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Traditional Huntsville church finds new lifecomment (0)

May 26, 2011

By Lindsey Robinson

As churches celebrated the Resurrection on Easter, one Huntsville church experienced a rebirth of its own — from a missions-minded church to a fully functioning multiethnic, multicultural church in Alabama. And it’s still Baptist.

In a packed sanctuary on Easter, Pastor Larry Inman led the debut of All Nations Church, formerly Hillsboro Heights Baptist Church, in front of more than 350 attendees representing about a dozen countries.

“There were people from all tribes and nations. It was incredible,” Inman said. “It was everything we hoped it could be, and more.”

World flags dotted the stage and the church hummed with excitement as seven new believers were baptized. “Amazing” and “wow” was the general feedback for what was called a “Celebration of the Future,” Inman said.

“We believe it’s the beginning of a real revival. We’re totally dependent on God,” he said. “We’re really out on the water.”

As one of its first acts as a multicultural church, All Nations’ Laotian-Thai mission church, which was led by Pastor Aaron Phangnivong, joined with its “mother” church.

Inman announced that Phangnivong, who grew up in Laos and speaks five languages, will be All Nations Church’s full-time minister of missions.

“It’s supposed to be like this,” Phangnivong said. “That’s what it says in the Bible — all nations.”

The rebirth of All Nations reflects Huntsville’s ethnic diversity and God’s call for the church to accept its expanding community, Inman said. Transitioning the church from its Caucasian roots to its new international focus began several years ago when the church decided to stay in its community and not relocate. The church, with Inman and Harold Webb, the chairman of the deacon body, formed a transition team in the fall of 2010 to re-identify the church.  

As transition team chairman, Webb was responsible for changing signs, stationary and every scrap of insignia from Hillsboro Heights Baptist to All Nations.

“Everything has to be changed when you change a church’s name,” Webb said.  

A member since 1961, Webb saw Hillsboro Heights grow, mature and slowly age until it lost touch with the influx of immigration and industry in Huntsville.

“We were going to have to do something or we were going to die,” Webb said.  

So Inman and Webb, along with Madison Baptist Association Director of Missions Harold Sellers and their wives, visited The International Church in Norcross, Ga., in August 2010 to gain insight into several issues, such as how to make the language difference work, Inman said.

Sellers hopes more churches in Alabama will follow All Nations’ example.

“We have other churches here that need to do the same thing,” he said. “It’s the Great Commission. We’re going into all the world in this church, in this county.”

All Nations church already looks like a miniature missions conference, Sellers said. On Sundays, a few Laotian members who can’t speak English wear U.N.-style earpieces during the service. As they sit in the pew and watch Inman’s lips move, they hear his sermon simultaneously translated into Laotian.  

It’s another hurdle jumped in terms of unifying the church despite language and cultural barriers. There are plans to translate the sermon into other languages, including Spanish, Inman said.   

Off the top of his head, Inman can rattle off a list of countries — Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Guam, Vietnam, Uganda, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras — represented at All Nations. It’s not a complete list, he said.

To Inman, who has led the church since 2006, the true merit of the church is that its members were willing to embrace a shift so radical it warranted changing the church’s name. In other cases, an established church like Hillsboro Heights would simply leave its community instead of opening itself to an entirely new mission.

But the open minds and hearts of his congregation are what makes All Nations Church possible, Inman wrote in an e-mail just before his Easter sermon.  

“The bigger story in all of this is this: that a 55-year-old congregation would be willing to do this!” he said.

With its promising Easter beginning, Inman believes All Nations is on the right track. He knows there will be barriers to overcome, but the reward is well worth the effort.

“We realize the missions field has come to our door,” he said. “We want this church to reflect what we think heaven’s going to be.”

For more information about All Nations Church, visit http://www.all-nations-church.net.

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