Cross-cultural Ministry after Cultures are Crossed

Which one in the picture below is crossing cultures?

dani main pic

Trick question: We all are.

“Mom, dad, can I keep going to this church?” My twelve-year-old self asked eagerly.

“The Chinese church? Isn’t it awkward?”

“Nah! It’s actually not!” And that was that.

So on Sundays, my eyes were now fixated on the front of the room instead of paying attention to how my white face stood out in the crowd. I felt more aware of the language-gap in not knowing the worship songs or special prayer words than I was of the Cantonese or Mandarin spoken around me.

One summer, years later, I went to Ghana on missions. I received cross-cultural training; to me it seemed “incarnational ministry” was more fun than challenging. Everything was new! So much to learn! Then I came home, went back into my Asian-American communities of worship, and relaxed.

But one day, I was challenged with a simple and significant fact: I am not Asian-American.

And so my worship went reeling.

For so long, I’d ignored very real cultural differences between myself and the people I spent most of my time around. I claimed to believe in cross-cultural ministry, but was blind to how it impacted my everyday life. I felt the Lord call me to intern with the Epic Movement out of a desire to intentionally examine this world I’ve been immersed in.

But after 11 years, it’s hard to continually realize I’m crossing cultures. At my “home” church, suddenly, I sweat at the sound of my own voice: Was that culturally sensitive? Am I being a learner? Am I isolating anyone?

See, the initial crossing of lines – like the way that I did it in Ghana – that’s the glamorous part. There are honestly a lot of materials that talk about crossing cultures in this way. But what does it mean to wrestle with cultural differences once these lines are crossed?

Honestly, I don’t feel like I have great wisdom to share yet. But I have realized two important things in my intern year that have reassured me I’m in the right place:

First, I’ve learned not to be afraid of cultural differences and even misunderstandings in the body of Christ. I’ve come to understand that my wonderful team loves me and values me, in the midst of my confusion and with my differences. And yes, my presence carries a different weight because I am white, and yes, there are some things I’m occasionally insensitive to, and yes, there are even going to be false assumptions my community will make about me – but working with Epic, I’m given ample room and grace to wrestle through these things. I’m not isolated in these struggles, even when it may feel like I am. Indeed, in some ways, I’ve had deeper intimacy as I’ve worked through these things and had to lean on the Asian-Americans around me. And in that unity of a diverse body, Christ is glorified!

Secondly, I’ve realized that whatever challenges I’m facing by entering into Asian-American ministry are being faced by my students every single day whether they like it or not. Many of them wrestle with the fact that they’ve always felt comfortable in American culture, yet they are also different. They have assumptions made about them because they look a certain way, and they are sometimes isolated as they realize the way they’re being taught something isn’t really catered to their own struggles and cultural background. My students HAVE to wrestle with these things as they’re constantly engaging cross-culturally.

My intern experience has been deeply revealing – uncomfortable, for sure, but also healing and helpful. I’ve been learning to understand and examine the things I’ve taken for granted, to see what aspects of my world are shaped by cultural background, and to embrace and hold in tension two worlds that have formed me in significant ways.

I’ve learned that there is something incredibly significant about the fact that incarnational ministry didn’t stop for thirty years; Jesus didn’t just cross the line, He dwelled there. And that’s a lot more confusing and difficult and beautiful.

dani author picDanielle Cummings, intern with Lone Star team