made our final decision. We also wanted to build new bridges with the international churches within China, so we scheduled our meetings to coincide with their annual International Fellowship conference.

Our time in China was a success on all fronts. The IF conference was a great time for making new friends and sharing our “same, same…but different” experiences. We decided that Beijing would make a great venue for our 2014 MICN conference (thanks in large part to the generous offers of assistance by the Beijing International Christian Fellowship leaders). Our MICN leadership meetings were the best yet, as we continued to discuss and sharpen our focus and laid the plans for a great 10th anniversary MICN conference in Kuwait in April, 2013. For more details of those plans, look at the Conference information on this website. If you are a pastor or leader of an international church, we really hope you will make the effort to join us in Kuwait (and in Beijing in 2014!) so that we can share together in this “same, same…but different” journey.

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