Draw your “Personal Jerusalem”
Take 5 minutes and draw your “personal Jerusalem.” This is a concept I introduce to churches when coaching them to practice methods of effective evangelism using “Significant Conversations.” Based on Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…,” this tool highlights each participant’s network of relationships that define our lives. First, sketch a figure in the center of a piece of paper to represent yourself. Then draw lines out from the figure to represent the various areas of your life in which you interact with people, eg., family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, teammates etc. Draw extended lines from each of those primary lines and at each new line write down the name of someone with whom you connect regularly and who does not have a commitment to follow Jesus.
Now ask yourself: “Does the cultural make-up of my ‘personal Jerusalem’ correspond to the ethnic diversity of those among whom I live and work?” This is a personalized variation of an important church planting question: “Does the cultural make-up of our congregation correspond to the ethnic diversity of the broader community among whom we live?” Even as churches can take steps to establish an “intercultural agenda” in order to develop relationships across cultural boundaries, so individual believers can introduce changes in their lives that lead to enjoyable and significant interaction with immigrants – interactions that have eternal consequences. Maybe it is time to expand your “personal Jerusalem.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been given the mandate to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). What is intriguing about this command is Jesus’ emphasis to intentionally cross cultural barriers in order to establish significant relationships with other ethnic groups. In past eras, apart from relatively few missionaries, it was difficult for most believers to personally participate in this aspect of our Lord’s desire for us. However, God has now given Canadians the privilege of welcoming people from around the world and, for believers, this translates into an opportunity to participate directly in the Great commission. No matter what our ethnic background is, the door is open to develop cross-cultural relationships that allow us to “make disciples of all nations.”
Because I live on Vancouver Island, I often travel on the ferry and local transit to get to Northwest Baptist Seminary on the Trinity Western University campus in Langley, BC. The variety of languages and ethnic groups I encounter are evidence of the opportunity God has given us to fulfill the Matthew 18 commission in our own country. On one bus, I happened to sit across the aisle from a young Asian woman. I noticed she was reading a copy of “Our Daily Bread1.” Intrigued, I asked her if she read the publication regularly and where she had obtained it. She informed me that she was from mainland China, a friend had given her a copy and this was her first real exposure to Christianity. She had many questions, and we chatted for the entire ferry trip as I explained the gospel to her. It was an invitation from God to join him in his mission within our Jerusalem.
There are a number of practices that we can introduce into our routines that will position us to participate in the Great Commission.
1. Say “hi.” Some immigrants feel like guests who have crashed a party. They are unsure of their welcome and would appreciate affirmation that it is OK to be here. They have moved around the world and we only need to cross the street to introduce ourselves.
2. Talk about what interests them. If they are from India or Pakistan, they may be avid cricket fans. Watch a game with them and get them to explain the game to you. I spent an enjoyable half hour in Pakistan recently watching cricket with a friend’s 6 year old nephew. He regaled me with stories of his cricket prowess.
3. Develop new shopping habits. If an immigrant family has opened a shop or restaurant, become a frequent customer. Not only does this validate their presence, but you are able to build a relationship within their context.
4. Serve. Many immigrants are uncertain of what is acceptable and what is not. It can be an ordeal just to apply for a driver’s license. Walking with someone through that process strengthens the relationship through appreciation and gratefulness.
5. Be served. If serving is only one-way, the relationship will become uncomfortable and stilted. One church invited a local Punjabi community to share their Punjabi food and culture with the congregation. If the church had insisted on providing the food and entertainment, it would not have worked. Because the Punjabi community was given the opportunity to serve others and to share the things they were proud of, they felt validated. This became a yearly event.
When cross-cultural relationships are initiated, we are introduced to values and perspectives that are outside of our experience. The learning curve can be steep, but tools are available to orient and equip those who are serious about developing healthy and mutually satisfying relationships.
1. Eric Law’s “languages of respect.” In his book, The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb2, Law points out that it is insufficient to act in a respectful manner according to our understanding of what constitutes respect. Instead, we need to learn to communicate with others according to their norms of what expresses respect. This requires an awareness of our own biases, an openness to appreciate the benefits of a different perspective and a willingness to learn and practice new ways of relating.
Recently, I was online reading critiques of an East Indian restaurant recommended by my son, Matthew. A few were harsh with complaints about the poor service. I mentioned this to Matthew, who grew up in Pakistan. He laughed and said it was one of the aspects that made the ambiance seem authentic. He found the lack of effusive accommodation and smiles appealing and natural, just like he had experienced in Pakistan. This does not mean that the restaurant owners are rude and do not know how to serve their customers; they are functioning with a different set of values than the average Canadian. The reviewers based their judgments on western expectations and were unwilling to consider a different way of functioning as valid.
For practical suggestions on how to discover and explore another ethnic group’s language of respect, see the Cross Cultural Impact article “Resolving Intercultural Tensions 3: Speaking Another’s Language of Respect.”
2. Develop your Cultural Quotient3. In his book, Cultural Intelligence: Improving your CQ to engage our multicultural world4, David Livermore explores four dimensions of cultural intelligence: knowledge, interpretation, behavior and perseverance. Each of these dimensions is important for competence in cross-cultural relationships.
Knowledge includes self-analysis about what I value as well as why. It involves the gradual accumulation of information about other cultures.
Interpretation refers to the skill of seeing an action and understanding it according to the viewpoint of the actor. A Sindhi friend, who is a believer, came into the translation office in Pakistan and exclaimed, “Oh my God!” He then turned and went out again. According to my cultural context, that expression sounds disrespectful. So when he returned I asked him why he said, “Oh my God!” He explained that it was an expression of gratefulness because as soon as he had entered the room, God put into his mind something he had forgotten.
Behavior goes a step beyond knowledge and interpretation to changing our actions in order to conform to what we have learned. Until our actions reflect our thoughts, we have not really learned to be empathetic to another way of life.
Perseverance demonstrates sincerity. There will be difficulties, hurt feelings and misattributions5 that need to be overcome. But the rewards, both relational and eternal, that come from adding a cross-cultural component to our “personal Jerusalem” make the effort worthwhile.
Mark spends part of his time assisting churches in developing effective cross-cultural outreach. If you are interested, please contact him via the Contact Me form. If you would like to leave a comment about this article, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.
- 1 Our Daily Bread is a popular evangelical devotional publication by RBC Ministries.
- 2 Law, E. 1993. The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb. St. Louis: Chalice Press.
- 3 Online CQ assessments are available. For example, the following link is designed for short term missions.
- 4 Livermore, D. 2009. Cultural Intelligence: Improving your CQ to engage our multicultural world, Grand Rapids:Baker.
- 5 See Lane, P. 2002. A Beginner’s Guide to Crossing Cultures: Making Friends in a multi-cultural world, Downer’s Grove:IVP, for a good description of “misattribution” and what to do about it, pp. 27-30.