This article is from Sept/Oct 2004 YouthWorker Journal ~
"There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America… there's the United States of America." - Barack Obama, July 27, 2004 Democratic National Convention

His words electrified many Americans. People all over the country were excited. Some even hailed this young (43), charismatic, African-American (father is Kenyan), probable-Senator (less than three weeks before the campaign deadline he was running unopposed) as a future President of our country. His "we are one people" message touched the hearts of many and was described as one of the greatest keynote addresses in Democratic Party Convention history.

Politics aside, I appreciated the sentiment of his statement. However, sometimes the message can get lost in the moment, and reality can be muddled in the excitement at hand. Sure, we stand under the allegiance to the stars and stripes. Sure, in a sense, we're all "one people" as Barack Obama stated, and as Christians we're called to work to make that sentiment a reality. Even so, we must never lose sight of the great diversity that comprises this great nation.

Youth workers are no exception. The reality of multi-ethnic and global youth ministry is at hand, and it will likely become even more so in the future. As Christians and youth workers called to go to the ends of the earth, we must understand the magnitude and breadth of this new landscape and the ways to minister to our multi-ethnic and global youth culture. This will serve to help us fulfill the Great Commission in our local church context and for God's universal kingdom.

Youth Ministry Across Culture

Youth ministry, by definition, is a ministry across culture. Sociologists talk about adolescent culture, in youth ministry settings we sometimes call it youth culture, and in the last issue of YouthWorker Journal, it was called the "emerging global culture." With the ever-growing and far-reaching global influence of media and marketing, youth culture is becoming somewhat more uniform throughout the country and the world.

My recent mission trip to Kenya was enlightening—even in the poorest of slums and direst conditions, we saw students wearing Tommy Hilfiger and GAP clothing. Then, when our youth group was playing this game called "Big Booty" (don't ask me how this game got started) to kill some time, even the Kenyans from the most remote parts of the country knew what we were talking about and joined us in the laughter and fun.

Although there may be a likeness within the global youth culture, many have failed to realize that there are great differences among teens from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. In other words, the term "youth culture" doesn't adequately describe or classify the whole population.

This was never more evident than in some USA Today articles from the past year. In a March 2004 article, it was pointed out that by 2050, "white" America will comprise only 50 percent of the total population, down from 69 percent in 2000, and 90 percent in 1950. It goes on to note that "the profound demographic shifts promise to redefine American society at every level, from ethnic make-up of suburban neighborhoods to public education." Similarly, in a May 2003 article, it discusses the transformation of many American cities into ethnically diverse cities, comparing a page from a high school yearbook in 1954 to 2002. Moreover, it notes that this diversity is no longer limited to the large cities of the Northeast; it has reached the "suburbs of the Sun Belt" as well. In other words, ethnic and cultural diversity will be coming, or has come, to a town near you.