Bridge Building: The Time Is Now
by Adrian Williams
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, accompanied by nationwide protest, I believe that our country is coming to grips with an unsettling truth—we are a nation of many colors and hues, varied socioeconomic backgrounds, and places of origin, but we don’t really know each other. Sure, we may be more familiar with those with whom we share cultural norms, economic status, and those who look like us, but as those similarities decrease so does our familiarity with who they really are. Thus, we need to bridge those divides.
Bridges are fascinating because they are designed to bring things together—land masses, roads, and people. I have found my life as a Christian to be exciting for the very same reason, because now I get to be a bridge builder for Christ. Of course, Jesus is the only mediator between God and man (see 1 Timothy 2:5); but, acting under his authority, Christians have the privilege of building bridges also.
What kind of bridges can we build today? Christians and non-Christians alike often have barriers that keep us from experiencing that intimacy with Christ and each other. Just as Jesus left Heaven to come and mingle with the sinful world, he has left us with the glorious task of creatively penetrating our world with the good news. In a sense, there may never be a time when we are more like Jesus than when we are bridging those cultural gaps with the gospel.
From Surviving to Thriving
Few people know the importance of bridges like those of us who live here in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area. So much of the credit for our thriving metropolis is due to the nine bridges that cross the Ohio River, taking citizens across the river and back. One of the reasons Cincinnati is home to so many Fortune 500 companies is because of the ease of air transportation both in and out of the city, which in turn is facilitated by the Greater Cincinnati International Airport. With the airport actually being in Kentucky, we have to cross one of the bridges to get there.
Northern Kentucky is a booming area as well. In fact, it is the wealthiest part of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. [https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2017/05/19/richest-towns-ohio-and-kentucky-both-tristate/330985001/]
The economic engine that fuels this area is aided by the jobs and industries that Fortune 500 companies bring to the region. In other words, the same bridges that have made Cincinnati a desirable locale for commerce are the same ones that allow many of our neighbors to the south to come across and earn a good living.
Now mind you, both cities were there before the bridges were ever built, using water transportation to go back and forth. However, with the building of the bridges they went from merely surviving to thriving.
Building Bridges of Understanding
For the same reasons the bridges crossing the Ohio were constructed, we must also strive to build our own. These are not made of material but of relationships. I have spent my life being a bridge builder of understanding, seeking to bridge that ever-present cultural/racial divide. I have done it by both sharing my story and encouraging others to share their stories with me. When we share our stories it gives others a glimpse into who we are, what we think, and why we think and behave as we do. It opens up avenues of understanding that we otherwise would not have. More importantly, sharing our stories creates a deeper level of trust, the kind of trust that is at the foundation of all great relationships. I consider the bridge building that I do as my cross-cultural ministry.
The Master Bridge Builder
Jesus is the greatest bridge builder. He has done this kind of project before, turning a dividing fence between the Jews and Gentiles into a uniting bridge. In fact, Jesus is our bridge! Through his death, he has reconciled us to each other and to God.
The apostle Paul proclaimed in Ephesians 2:14, “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us” (NLT).
In his introduction to the book of Ephesians in The Message, author Eugene Peterson writes,
“Jesus is eternally and tirelessly bringing everything and everyone together. . . . The energy of reconciliation is the dynamo at the heart of the universe.”
You do not have to look far in the New Testament before you discover examples of Jesus promoting unity and building relationships with traditional first-century outsider groups. In John 4, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at the ancient water cooler, the well of Jacob. He reached out to a Samaritan whom Jews ostracized during ancient times. Despite this, Jesus provided her an offer of everlasting water. We are called to be like Jesus at the well.
Gospel Bridge Builders
In his book, Galatians for You, noted theologian and best-selling author Tim Keller shares:
“We politely sit by ‘those other people’ in church, but we won’t ‘eat’ with them; we won’t really become friends with them. We won’t socialize with them, sharing our lives and homes and things with them. We will keep relationships formal and see them at official church meetings only.
All this comes from not living in line with the gospel. Without the gospel, our hearts have to manufacture self-esteem by comparing our group with other groups. But the gospel tells us we are all unclean without Christ, and all clean in Him.”
We are not to value another’s worth as the world does. We have Christ and we have the gospel—that’s what makes the difference! As followers of Christ, our role in our neighborhoods, towns, states, and world is to be bridge builders, uniting groups across all barriers. Part of unmasking the prejudices that create those barriers is actually getting to personally know those on the other side of the chasm.
Bridges aren’t built by accident or happenstance; they are built with intentionality. Let’s be intentional in reaching out to others who are not like us. Let’s be intentional with our friendships, moving out of our comfort zones and seeing ourselves as bridge builders. Who’s with me?
Adrian Williams has been a member of Christ’s Church for three years. As a founding member of the John Maxwell Leadership Team, certified executive coach, facilitator, and speaker, discipleship is his passion.