On this September’s DTS we have 31 trainees from 9 different countries: the USA, Canada, Ecuador, Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa, Lithuania. And when you count the nationalities of the staff team then you get to add India, Ghana, Kenya, Ireland and Thailand to that exotic mocktail (our DTS is teetotal) of ethnicities and cultures. And no matter how much cross-cultural experience one might have had (growing up as a missionary kid, I’ve had the privilege of visiting more than twenty different nations) it has been fascinating to watch how the multicultural mosaic takes shape.
The Wisdom of Cross-Cultural Experience
Cathy Nobles, leader of the School of Reconciliation & Justice, injected some of her wisdom on such issues into the second day of orientation, her Texan drawl reminding us that “every single person that you meet is made in the image of God; whether they know it or not—made in the image of God; whether they like it or not—made in the image of God”. Nanzip Lannap, Nigerian ambassador of reconciliation, then joined her in a pair of sunglasses: “these [sunglasses] are my worldview”. And he began sharing his experience of culture shock upon arriving at the YWAM Harpenden Oval, and challenging us to be aware of our ‘normal’ cultural presuppositions.
The Comedy of Cross-Cultural Collision
Our first Friday fun-night kept the theme of cross-cultural awareness strongly accented (was this deliberate? I’m not sure) with My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The film is a romantic comedy in which the lead character Toula is faced with the expectations of her family that she will “marry a Greek boy, make Greek babies, and feed everyone until the day she dies”. But she when she falls in love with the more-typically-American and not-remotely-Greek Ian Miller (whose parents look suspiciously like the couple in the painting American Gothic—has anyone else noticed that? ), her family is forced to adjust somewhat–but probably not quite as much as he and his family!
The Trans-cultural Need of Forgiveness
The Oval’s very own Ina Steyn was the fount of wisdom for our first week of teaching, setting the work of Jesus on the cross in Trinitarian perspective and then forcing us to confront the implication that we must forgive those who have treated us injustly. One of the things that repeatedly strikes me about YWAM speakers is the personal experience they have to back up the claims that they are making, and with Ina it was no different. She shared the lesson she herself had learnt in her own first week of DTS, about the need to accept your ‘topsoil’ — that is, the family, culture and financial situation from whence you have grown. And after telling us her testimony of how her apologizing to family members had brought new life to her situation, she set us each the task of counting twenty blessings of our own backgrounds, and then naming and forgiving any injustices our upbringings had inflicted upon us. It’s not just the cultures of others that we need to learn to be reconciled to!
The Hard Work of Cross-Cultural Understanding
Thursday evening might be the one free evening on the DTS schedule, but that doesn’t mean that everything grinds to a standstill. While some made small-talk on the sofas and others played table-football against each other, an intense discussion of American political policy was breaking out in the corner of the #9 lounge. When you have a passionately pacifist Swiss guy and a patriotic American girl (who was given a shotgun for her eighteenth birthday!) discussing the question of military intervention, then you really get to see the different ways that different cultures view different issues. But part of the beauty of YWAM’s value of being International & Interdenominational is that you don’t have to hide these things under the carpet and pretend like we agree about them all. So we wrestled out the question for some time — before finally closing the discussion in prayer.
Because ultimately, whatever tribe or tongue we might be from, our loyalty is to Jesus. And this is what binds us together.
What stories do you have of cross-cultural interaction? I’d love to hear your anecdotes, whether humourous or painful.