Cross Cultural Sharpening

Every year our organisation comes together to get trained and equipped to be better at the work we are called to. This year is no different. We came together last week for a 5-day course called “The Lenses Institute – See. Understand. Act.” The purpose of the course was to improve our cross-cultural interaction and the key scripture verses used were John 17:20-23. Most of our focus was in-house, but the application of what we learned can be used everywhere. I will share a few of my “ah-ha” moments or highlights with you in this update.

One of the biggest foundational topics was how Scripture has been misused to create a perspective that some people are worth more than others. From that point we often see 2 main groups that are formed – the one with authority and power (group A) and the other group that gets oppressed (group B). Both groups will read the same scripture but because of the lenses that they look through they get a different message out of it. There are however places where both perspectives share commonalities. The question in my heart is, “Am I going to insist that my perspective is the only right one and judge others who don’t share that or will I take the initiative to have the conversation and learn from other’s perspectives and even discover our commonalities?

The second nugget of value from this week was hearing the testimonies of my colleagues. From the older missionaries that worked for CCC during apartheid to the new missionaries struggling to work past white privilege. I know I used some disliked words or phrases, but we are all struggling with it on one level or the other. Because of our history and upbringing, we each have preconceived ideas. After hearing stories of each one’s personal struggles – from growing up to joining missions to being a missionary on staff with CCC, I realized that we are so focused on our own challenges in the mission field, that we sometimes miss what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Christ working right alongside us. We need to support each other and pray for one another, but if I don’t know your story and if I don’t have relationship with you, how will I know? One of the other points that came out of group discussions was that people aren’t always looking for an apology for what happened in the past, but an acknowledgement that their stories have been heard now – “Can I tell you my story and will you hear me without judgement?”

The third nugget that opened my eyes was creating my life map. A life map is a physical depiction of my life journey from the perspective of my cultural experience. The picture I’ve included shows a few helpful questions to guide a person through the creation of his/her life map. The process opened my eyes to see how God prepared me to be in a cross-cultural marriage (if you didn’t know, Pravani and I are in a cross-cultural marriage). If you want to know more about my story, I would love to share it with you face to face.

Mid-way through our course our facilitators asked what challenges we see in CCC and told us to write it down on post-it notes. They then identified 2 main challenges, broke us up into groups of eight got us to work on creative solutions. The 2 challenges we worked on were “How do we help our non-white staff raise financial support?” and “How do we create unity in an independent work culture?”  All the groups came up with their best solutions and shared it in the bigger group. My hope is that we will practically see it through and improve on our mistakes.

At the end of the week, we each created our personally summary of the week using the following points: 1. Sharing who we were before the training 2. What we learnt 3. What will we be implementing. Here is what I wrote:

I am in a cross-cultural marriage with low to very little conflict based on culture. What I have learnt over the past week is that I am ignorant of the history of my and other cultures in South Africa. The level of relationships I have in CCC are mostly superficial and I need build deeper to understand the perspectives of my colleagues, but I am grateful for the relationships that I do have. Moving forward I what to take these simple steps:

  • Engage more with colleagues- to hear their story and to seek to understand more than being understood
  • Study the Bible with a person from a different outlook on life.
  • To be a brother in Christ that can help opposing parties to see each other’s perspective and learn from it.

My last thought is to say thank you to the USA staff that came here to help us as an organisation and individuals to grow. The amount of work and prayer they put in was humbling. They adjusted the program daily to address felt needs and to be faithful to what God laid on their hearts. Thank you for showing us how to See, Understand and Act.

If you reached this point, thank you. I know that this is a long update, I have so much more on my heart but I work better through conversation. So please send me a message with questions and let’s build on getting to know each other better. I would even encourage you to use the Life Map tool amongst your small groups at church or work colleagues. If you do so, please send me some feedback on how it went!

Have a blessed day,

Nicholas

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