Archive for cross-cultural
Over the past weeks I have been busy with travel, meetings, and a writing project. I am expecting news to be available on the writing project soon, but it is under wraps for now. I can share that my writing has involved a good amount of research which has turned up all kinds of interesting things as usual. One of those, I wanted to go ahead and pass along. It is a video of Caesar Kalinowski, one of the planters and elders of Soma Communities. He has spent time learning from missionaries about the process of storying with pre-literates and now is advocating use of story with post-literates.
Storying has potential application in urban centers among nationals and what some may consider an emerging people group of transnationals–people that are more at home in international cities than they would be in smaller towns or villages among people that share a language and cultural background. I have used elements of storying with post-literates among multiple cultures and feel like this deserves more trial both in the U.S. and among the nations.
Last night my wife was helping a friend that has recently begun seeking to learn and live the ways of Christ. During their time together, my wife mentioned the Jewish people. In reply, our friend shared that she had heard the word Jew before, but had no idea what it meant. None.
This kind mother of four is, for several months now, seeking to teach her children to follow Christ. She is recently characterized by sharing the hope that she has because of Christ with others in her neighborhood. But she did not have a bit of knowledge about the Jewish people, the nation of Israel or any of their history either in Scripture or modern day.
Realizing this made me aware that I need to slow down and back up in my expectations of what others know. Seems like a good idea with her to now “start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” Also, our realization last night made me thankful that we are called to make disciples that obey everything Christ commanded, not disciples that are simply chock full of knowledge.
This video quickly illustrates some of the cultural differences between a western mindset and what is the uniqueness of Russia. This provides a funny look at some extremes in culture, but also serves as a reminder of some of the challenges that lay ahead in seeking to do business as mission in a foreign context.
“Who am I?” and “Who do you think I am?” This seemingly innocuous issue seems to minimize and sideline an inordinate number of would-be missionaries and ministers. Identity is something that has been thought about, debated over and written on copiously over the centuries. The Greek maxim on this account, “know thyself” illustrates the importance and difficulty of settling this point.
I have spoken with pastors that share they don’t want their neighbors to find out what they do early in the relationship as it will impact the direction the conversation goes–or keep it from going anywhere. When pursuing an incarnational presence as profession in a missionary context, the questions and conversations can become even more bizarre. Not having the conversation makes this even worse as nationals can only speculate as to what secret governmental agency someone who simply studies language for x number of years could possibly be doing living in their country.
When entering a new context, a person needs to be prepared to answer the inevitable questions that point to who are you? The inquiries may be in various forms such as: What do you do?; Where are you from?; Where do your kids go to school?; What are your interests?; etc. This question will largely be informed by who have you been. Some may push for the opportunity or right to erase a person’s digital history–good luck with that. In the digital world, who you have been will lead to conclusions of who you are or what you may still be about.
It has often been said that “the way you go in is the way you stay on.” Identity should be dealt with even before early in the process. Communication in this area needs to fit who you were, who you are and who you are seeking to become. Your story is so much of your gospel presentation…those committed to modeling the presence of Christ must seek to tell it in a way that is both credible and understandable.
If God’s desire was only for a small, homogenous group to live in obedience to Him, the Old Testament would have been significantly different. For example, no mention or model would be found in Melchizedek. Neither Ruth nor Rahab would play a special role. The Ninevites would be left to their own devices and certain peril. Other altered stories would have included Balaam, Nebuchadnezzar and Darius.
If His plan was for only a select number from one ethnolinguistic people group in one geographic area to walk in the transforming love of Christ, then the New Testament would be radically altered–even more so than the Old Testament. If God’s desire was not for the nations, then Jesus would have dismissed the woman at the well, the Syro-phoenician woman, the Roman centurion and the thief on the cross. He would not have pointed to a good Samaritan as the hero in the story. The day of Pentecost would not have included God-fearing Jews from every nation. Peter would have had to refuse the invitation of Cornelius. Philip would not have stepped into the chariot with the Egyptian official. Paul would not have written his letters to the churches, as none would be outside of Jerusalem. He never would have gone to the Philippian jailer’s home because he never would have traveled to Philippi as a missionary called and sent out by the church in Antioch. And the church in Antioch would have looked nothing like it did. Jesus would not have spoken to the seven churches in Asia Minor. There would be no record in Revelation of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and in front of the lamb” wearing white robes, worshipping God.
These stories and others similar in nature are still with us. They are recorded in the Bible. The reason for this is simple. These stories are key to the plan of God. Removing the above stories would cause the loss of some incredible tales–a huge fish swallowing a man, a talking donkey, a sheet coming out of heaven filled with animals of all kinds, potential jail breaks and so much more. But if these stories were to be removed, it would alter history and eternity forever. The story of redemption would be incomplete. Stories such as that of Rahab and Ruth are more than interesting. The love of God demonstrated to these two ladies from other nations is key to the genealogy of Christ. Following His birth, the Messiah is visited and worshipped by humble, pungent shepherds from nearby and by wealthy dignitaries from the East, possibly from modern day countries like Iraq, Iran or Jordan. Even in the Christmas story God makes clear that He sent Jesus for the entire range of the socioeconomic scale and for the nations. The vast, far-reaching plan of God begins to unfold both prior to and following the coming of the Savior.
At the burning bush, Moses received instruction to go back to Egypt. Jonah learned that he was to go to the city of Nineveh. Philip left a movement of God, compelled to go into the desert. Paul, unable to go into Asia Minor, made a beeline for Philippi. God sent these men to these select places. The instruction was clear and direct, though each heard Him speak in a unique way.
When the church prepares to do mission, there are several key questions to ask. The first is, “To whom are we sent?” It is important before moving out to know where and to what people the Spirit is sending His people.
The people to whom we are sent may be similar to us like in the situation with Paul and the Philippians. Perhaps there will be some marked differences in language, culture and station such as with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. It is possible that we may be called to a people that we have disdain for according to the story of Jonah–though it seems a wrong understanding of the heart of God and his resulting disobedience greatly impacted his view of the situation and his fish bait outcome. It is possible that the Spirit will send us back to a people we have left as happens in the story of Moses going back to his own in Egypt.
It is a blessing to serve the sovereign God who, in advance, prepares good works for us to do. He is the one that sends us out. Because of this, before setting out on mission, a people will do well to seek God to learn from him: To whom are we sent?
A few days ago I returned from almost two weeks of travel in the beautiful and often rugged Balkan peninsula where I was privileged to meet with many nationals and expats. It was a time for encouragement and challenge as well as being encouraged and challenged. Thank you to each of you who were a blessing to me along the way!
Through my time, explorations and many conversations there, the vast Balkan history that is at times sublime and at other times horrifying, became both clearer and more complex. While a number of things about the area merit discussion, two things stood out to me.
First, there seems to be a pervasive hatred that runs throughout the land and countries that comprise the area. I think it may be possible to find out what country a person is in or what ethnic group one may be communicating with by asking the question, “Who do you hate?” Surprising enough, the question may not even have to be asked. Upon leaving Greece I shared with the national TSA equivalent that I had traveled in Macedonia which seemingly played a part in me being questioned repeatedly by two different agents as well as dual pat downs and triple examination of my baggage.
Second, the need for the hope of Christ is as pervasive as the hatred. While I had the privilege of meeting with many national and expat church planters as well as purposed NGOs, there were so many cities and towns where the Good News is not being proclaimed. At a time when economic, political and ethnic unrest are challenging the stability of the area, there is enormous need for the Kingdom of God to be proclaimed in the land of the Balkans. I am thankful for those who are about this task now and am praying for you!
May God bless these wonderfully diverse peoples. (BTW – I’ll be posting a few pics from some highlights there soon on my FB account.)
A friend of mine, Billy Mitchell, is now asking this question passionately and often. Why this question and why now? Having just returned from being in St. Petersburg, Russia for a week, he comes back to his normal, everyday context disoriented in the best of ways. Likely still challenged with jet-lag, he is envisioning, scheming, plotting (whatever you want to call it) ways to get back to the people in Russia. Also, he is looking to connect with the Russian community in St. Pete, FL. He is now known as the Russia guy because he talks about it so much.
He is leading his family in pursuing global agility as they seek to find ways to be able to make disciples of other nations. This includes pursuing a passport from Canada for his wife and now praying that his children marry people from other countries. Yes…he is praying for his children to marry people from other countries as he seeks to lead his family to have what Billy calls global agility—being able to move around freely in pursuit of being obedient to Acts 1:8.
Billy is where he is because he was where he was. Use of his passport to go to another people is now helping him to see things in a different way with a heightened passion. If individuals or the church are going to think and act like a missionary, then it is worth pursuing opportunities to be in a completely different culture where you begin to see things in a different way. The end result may be a new or renewed passion to reach people in another land and/or to reach those in your community. But immersing yourself in a cross-cultural situation will change you—I believe for the better.
One pastor, J.D. Greear, has made this a part of membership requirements at his church because he believes so strongly in the call we have to the nations. Why does he make this a requirement? Perhaps because he invested a couple years of his life in another part of the world sharing the hope of Christ.
Billy writes: “Can you live out Acts 1:8 without a passport? Sure, but why would you want to?” I agree. Get a passport and use it. It may make a difference in the lives of many people. It will definitely impact you.
Sometime recently (my days are running together both figuratively and literally right now) I went over to meet one of my new neighbors. Walking toward his porch, I see soap suds and water flowing freely. Turning the corner I see Gus with a stiff, soapy brush and the water hose giving Jesus a good scrub. Yes, he was washing the grime and dirt off of Jesus. In spite of the fact that his Jesus had either a party hat or a horn coming out of his head–it didn’t seem appropriate to do a micro-examination of his Jesus statue when we were exchanging names and pleasantries–what surprised me most was his attentive, diligent concern for cleaning Jesus.
I have been in his home briefly twice already and his sons helped move some furniture. Gus is already showing himself to be a person of piece. More on this in the future as we are days away from moving in among a people who scrub their Jesus.