A year ago, I was asked to write an article about cross-cultural ministry and relationships (yes, it took that long!). Realising both the importance and delicate nature of such a discussion, my wife and I met up with two dear families that we have the privilege of serving with and calling friends. The two are American families serving in Zambia, and we figured it would be good to get their perspective on the joys and challenges of serving in a cross-cultural setup, while giving them ours. The thoughts you will find in the next two articles are a product of that discussion. I will attempt to address the joys and end with the challenges in the following write up.
Cross-cultural ministry relationships display the beauty of unity in diversity.
From the inception of the church, unity was to be pursued amid diversity. The Jews were not called to establish Jewish Baptist Church nor the Gentiles to establish Gentile Evangelical Church. They were to become one body and one family in Christ and live and work together in harmony. In many ways, cross-cultural ministry presents people with an excellent opportunity to display their oneness in Christ even amid great cultural diversity. There is something remarkable about people who have naturally have reason working together, developing genuine loving relationships and uniting for the cause of Jesus.
Cross-cultural ministry relationships help prevent cultural Christianity
The opposite of unity in diversity is cultural Christianity. It is behavioural and merely outward. It is conformity rather than transforming. It is the pursuit of sameness rather than unity. This is a version of Christianity that knowingly or unknowingly becomes a product of its culture and tradition. The end result of such Christianity is that everyone acts the same. Diversity is frowned upon. They want everyone to comb their hair the same, to have the same taste in music and have the same taste of fashion, etc. This kind of Christianity is big on building camps and kingdoms. They are quick to highlight and point out those who are different and usually anything different is viewed with suspicion. Developing cross-cultural ministry relationships helps you to differentiate between merely cultural norms and actual biblical mandates.
Cross-cultural ministry relationships build a mutual partnership.
Building meaningful cross-cultural relationships that are founded on oneness in Christ will lead to mutual partnerships in ministry. People will see each other as brothers and sisters who are called to build each other in the most holy faith. It is not the relationship of the horse and the rider, no superiority or inferiority complexes. It is not a one-way relationship where one group of people does the teaching, and a different group of people does the learning. It causes people to see each other as partners in the harvest. It causes people to realise that the plans and kingdom of God are bigger than them and their little region, and they get to play a part in the grand scheme of God’s eternal plans.
Cross-cultural ministry relationships produce rounded mature believers
There is something about knowing and relating to people from a different cultural background that helps you think through issues in a different light. As one learns of the different situations and ways of thinking of different people. As you learn and see the different issues from other people’s point of view and learn the different challenges different people face, it gives a deeper appreciation of what God is doing in His church. In some ways, it also helps you understand some cultural aspects of Scripture. One brother mentioned how coming to Zambia helped him develop an understanding of certain portions of Scripture, such as the mourning process in the book of Job and the gospel accounts of Jesus being pressed by a crowd. Attending an African funeral and going to one of the big open markets gave him a visible illustration of those passages of Scripture.
Cross-cultural ministry helps raise children with a balanced view of life and the church
Children raised in a culturally diverse church or context tend to have a broader or balanced outlook on the world and Christianity. The exposure to different ways of life and seeing the application of biblical truth in a diverse group of people will often prevent them from narrow-mindedness. When they observe the unity amid diversity, they grow up to appreciate and even embrace diversity. Is it any wonder that children raised on the mission field often struggle to identify with both the country of origin and the country they grew up in. That is, in many ways, an illustration of how cross-cultural relationships can shape one’s perspective of their lives, the church and their world.
Cross-cultural ministry presents many blessings. It gives a foretaste of glory divine when all tongues, tribes and nations will gather and worship the lamb who was slain. It provides a powerful opportunity for God’s people to display the love and unity of Christ before a watching and bemused world at this anomaly of unity amid diversity.