Ministry in Cross-Cultural Contexts (3 of 3)
Mark Yarbrough:Welcome to DTS Dialogue - Issues of God in Culture. I'm your host, Mark Yarbrough, executive director of communications at Dallas Theological Seminary. And today our discussion topic is, "Ministry in Cross-Cultural Contexts". Specifically, we want to raise awareness of how cultural differences affect ministry.
Just changing gears again, I want to go back to... Scott used a word a minute ago, and it is a buzzword, at least probably in our Western culture: community. How can we distinguish community from culture? Are they synonymous? Are they words that are related, or is community part of culture? Anyone want to field that one?
Dr. Mark Young:Well, perhaps in the discipline, academic discipline, of culture anthropology, we make a distinction between society, as a defined group of people, and culture, as a way of life for those people. So if by community you mean some group of people that has self-identity, then technically we would make a distinction between a community and their way of life, meaning their culture. Now, obviously, cultures are parts of communities; communities express culture, so there's not a separation phenomenologically. Albeit, our tendency would be to try to separate it definitionally, or in terms of being able to talk about it analytically or academically.
Dr. J. Scott Horrell: My question, though, Mark, is it possible to have a multicultural community?
Mark Young:Oh, definitely. Yeah. And I think that the same way that you would say there are multicultural societies, so you can go a few miles from the Seminary, for example, and you can find pockets of cultural distinctiveness based on ethnic identity. All a part of a geological - or geographical, that's the word - geographical community, defined by a space. And again, you can define these words fluidly; so you can go to a church, you can have a community of believers; and within that, you have different people who express linguistically or behaviorally their love for Christ.
My church, for example: we have a church community; we have two very distinct cultures worshiping in that community, one Hispanic, one Anglo. We also have a fellowship of Chinese folk who meet; they sing in Chinese, they pray in Chinese, they worship in Chinese, they know Christ in Chinese. They choose, as well, to be a part of our Anglo community, and for various functions or activities we're together; the same way with our Hispanic congregation. So multiple communities within a broader community, multiple cultures within a broader community, that's very possible. And interestingly enough, the first place that those who had confessed Jesus were identified as Christ followers - meaning Christians - was in the only, or the first, multicultural community of believers that we see in the Scripture, in the city of Antioch.
So I think there's something intrinsically missional, intrinsically Christ-like, in people from multiple ethnic groups coming together and confessing Jesus as the identifying point, the identifying element, of who they are. You couldn't call them Jews, and you couldn't call them Greeks; so the only option was to call them Christ followers. Isn't that marvelous?
Victor Anderson:I don't know if it would pass in an anthropological exam, but I tend to at least, just thinking casually about the difference between culture and community, I see culture as something that we really don't choose, a lot; we're in it, we become part of it. It's almost just a default. Community is often something that we choose to be involved in. I recently relocated to Dallas, and so I had to choose a community in which to locate my house, choose a house that was in a community. And there are some things that we have in common. It's not a real close community, but it is a community, because we share schools, and certain resources, and property owner dues in common.
The church community is one that is very intentionally chosen by people who say, "I want to join with this group of believers, this group of people." So perhaps part of the answer to your question there, Mark, is that there is certainly differences in culture and community, but one is probably that the community element we're, I would think, much more conscious of, and much more intentional about the kinds of communities that we become part of.
Scott:I would say community is relationship above all else. And I think that's why we feel, wherever we go in the world, we may have a complete language and cultural barrier, yet when somebody else loves the Lord, and we love the Lord as well, there is that - at least in my experience - kind of that instantaneous bond. You know you are related, and you're related through the head of the body, Jesus Christ.
Mark Young: Very true.
Scott:And that's a tangible reality that, I think, when people go on short-term mission trips or long, they experience that and that is one of the most marvelous things about getting out of our sectors here in North America.
Mark Young: No doubt.
Mark Yarbrough:Let me ask you this, ask each one of you to comment and to come up with, here on the fly, one specific thing: what can one culture learn from another culture? If you were to say, this is something, even in your experience, or something that would make it to the top of your list, what would it be? And we're talking about cross-cultural ministry, and obviously we've touched on a lot of that already in our discussion. But what can one culture learn from another culture?
Victor: What can believers in one culture learn from believers in another culture?
Mark Yarbrough: Yes. Who wants to take that?
Mark Young:I think that, at the core level, we tend to sanctify two things as Christians. We sanctify cultural values, which may not necessarily be biblical in their orientation; and we tend to sanctify sin. That is, we tend to overlook behaviors and values that are directly opposed to what the Scripture teaches. And so, from culture to culture, other Christians have helped me identify both, in my own life, what I value that isn't necessarily helpful for the sake of the gospel; and frankly, helped me see sin that I was very easily overlooking. Give you an example, quick story; well, no missionary tells a quick story.
Years ago, we lived in Poland. We lived there during the Communist era, and telephone communication was nonexistent, or risky at best; our phones were tapped the whole time. And I had an appointment with a friend of mine; we were putting together the plans for our new seminary we were going to start in Poland. We were best friends; still are, to this day. And he was supposed to come to my house at three-thirty. Three-thirty came around; no friend. His name is Zeigmund. No Zeigmund. Four-thirty, five-thirty, no Zeigmund. Of course, no phone call. So I as a westerner, value time as a commodity to be cherished. Time is what?
Mark Young:Money. So I'm starting to get irritated about my friend no showing up. Eight thirty, drives up to our place and comes in and I'm obviously not godly enough to mask my irritation at this point.
And I said, well, what happened, you were supposed to be here at three thirty. He says well, my wife's cousin's neighbor came in from another city which is about 200 kilometers away. And so we had to spend the afternoon with her and the evening with her. So I'm thinking my wife's cousin's neighbor, you blew off my appointment with me so you could be with your wife's cousin's neighbor? You know? So I'm saying this kind of without really saying it but he knows what i mean because hes been around Americans a bit.
So he says to me, Mark let me ask you a question, in the list of qualifications for an elder, what comes first?
Hospitality or punctuality?
And so what had I done? I had elevated to the point of almost a moral value something that is not biblical. And he helped me see that something that is biblical, namely that when a guest comes into your home, the world stops. And your hospitality is the best way to demonstrate the love of Christ. It was not something I valued.
Scott:I think for me two things come to the fore, one I have seen those who have had no theological education powerfully preach the Word of God, accurately preach the Word of God, and with the fullness of the Holy Spirit that has amazed me. Even when I'm a speaker and I get up with all the rest and I feel utterly humbled beside this man who profoundly knows the Lord. And what we saw quite often in Brazil is that repeatedly Americans would show up with all the money, great jokes, the multimedia. Yet get Pastor Jose in the first row, is far more a man of god than some of those who have all the resources to come down. So one of the things we must learn is that of humility in the midst of all of this. Celestine Misukura talks about asking people to write down, and Bob Pyne brings this in as well, all of the talents and all of your abilities, all that you think God will use in and through you to strengthen his church worldwide.
And just put it on a paper and now we are going to put it in a bowl and we want you to light the match. Because until we get beyond that to recognize our dependency is on our Lord Jesus and on the power of the Holy Spirit, on the Father, working in and through us by his grace, then we really have anything to give to the rest of the world.
Mark Young: Wow, wow.
Scott:So the love that goes with that as well, humility and that we need to learn from the rest of the world as I speak as a North American, when I saw how the hospitality as Mark mentioned, the grace and open home and sacrifice for my sake on the part of those in other countries. realizing I would never do that for them if they came to the United States.
Mark Yarbrough: Right.
Scott:I am deeply humbled. We have much to learn and therefore in our churches, how much we need to hear from the worldwide body of Christ, and not only recognize we are sending people out and perhaps resources out, increasingly we need to be inviting them in to learn from them.
Mark Yarbrough: Yes.
Scott: And to have the people in our churches understand what a wealth they bring to us.
Mark Yarbrough: That's great. That's great. Okay, I've heard hospitality and humility, but can you come up with an "H" word?
Victor: I'm supposed to be a homeletician...
Victor:My heart resonates with the two guys that have already spoken becauser there are certainly things I have seen as well. I think particularly in the context of extreme poverty that I was involved with for a good part of my missionary experience. It is humbling to watch hospitality and spiritual effectiveness come out of situations that we would tend to classify as resource poor.
Mark Young: Yeah.
Victor:And, well, for most of us as believers coming from the west we tend to look at our resources and then think how can we minister out from these resources?
Mark Young: Yes.
Victor:It almost seems the exact opposite in much of the world. Where people will say we are going to be involved in ministry and if God grants us the resources we can use them, if not, we use whatever we have.
Mark Young: Right.
Victor:And that's humbling and also I think it has a bit of a rebuke to it for us as well. That I know I've seen huge amounts of faith from people who have virtually nothing, and yet really want to see mountains moved.
Mark Young: You bet. You bet.
Victor:And most of us, our first inclination is probably to look at the mountain and say it ain't going to happen. There's no way. We can't see the path. So they pray, they motivate people, and they pray, and they acknowledge their dependence. And God works.
Mark Young: He does.
You know Mark, I think ultimately if you were to ask what is the global church saying to the North American church, one of the elements of their message has to be, the joy of suffering for the sake of the gospel and the glory of Christ. In a majority Christian culture like our own, and I know we could fuss about that forever, in a culture where Christianity is very neatly woven into the fabric of our society, we tend to think of suffering as an aberration, or suffering as something to get over, or to get past.
For most of the world's Christians, suffering is the joy of knowing Jesus. For the joy of knowing Jesus, immediately brings, deprivation, isolation, and often times physical harm. In that, just as Paul said, the glory and power of god is made evident. More so than the gifts, or the skills, or the plans, or the cleverness or the wisdom or the strength that any human brings to the task.
If you were to ask me, "What is it that we lack more than anything else in our awareness of what God's doing around the world?" We lack an awareness, an appropriate appreciation, for what Paul calls "the gift of suffering" at the end of Philippians Chapter 1.
Mark Yarbrough:We've talked on a variety of topics here. And, we could have podcasts on probably 10 different things we have surfaced here at the table. If someone is out there and we're getting to wrap this up and thinks - "Boy, I'd like a little more exposure on some of these topics." What are just a resource or two that you would point out to them?
Maybe it's a book or some kind of a presentation. Maybe you are saying it's "have a cross-cultural experience."
What is one thing that you would say?
Mark Young:Well, I would recommend that people read missionary biographies. I consider the stories of those who have taken the gospel cross-cultural to be the very treasure of the church. For some reason we've decided it's not worth our time to encounter great people of faith who have become, using the language of Hebrews, "our cloud of testifiers", who are telling us: "it's worth the race, run that race of faith!"
And so, if you haven't ever read a missionary biography, start simply with Through Gates of Splendor, the story of the Auca Indians - Jim Elliott's story. And then seek, intentionally seek out the stories of those who have laid their lives on the line for the sake of the gospel and, in that, you will see lots of examples of how culture, and dealing with culture, and people with different orientations encounter Christ. It's a very rich treasure that we are allowing to lie fallow in our churches today.
Victor:Another way of having your heart touched in a kind of ongoing basis is to get involved in a "Perspectives" program. Many, many churches across the U.S. especially. I would think that in most major cities around the U.S. you could find a "Perspectives" program. In fact, some will be starting up right after the holidays here. It would be great to get involved. They usually run 12 to 16 weeks I think it is something like that. We meet once a week and it is a great opportunity to be challenged about God's heart for missions and his movement around the world.
Mark Young:Let me break in on that - you can get all the information on those courses, where and when they're offered, at the website for the U.S. Center for World Missions - uscwm.org. They have the complete schedule around the country for the offering of this course called "Perspectives."
Victor:Excellent! The other thing I was going to mention was making use of the internet and the web in another way, which is that I think many of the best mission agencies these days do have.
Mark Young: Yes, yes, they really do!
Victor:And they have all kinds of stories, and vignettes, and links to multiple resources. I know that the missionary organization I've been with, S.I.M., can be reached at www.sim.org and boy, it will give you links to all kinds of good things, from opportunities, to challenges, to things missionaries are experiencing right now, today - and projects people get involved in. So, I'd really encourage people to make use of that.
Scott:I'd like to throw in something yet and that is - to engage in a short-term mission experience. For many that's difficult to do it beyond a couple weeks. The longer the better.
Mark Young: Right.
Scott:But there are some that are not exotic, lavish, kinds of vacation mission tourism trips. There are some like with Mission Discovery and others that go right across the border, dig in and build home, and live very simply. You can take your children on that. Those kinds of experiences begin to open up not only you but the family to a very different world out there. And, for some of you that are readers, I brought a couple of books along that may be helpful.
One is by our own Mike Pocock, along with Gailyn Van Rheenen, and Douglas McConnell - The Changing Face of World Missions: Engaging Contemporary Issues and Trends. Practical, loaded with data as well as remarkable insights. Baker Press 2006.
And, for those of you who are curious about what is going on around the world and this pendulum of God's grace has shifted to what is sometimes called the Global South or, to much of the rest of the world as well, there are two or three books that are worth their weight in gold.
Two by Phillip Jenkins, these are from Oxford University Press. He is a distinguished professor of History and Religion at Penn State University and yet these books are remarkable: The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity and the second one, brand new, 2006: The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South.
How those in the so-called 2/3rds world Christian community read the Bible much more literally than their educated protestant neighbors in the north atlantic countries.
All three books are really worthwhile.
Mark Yarbrough:Mark, those do sound like some great resources. I am quite certain that our listeners will be appreciative of those and hope they will be able to take advantage of them. I want to say this again, thank you all for showing up here.
All: Thank you.
Mark Yarbrough:I deeply appreciate it. It's always a joy to get to spend some time with you guys and to listen to what the Lord is doing through you as you continue to teach students here at Dallas Theological Seminary and around the world! I know you're all involved in many global endeavors. It's just exciting to be hearing and be a part of.
So, why don't we close with a word of prayer. Scott - why don't you just take us out? Thank you!
Our Father, we thank you for Jesus our Savior that is the reason we're talking right now and that many are listening because we call you Lord, our Savior, and we know that the blood of Christ was shed for all who will believe around the world. May that growing awareness of the needs in other parts of the world become a part of our very being. May your Spirit work in us and convict us, showing us how we can take little steps to be better informed and to allow you to work afresh in our lives and to challenge us to take steps of faith we've never taken before.
We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen!
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