Effective Cross Cultural Ministry
LAC missionary Wendy M Brown and her husband Stuart first served in Jamaica as directors of New Vision Children's Home and educators at the Assemblies of God Bible College. Currently, Wendy and Stuart primarily work with Teen Challenge (Reto a la Juventud) in Mexico City.
“Holistic mission means integrating faith and practice. We recognize the importance of the people to whom we minister being a part of the process of their own redemption and finding solutions to their problems.”1
In the fall of 2003, the Assemblies of God appointed my husband, Stuart, and I as world missionaries. Multiple years and three foreign contexts later, we have hosted dozens of short-term missions teams with great joy, a lot of grace, and a steep learning curve.
Over the years, I have come to realize the beneficial impact each potential cross-cultural servant and short-term missions team can have when they explore two fundamental concepts concerning identity and community in preparation for cross-cultural work.
First, it is vitally important that we, as cross-cultural servants, affirm the dignity and self-worth of the people with whom we desire to minister. But to do so effectively we must acknowledge our own tendencies to categorize or label at a glance. It’s far too easy and all too common to size someone up simply by the look on their face, the clothes they wear, or the places they hangout. Initial impressions or presuppositions influence how we relate or respond to one another. Labeling someone as orphan, prostitute, or drug addict may evoke pity and compassion, but it does little to affirm an individual's dignity or self-worth. Instead, let's change our perspective and view people not through the lens of their circumstance, but through the truth of Genesis 1:27,
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
In other words, let's value others (near and far) as fellow image bearers of God rather than simply pity them as helpless victims in need of our resources and rescue.
Next, we need to consider how we can empower the local church in the foreign context to build community. Americans (or United Statesians as we are known in Latin America) are a generous, hardworking lot. When we hear of a need we are quick to give, quick to go, and quick to build. Haven't we all felt a great sense of accomplishment when we could express in concrete terms to our supporters how much work we completed on our missions trip?
Now, I know firsthand that giving, going, and building are important and fulfilling aspects of short-term missions, but sometimes I wonder if we have become so intent on doing for that we neglect the deeper impact and eternal value of doing with.
Let's be honest, our time-oriented, we-must-produce-more American culture encourages us to be individually-minded instead of community-focused. Chances are the countries and people we want to visit probably can teach us a thing or two about building community. Therefore, before we eagerly jump into our next missions adventure, let's first consider a variety of possible ministry scenarios that embrace eternal values rather than simply produce temporal goods. Let's intentionally collaborate with our veteran cross-cultural workers (missionaries) as well as humbly receive direction from the local church and community. Because effective cross-cultural ministry (short-term or long-term) is less about lecturing, fixing, and producing tangible outcomes and more about listening, discovering, and facilitating lasting relationships.
Before your next cross-cultural adventure, consider questions like these with the veteran missionary you'll be serving with on the field: “How can we affirm the dignity and self-worth of the people in the church and community?” “How can we empower people in the community through the local church?” “How can we empower the local church in their mission to build community?”
Deepen your cross-cultural awareness and effectiveness by reading “Cross-cultural Servanthood: serving the world in Christlike humility” by Duane Elmer and “Serving with Eyes Wide Open: doing short-term missions with cultural intelligence” by David A. Livermore.
1Prevette, Bill. “Holistic Mission.” Lecture, AGWM Compassion Forum, Springfield, MO. October 2014.