After years of thinking the Great Commission was only for missionaries, God threw me into some cross-cultural experiences, and I learned the importance of forming authentic connections with people who are different than me.
I remember hearing the Great Commission preached in sermons countless times growing up: we are to be witnesses to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all nations. (Acts 1:8 ESV; Matt. 28:19 ESV) Every time I heard this, I figured it was something the future missionaries in the audience needed to hear. I did not think it really applied to me, a white girl with no cross-cultural aspirations.
Then last semester at college, God changed and shifted my paradigm a bit. In one semester, the school newspaper assigned me a story about Latino Heritage Month, I completed a project that involved attending a church with a predominately African-American congregation, and the housing office paired me with a foreign-exchange student roommate from South Korea. All the while, I remember staring at the blue world map hanging in an on-campus prayer room, praying, “God, what are you doing?”
He was changing my heart and my outlook on the future, definitely. In part, due to these events, I added an emphasis in cross-cultural media to my journalism major. But I’m still the same person. I’m still trying to navigate what “cross-cultural” even means and how I can be part of it.
In that semester, I learned that culture transcends ethnicity, socio-economic standing, religious background, etc. I talked to Latina girls who complained about their white friends (mistakenly) thinking they eat enchiladas every night. I talked to white girls whose hearts break for Syrian refugees. There are so many people with the same skin color who have vastly different life experiences. You cannot define someone by so narrow a category as one of these.
Also, no one is an expert when it comes to “being cross-cultural.” I have met Latino people who grew up in all-Latino communities where they did not know any white people. At the church I attended, people assumed I was a first-time visitor every week. The town where my school is located is predominately Latino, but as soon as you step on campus, whites are the majority. I say this not to point fingers or to offer excuses. I say this because we simply cannot afford to leave it up to someone else to fulfill the Great Commission. It is up to us! If not us, then who is leaving his/her comfort zone to make disciples of all nations?
I also learned that interacting with people different that me is scary. I was constantly worried that I would say the wrong thing and offend someone. But that is no excuse. We need to lean into the discomfort of making disciples. And if someone gets offended, then we can always ask for forgiveness.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7 ESV
Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that fulfilling the Great Commission entails going to a distant land and grabbing as many people as you can and making them disciples. And if God does not call you to a distant land, well then great, go down the street to a diverse area and start grabbing people to get on Jesus’ bandwagon. Sometimes this can create an us-versus-them mentality; when really, the goal is for us all to be one.
What if we looked at cross-cultural engagement like the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well? Jesus encounters a woman who is from a different culture than him, and instead of blasting her with his toolkit of “cross-cultural skills,” he sits down and has a conversation with her. He gets on her level, asks for a drink of water, listens, and speaks honestly about life. The most meaningful cross-cultural experiences I had this semester were when I sat down with my roommate and just asked her questions about her life, her family, and her country.
Cross-cultural connection should not be lofty and ominous; it should be personal.
I am proposing two things when it comes to culture:
- That we do not let the world’s definitions of “culture” and “diversity” scare us, because Jesus does not see ethnicity, religious background, or culture as a boundary. He sees our hearts and whether we believe in Him or not.
- That we actively seek to interact with people who are really different than us. In doing so, we are acknowledging that Christ came for all of us—rich and poor, black and white, Jew and Gentile—and He is all the common ground we need.
Maybe all it takes is a prayer for God to open our eyes to the ways He is already working out the Great Commission in our own lives: Jesus, I want to be like you. Show me who the Samaritan women are in my life, and give me the wisdom, grace, love to speak with them like you would. Here am I. Send me.