Reflections on Ministering Cross-Culturally

I’m currently enrolled in a Graduate program at Fuller Seminary, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it thus far.

Aside from the introductory course, I’ve taken two week-long intensives.  One, a course on Ministry Leadership, was with Leith Anderson back in January, and the second, a course on Ministering Cross-Culturally, was with Brenda Salter-McNeil (I technically haven’t finished this course yet – the reading and coursework is due later this year).

Loved spending time with my class learning from Brenda Salter-McNeil and each other!

Both classes have been excellent, and I just returned a couple of weeks ago from the class on Ministering Cross-Culturally that was held in Oakland, CA, near my old stomping grounds of Berkeley, CA.

Sidenote:  I loved spending time with friends in the Bay Area: Dave & Cori P, Karen C, Alison G, Julie & Daniel S, Daniel Y, Jeff L, Ed W, Dareyn & Sabrina S, Josh B, Joey W, and Danny & Jieun C.  Yes, it was quite a full week of classes from 8:30-5:30 and then seeing friends during the off hours.  End of Sidenote.

The class was deeply impactful for me – much more than I expected.  I’m still processing much of what I learned, but I thought I’d share some of the major themes that I came away with, especially as I think about how Hope can be a place that celebrates Diversity.

1)  Reconciliation Requires Intentionality – This point is rather cliche, but it’s so important that it needs to be mentioned time and again.

It’s hard to be intentional about reconciliation because I’m so inclined to be with people I’m comfortable with or whom I gravitate toward.  But unless I’m mindful of it, I will not naturally want to connect with those who are different than me.

Brenda does such a job of creating awareness in her classes.  It’s really quite eye-opening for me to see the ways in which I can pursue reconciliation more intentionally in my life and ministry.

The thing is, it becomes even harder to be intentional once I’ve experienced the pain and misunderstanding that reconciliation can bring.

Deeper levels of forgiveness and trust and yes, intentionality, must be accessed to continue moving toward “the other”, not away.

2)  Different Communities Define Reconciliation Differently and Must Come to a Common Ground Understanding if they Don’t Define It the Same Way – The point was made by Brenda that people define reconciliation differently in varying contexts, and therefore, communities must come to a common ground understanding of what reconciliation is for a particular community.

Otherwise, the goals become different for a community and then expectations/feelings can get hurt.

Moreover, each context has a unique location in which to practice reconciliation, and this shapes the discussion even further for the people who are looking to be a counter-cultural community in that location.

For instance, some communities define reconciliation as healing the Black-White wound in America.  Others, define it as taking up the cause of social justice.  Still others define reconciliation as taking up the cause of immigrants.

Either way, each community must come to a mutual understanding for there to be a confluence of goals and perspective.

3)  It’s Important to Never Lose an “I-Thou” Perspective When it Comes to Diversity – Taken from Martin Buber’s classic “I-It” vs. “I-Thou” dichotomy, “I-Thou” is necessary for any community hoping to practice reconciliation.

“I-Thou” emphasizes that we treat people like people, and not as things or objects.  This is at the heart of reconciliation.

The irony is, when it comes to diversity, people can easily be treated as “its”.

When we treat reconciliation and diversity like a quota (e.g. we need more of these people, we need less of those people), we inevitably begin to treat people like “its”, as means toward something that cosmetically looks diverse, but treats people like objects and not as people.

I’ve heard stories of pastors ignoring people from certain races because they don’t want anymore of “them” to come.

Somehow, in the process of pursuing diversity, we can sometimes lose the very virtue that reconciliation is all about – love.

4)  The Art of Lamenting is Necessary to Engage in Reconciliation – Taking a chapter from Rice and Katongole’s Reconciling All Thingslearning to lament is part of the process of being reconciled.

This speaks to the pain that divisiveness and all the -isms bring.

Without lament – which is a more vulnerable form of anger – cycles of violence and exclusion will continue.

Reconciliation is more soul work than anything else, and soul work requires an inner journey that is much more painful than any human work can fix.

Hence, the need for a God who laments on our behalf, dies so that others can live, and lives so that others can live together.

These are just snippets of what I came away with.  I’d highly recommend for anyone to spend time learning from Brenda – it was a mind-blowing week!

What would you add to this discussion on reconciliation and diversity?

For further reading, check out two of Brenda’s excellent books, The Heart of Racial Justice & A Credible Witness


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