Covid has upturned us, the world is changing around our ears, and the thought of going out on missions is probably far from anyone’s mind.
But here is some food for thought for 2021. Two recent interviewees Jen Bishop and Pete Askew) have given a perspective that God has already brought the nations to us! We don’t need to travel out in order to be reaching the world – the world is on our doorstep…
It’s true - the nations have come to us, but sadly they have largely been marginalized, even by the church. Few have felt embraced or been well integrated into Western society. Even to the second and third generation this largely continues to be true. This has led, as David Cameron put it, to the “failure of multi-culturalism”.
“We are losing trust in each other and in the future. Feelings of frustration, powerlessness and a loss of belonging are making us vulnerable to ‘us versus them’ stories, which turn us against each other. Social media is magnifying the loudest and most extreme voices.”
[Quote from the More in Common website]
Is it any wonder, then, that most withdraw into their own cultural ‘bubbles’ and have no interest in mixing either?
For sure, people from other cultures are going to continue to come to the West (even post-Brexit Britain) as migrants, refugees, foreign students, or skilled workers, and from the population at large they will most likely continue to get a poor reception. But we can get involved! Nothing counteracts the general negativity like a friendly smile, a kind word and showing an interest. There may be some barriers of suspicion to overcome, but genuineness and persistence can usually win through.
Here’s what I also know...
Political correctness does nothing to correct the negative trend! Just telling people that they must not be offensive does not help them be friendly and welcoming! We have a young friend who has just returned from years of working cross-culturally in Asia. She spoke of her objection to the words ‘racial and religious tolerance’. “I don’t want to be tolerated – and nor do I want merely to tolerate others,” she said. “I want to go out in friendship to get to know and really understand people who are different from me!” That surely is what is needed, not more regulations!
What it might take to dismantle the barriers in us, so that we start reaching out across the cultural divides in our nations. Ross and I were reading Acts 10 recently – the first example we are given of a total ‘outsider’ Gentile (not a proselyte like the Ethiopian in Acts 8) coming to faith in Jesus. One thing that struck us afresh was that Cornelius, the Roman centurion, was absolutely open to receiving the gospel message when it was preached to him, but Peter had a terribly hard time being ready to give it! The barriers were all in him, and it took a three-fold vision, a direct command and then the Holy Spirit actually interrupting his sermon for him to take on board that the gospel really was for the whole world, not just the Jewish people!
So how about us? Check out this quote from a Scripture Union writer:
“Last year a meeting of church leaders involved in church planting in London revealed that each of them was planting churches among people just like themselves and none had crossed a cultural or class boundary in their evangelism.”
Is that true of us and our church? And do we sometimes detect resentment in ourselves against outsiders who we perceive as taking ‘our jobs’ and changing ‘our country’. Note that Peter in Acts 10 had to overcome not only his prejudice about Gentiles but also his nationalistic resentment against Rome as an occupying force, which is what makes this story such a powerful one for us.
Personally, I recollect some lovely cross-cultural encounters we have had over the years in our own UK context. They cost us little but rewarded us richly:
- Being asked to host an Indian doctor in our home, after he had experienced years of prejudice and racial abuse. He went from being withdrawn to warm very quickly once he knew our interest in him was genuine. He came beautifully to Jesus just before leaving York by accepting my husband, Ross’ invitation to go with him to Sheffield to hear Billy Graham.
- Door-knocking on York University campus to find any Chinese students we could after the Tian-an-men massacre in 1989. Shocked and disbelieving at what was happening in their homeland, they needed a safe place to talk and process their feelings. That led to numbers coming to our home for several years, sharing Sunday lunch or wrapping jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) for Lunar New Year. Our daughters still love jiaozi from those days! [You never know who you might be entertaining. One of the students who came regularly to our home then is the now-famous Jung Chang, author of bestselling title Wild Swans.]
- Nowadays, when in the UK, we live in a place called Hayes, close to Heathrow airport. Hayes is very diverse, having taken in wave after wave of immigrants over the decades – in fact, it is hard to find many people who look like us in the whole town! Ross has befriended a lovely man called Ali, who runs a small shop on the High Street, and he goes to greet him whenever we are back in the UK. They have talked about many important matters of faith, and Ali calls Ross his “brother from another mother”! All that has come from Ross engaging him in conversation, asking questions, praying for him when he was going through cancer treatment and generally just being a friend.
So, my 2021 challenge would be… get ready for a cross-cultural adventure, right where you are! I promise you, you’ll be the richer for it.
A few suggestions
- Start praying about what you could do to show kindness to someone from another culture. If lockdown is a hindrance, try offering Zoom English conversation classes or something.
- Explore what inter-communal initiatives already exist that you might be part of (For example, in Britain there is the Great Get Together, a memorial to murdered MP Jo Cox – or take a look at the Mahabba network).
- If nothing else is possible right now, get some training and get ready for action for when things do open up. FieldPartner’s Crossing Cultures 101 (Module 1) could be a way of getting some groundwork done. We’d love to encourage you in that.
- Above all, cultivate an enquiring mind, a listening ear and a learning attitude. You are not looking to preach first and foremost, but to build bridges, make friends and learn about God’s beautiful diverse world! There are some lovely people out there waiting for your friendship!
If, as Jen very eloquently said in our interview, God has brought the nations to us, let us do what we can to share the good news with them. In fact, before even considering going overseas to do this, why not give it a go at home first?
Let us know how it goes – we would love to hear your stories! Comment below or contact us.