S.A.N.T.A. approach to cross-cultural friendship

9 08 2016

Here is a simple, easy-to-remember approach to making a friend with someone of another culture.

S = smile

A smile is the international way to show friendliness. It is your best first smilestep. Best to keep your smiling man to man, woman to woman, so you don’t miscommunicate.

A = appreciate

Say something appreciative about the person, such as:

  • I’m glad we are neighbors.
  • It is great to see your family getting together
  • That shirt/dress is beautiful. Is it from your culture?
N = name

Everyone loves to be known by their name. When appropriate, ask and remember the name of your new friend. If it is difficult, resist the urge to shorten it. Say, “I love your name and want to remember it. Could you say it again (or spell it)?” Don’t be afraid to write it down; that shows you really mean what you say. Remember the name for the next times you meet.

T = tea

Sitting and chatting over a simple cup of tea or coffee, with a biscuit, is an important step in deepening a friendship. Do this often, preferably in your home or apartment, although a neutral cafe is okay. Home hospitality invites your friend into your space, which helps build trust. If a visitor of another culture comes to you door, invite them in without question (not applicable to sales people necessarily).

A = ask

What do you talk about over tea? Ask your new friend to tell you about him/her self. There is an interesting story to hear. Do this more than once, for there is much to learn. You might ask:

  • Where is home for you, and how are things there?
  • What was your experience in coming to this country?
  • What are your favorite traditions in your culture?
  • How has this country been different than you expected?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in coming years?

I encourage you to repeat the S.A.N.T.A. approach many times with your new friend. Each time you will deepen your friendship. In time you will be able to share your story. Showing interest in this way is so rare that you will be invited into your friend’s life and network. You will be amazed at how fulfilling this can be.

Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org

Vision on a clear night

18 07 2016

night caveJohn the apostle, now an aging man, is alone on the isle of Patmos, looking out at night from a hilltop, in front of the cave he now calls home. He looks into the distance and sees fires on the mainland where the seven churches of Asia lie. As night falls the  afternoon winds calm down, the way they did suddenly at the command of the Master. Oh what a day that had been. How their anxiety turned to awe at the authority of His voice, “Peace be still.”

The apostle ponders the seven churches that burden his heart, the sheep given to his charge. The Ephesians, so strong in doctrine but lagging in love. Those in Smyrna, the flock in Pergamum. What is their future, these tender congregations? Will they huddle to themselves in self-preservation, unaware of the power given to them in the Spirit? Will they cling to each other around common likes and dislikes, rather than throwing open their arms to rich and poor, Jew and gentile, high class and low?

Suddenly a breeze blows across John’s face, as if the Spirit of God is visiting him afresh. The apostle’s heart surges with the joy of a hopeful vision of things to come. He sees a heavenly multitude gathering around the throne of the Ancient of Days, for a time has come to right the wrongs on the earth. The evil that has twisted humanity must be driven out by righteous judgment. The 24 elders stand in worshipful consternation. The dilemma is this: The scrolls of judgment are sealed, and none has the authority to open them. Heaven waits for the answer.

In time the vision becomes clear. It is not by military might that righteousness reigns. No, heaven has a different scale. Into the throne room walks the one who embodies righteousness. Like a lamb, slain in sacrifice, the Savior enters and in an instant all know that the scrolls will now be opened, not by force, but in voluntary subjection to the power of humility.

The followers of the Lamb are then revealed and the sight gives John new hope, for the throng of worshipers are from every tribe, tongue and nation. They are one, a new community, fashioned after the humble character of their Lord. “Worthy!” they cry. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to open the scroll!”

While the vision became clear, so had the night sky. He looks over in the direction of the churches and ponders their future. He knows they will struggle, even suffer. But He now has confidence that the gospel will spread to every people. He knows that God will choose for Himself a new community whose love will overcome all divisions. He knows that the sacrifice of the Lamb will not be forgotten, but will be victorious in the end.

(Based on Revelation 7:9)
Photo credit: Eric Nathan photography


What happened to my grocery store?

28 07 2015

In this article in the LA Times, one lady exclaimed that she was fine with the inevitability of change, but why does it have to take away the grocery store she has used for years!

This trend in our globalized life touches on the church as well. Some believers today are disturbed by demographic change in their neighborhood and church.  Yet we are called to reach the nations. What better places to do so that in our neighborhoods and churches? May God renew our minds to see this change not as a loss but an opportunity to participate in His Kingdom work!

MissioNexus mission leaders conference in Atlanta

18 09 2014

I am looking forward to once again participating in the North American mission leaders conference. This year it is in Atlanta during Sep. 25-27.

It will be a privilege to co-present with Ken Baker a workshop on Saturday morning on “Intercultural Unity: An Organizational Imperative” (What it is, and why it matters).

The Ethnic America Network is a sponsor of this year’s conference, and “Immigration and Migration” is one of the tracks. This is an exciting development. Please pray that we will all be encouraged in our thinking and implementation of the “signs of the times.”  I have written about this reality, calling it The 10-40 Mirror, because the nations of the 10-40 Window are now reflected in our great global cities!

I’m also excited to announce that we are changing our public name from One Challenge USA to NEAR FRONTIERS: Partnering to Love the World Next Door.

Many  who once were geographically far away are now near. So we are excited to partner among churches of all kinds in these ways:

  • serve the underserved
  • embrace all cultures
  • welcome the nations

This U.S. ministry, which I am privileged to lead, remains under OC International, the ministry family Lyn and I have served with, and loved, since 1989.

If you are at the conference, stop by the EAN table and pick up a flyer with a bit more info on our new focus.  Thanks!



Why churches naturally exclude

21 07 2014

I occasionally enjoy reflecting on the little volume Ministering Cross-Culturally (by Lingenfelter and Mayers, Baker Academic). While I always profit from these discussions in the context of foreign mission, I now cannot help but reflect on issues of culture through the lens of the multiculturalism of the USA and the West in general.

Lingenfelter writes, “Acceptance in our groups comes at the cost of exclusion from the groups of others. An attempt to belong to groups whose standards are in conflict with ours produces emotional stress within us and antagonism in our relationships with others. For this reason, most of us choose to belong only to those groups within which we find people who have standards and values similar to our own. As a consequence of our choices, the communities we form include some and exclude others.” (p. 21)

Intentionally intercultural churches are therefore a challenge because we must reverse this tendency to exclude so as to include those who are different, whose values and behaviors clash with our own.

At the same time, as a community hailing from different cultures work together over time to understand, appreciate and draw from each other, a new kind of meta-culture can form among them. In the same way that every person ultimately has their own unique personal culture, surely every church (including multicultural ones) has its own unique culture.

Here is another quote: “The cultural bias we share with others in our communities becomes a consensus we use to protect ourselves from others…. The comfort of our community becomes a bias toward [against?] others and a blindness to viable relationships different from our own.” (p.22)

This is where the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP)  turns ugly even as it does its good work of community preservation. Shared culture shuns those who are excluded and thereby misses the opportunity to learn that there are aspects of other cultures that are actually worth evaluating and even adopting. People who leave a multiethnic church because they are not willing to consider the benefits of other cultures have made a decision to stay within the safe fortress of their community. I cannot fault them for this because I (and all of us) do the same thing, we just choose different levels of risk. I may take some risk in living in Kenya, or joining a primarily African-American church. As a result I might consider myself superior to someone who stays in their comfortable church made up of people much like themselves. But I have also limited my risk in that I have not gone for 50 years to a city that is 100% muslim or Hindu; I have not sold my house and gone to live in a pre-historic village in a forest somewhere. We all make self-preserving choices.

For those who are willing to attempt the risk of multi-ethnic church, read this next quote (in which the author speaks to the cross-cultural missionary) from the standpoint of building trusting relationships across cultural lines in your multiethnic local church: “The practice of incarnation (i.e., a willingness to learn as if we were helpless infants) is the first essential step toward breaking this pattern of excluding others. Missionaries, by the nature of their task, must become personally immersed with people who are different. To follow the example of Christ, that of incarnation, means undergoing drastic personal reorientation. They must be socialized all over again into a new cultural context. They must enter a culture as if they were children–ignorant of everything, from the customs of eating and talking to the patterns of work, play, and worship.” (p. 22-3)

One of my concerns in the multiethnic movement in the USA is that many of the practitioners do not seem to have this missionary mindset. Of course I don’t know what is in their hearts. But if the movement is to include deep reconciliation, leaders will need to pave the way and have this sacrificial, incarnational commitment. If the multi-ethnic pursuit is seen primarily as a way of better reflecting the changing neighborhood around the church, or if it is basically an implementation of the Biblical passages that call for it, without this deeper issue of self-denial to the point of incarnation, then the efforts will stop short of their potential as external witness and internal transformation.

I think an interesting question to discuss this would be: Must incarnational church life be a special calling from God, or does He expect it of all His children?

Another would be: How is my community life helping me learn “drastic personal reorientation” that comes with doing life with those of different cultures than my own?