A Word from Our CBC Team: Today’s blog was first posted at the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Grace & Truth blog site. CBC is re-posting it with the permission of the BCC and of Lilly Park. You can also read the original post at the BCC’s site here.
More Than We Assume
When you see the words “cross-cultural,” what comes to mind? For some of you, overseas missions comes to mind. For some of you living in large cities, such as Manhattan or Seattle, you confront cross-cultural experiences almost daily. Some of you, like Wayne and Susie Vanderwier, are continuously ministering cross-culturally. I want to challenge us to think of cross-cultural ministry more broadly—beyond ethnic, language differences. When used in the cross-cultural sense, the term “culture” refers to beliefs and practices of a group. This means that cultural differences is more than talking about racial conflict. You could share many physical traits with someone, such as skin color, hair color, eye color, and still not understand that person’s cultural background. After living on the East Coast and West Coast, in the South and the Midwest, I’ve learned that, in general, the way of thinking is different in each part of the “same” country. So, understanding cross-cultural ministry is important, because it affects more encounters than we assume.
One of the strengths of Crossroads Bible College is its intentionality in equipping Christians for a multiethnic world. In fact, it’s central to our identity and embedded in our mission statement:
To glorify God by training Christian leaders to reach a multiethnic urban world for Christ.
This multiethnic focus is a part of all programs, such as pastoral leadership, urban leadership, biblical counseling, and others. Yes, biblical theology is the foundation of all programs and it is vitally important, but one of Crossroads’ unique qualities is its multiethnic context and training. For me, as a professor, it has been a blessing to observe students from different backgrounds interact with each other not only in the classroom but also afterwards. Many of them have developed close friendships. It’s a small picture of the universal church and critical training for counseling. In counseling, if building trust is one of the most important goals in the initial meetings, then basic cross-cultural skills apply to everyone. For instance, how often have you commented or thought to yourself, “That’s weird” or “That’s not how I (we) do it.” When I teach cross-cultural counseling, I often have students who wonder at the beginning of the course:
“I’m not planning to serve overseas. This course doesn’t apply to me.”
On day one, I typically ask this question: “For those of you who are married, are your families similar to your spouse’s families?” Often, a good number of students will say no. I ask this question to point out that getting married to another person is engaging in cross-cultural ministry, in a way. Even though both spouses are Christians and share similar perspectives on life, both persons grew up in different homes. As they live together, the differences start showing up in decision-making. Sometimes, the differences are a matter of preference but they become “the rule” in each person’s mind. Interestingly, after a week or two, most of those students quickly realize how often they make assumptions about other people and miss opportunities to speak the truth in love. I’ve also had international students from Europe and Asia who have been challenged to make more efforts in understanding Americans.
While teaching at Crossroads Bible College, God has stretched my understanding of people from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. We also have a beneficial mixture of older and younger students in a typical class––another cross-cultural experience for the students. Let me share a few of my memorable cross-cultural experiences at Crossroads. Last year, I taught a one-day counseling conference to Spanish-speaking Christians. The group primarily consisted of people from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Physically, they shared similar traits and spoke the same language, but, in their minds, they were not from the same culture. They came from different countries, different customs, and so forth. Indeed, I was challenged to be more careful of “grouping” people without listening to individual stories. As I listened to how each person ministered in various contexts, such as the local church or prison ministry, I realized, in a deeper way, the need for “different” ministries to work together in building God’s kingdom. And, then, there’s the cross-cultural experience in the classroom. Former drug users. Former sex addicts. Homeschooled students. Middle-class students. Urban students. International students. And so forth. Indeed, when Jesus said to love your neighbors (Matthew 22:39), he included people of all backgrounds. Younger people, older people, single parents, divorced persons, and people of different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. As students share their church contexts, the challenge has been to contextualize biblical principles without compromising biblical truths. The answers are not always easy nor always clear, but knowing that these students are being equipped in theology, urban ministry, and counseling reminds me of the big picture in teaching at a college. Teaching at Crossroads has deepened my understanding of Genesis 1:27:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
As I think about this verse, I am reminded that “all” persons have been created in God’s image. Respect all persons. Focus less on external differences and more on the “person.” Share the gospel. Show the gospel. If we don’t know how to properly see each person, how are we able to properly counsel that person? Love that person? For more information on Crossroads Bible College, check out our website. Several biblical counseling ministries exist in Indianapolis, offering students live counseling experiences as a part of their studies. Crossroads also offers online programs. Several students continue their training to complete ACBC certification requirements upon graduation.
Join the Conversation
How have cross-cultural experiences shaped your life and ministry?