Over at Urban Mango, Lori McDaniel recently posted a helpful article on loving foreigners. We spend a lot of time talking about that same issue here on this blog, so I thought I would bring her post to your attention and chime in with a few thoughts on my own.
Here are some of Lori’s key points:
Learning to love foreigners is a process. Is this not true of learning to love anyone though? One of the main objections I receive when talking to people in churches about our responsibility to the people groups here in our communities deals with this issue. Many believe they have to be cultural experts in order to engage people who are different from them. Not only is this not true, it is a lie from the devil that forces us to keep our mouths shut. You don’t have to be an expert to engage another culture; instead, start engaging another culture so you can become an expert.
Learn their religion and culture. This goes hand-in-hand with the above point and is crucial to both deepening friendships and conveying the gospel. Lori is definitely right to point out that our fear of asking questions is silly. These questions both endear you to a person and they begin to teach you about their culture. When we work across cultures, that last part is key. Our goal in sharing the gospel must always be understanding. We must let it sink in that sharing Christ with people from other cultures is now part of the work at home in our communities. This is not as hard as we think though. It’s all about asking the right cultural questions.
Learn to contextualize. I would go so far as to say the purpose of learning their religion and culture is so that proper contextualization can take place. Contextualization is the means through which we make our communication understandable to someone from another culture. This is about more than language. If you have ever had someone make you mad without saying a single word, then you understand that communication includes our actions, mannerisms, and rituals. In Lori’s article, the thrust of contextualization appears to be hospitality. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to learn to show hospitality in a culturally appropriate way. In fact, the gospel and hospitality have a lot to do with one another.
However, I want to make explicit that we are doing more than learning how to be welcoming. We must also learn how to contextualize the gospel message itself. Our ministry is one of word and deed. We must love our international neighbors by welcoming them into our homes and sharing the message of the gospel. These two should not be separated, and we will have to learn how to do both in another culture. In order to contextualize the gospel, we need to ask specific questions about their faith.
It is easy to fall into the trap when learning about religion and culture of just finding out the names of things. Many people will ask, “What religion are you?” However, we need to know more than the name of the religion they claim. We need to know what they believe. Ask the big questions about where the world came from, what is wrong with it now, and where it all is going. These questions move you past a religious category to get at the heart of what this particular person believes. Then you begin the work of explaining the gospel well.
You can read Lori’s whole article here: “LEARNING TO LOVE FOREIGNERS WELL”
Photo By Hernán Piñera