The Intricacies of Intercultural Mission

by - 4:27 PM

A Suri girl of Ethiopia. Photograph by Mario Gerth, 2010.
As the African proverb goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." 

Indeed, we forget that the modern, western, 'democratic', technological world is not the entire world. When we dare immerse ourselves in the intricacies and complexities of other cultures, we're mind-blown at the sheer wondrous beauty and magnificence of the diversity God created, and yet also stand in awe at the intrinsic stirrings He has wrought within us all from the beginning of time. It's glorious.

As I reflect on my past travels in the Middle East and the African continent, I recall those precious moments of mutuality and 'sharing' with those I interacted with. It didn't matter that they could not comprehend just how far 'down under' (Australia) was, and how many time zones away it is. What always intrigues me is the warmth of perfect strangers who welcome me as if I were family. Of course, I guess I happened to go to places that were not openly hostile to or suspicious of foreigners. Nevertheless, there were still cultural obstacles that I had to navigate through. 

I will admit, from my short-term encounters abroad and my music ministry in Melbourne with Sudanese, Burmese, Afghan and Indian youth and communities, I am just discovering how especially daunting the work of a cross-cultural mission worker is. You cannot approach the host culture or people using the same methods that worked for you previously in your home country or elsewhere. You need to be stripped of presumptions and pride. Your self-sufficiency and critical attitudes need to be utterly decimated. You have to enter into their world first of all with humility and with respectability. You shouldn't propose your ideas until you hear theirs and understand at least a fraction of how they view their world. 

It's an immense privilege to walk in the path of what I believe is my calling. It takes courage and determination to step out of my comfort zone again and again. It takes intuition and patience to grasp the intricacies of different and evolving cultures. Most of all, it humbles me and teaches me to be more like Jesus, who taught his disciples to serve and love others - even those who were their enemies. This is the narrow way. It won't be an easy trek, but I'm realizing more and more that it really is my only and best track. It's my destiny. 

Since I was 13 and encountered the reality of God, I had asked Him to take me to tough places, to people in challenging circumstances, to 'the least of these', to the last and the lost, and you know what? He has answered me at every turn, step by step. Never could I imagine even two years ago that in 2015 I'd end up with different kinds of cultures and peoples and be deeply connected in the depths of the depths with those who are facing some of the toughest circumstances imaginable. Take the beloved Sudanese people for example, emerging out of 50 years of civil war - Africa's longest-running civil war. Can you imagine the land and people enduring decades of guns, bombs, raids, village burnings, famine, pillaging, guerrilla warfare, mass rape, murders, child soldiers, mass graves, and a myriad of other heinous war crimes? Millions displaced and an estimated 1.5 million or more lives lost over the years. God is weeping. He is moving - even though the world's news and media outlets will not write about it. So how can we, His followers, also not be weeping and moving?

But through all this, what I see and feel and hear is that the Sudanese people are such a resilient people. I respect these friends and leaders of mine (at church and in the Sudanese-Australian refugee community) with all my heart. Instead of it simply being about me teaching these young people music and equipping them in leadership, I believe it is me who is learning most of the time. Intercultural ministry is my school. It is my 'higher education', although I've now graduated with my Bachelor of Music and completing my Graduate Diploma of Theology this year. Have I yet mentioned that I am humbled? Yes. It is with people in the 'trenches' that God teaches me how to love and to forgive and to pour out my life generously in relationship as He does. 

Through it all, the convoluted complexities of culture's good and bad fade into the background along with the gunfire and smoke. What I see is each person God places in front of me to love, to bless, to encourage, to revive. What I smell is the fragrant perfume of God's Spirit at work in our hearts and lives to bring about inside-out transformation and restoration.

Hope is on the horizon. No, it is already here, in our hearts. 

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