Friday, November 22, 2013

Intercultural Communication, Part 2

I was invited back to the Intercultural Communications class to lead a discussion on "How Intercultural Communication Has Affected My Faith." I have mentioned in previous posts how much I've enjoyed sitting in on this course and considering the topic, and I especially appreciated the opportunity to think through the past 8 years in these terms.

At the outset I had to disclose that sometimes I feel like practically 100% of my "Christian experience" has taken place in an intercultural setting, and thus it can be difficult for me to ascertain what part of my faith has been impacted by intercultural experience and which part as simply been impacted by (generic) experience. There is a sense in which all of my real-world experience has been in a culture foreign to my own, and I think that's a fairly unique position in which to be.

One of the impacts that stands out most clearly in my mind is the role my cross cultural experience has played in creating a great dependence on God. Shawnda has been the best help-meet I could ever ask for, but operating in the absence of an extended family and (similar-culture) friends has forced us to rely that much more on our God. I remember vividly the strengthening of our faith as we endured Titus' on-again/off-again adoption process, as we prayed to and trusted in God for provision and strength. Financially speaking, we have been living on faith for years, and God has never ceased to provide. Living in a different culture has meant living outside our comfort zone in a lot of instances, but has also provided an opportunity for our trust in God's providence to grow.

My experience has also shaped my appreciation for what we might term "incarnational ministry." It was best exemplified by Jesus himself, as he gave up heaven to come to earth, humbling himself to the point  of taking on flesh and ultimately dying on the cross. Paul followed that example by becoming "all things to all all means." My own attempt at incarnational ministry has paled in comparison, but I have a more keen awareness of what Jesus and Paul were doing in their ministry because of my opportunities to minster cross-culturally.

One of the greatest things about living in Vanuatu, and especially about spending a few years in the village, has been witnessing the natural expression of hospitality, generosity and community that is evidenced in their culture. I have been convicted time and again in these areas, as members of this "developing country" teach me lesson after lesson on these very-Christian principles/attitudes. From the elderly widow who unexpectedly gave us money for an upcoming mission trip, to the village store owner who refused to raise the price of a kilogram of flour even after I helped him realize that he was losing 10 cents on every sale (because he was operating his store as much to bless the community as he was to make a profit), to the numerous times I've witnessed people sacrifice greatly to help a family member or friend in need (sometimes I myself being the recipient). Generally speaking, independence is not a valued quality in their society ... and as hard as it sometimes is for me to accept that, I am growing in my appreciation for a life lived in dependence upon others.

My comprehension of Bible narratives has been enriched through my experiences as well. I am convinced that 21st century Vanuatu culture is has much more in common with 1st century Palestine than 21st American/Western culture does. I have had the opportunity to be exposed to "households" like Lydia's or the Philippian jailer, to noncommercial fisherman and gardeners (who rely on their skills for their livelihood), and to unique travel scenarios (boat, walk, cart, canoe, etc.). The list could go on and on.

My experience has also impacted me in regard to the relevance of the NT Scriptures cross-culturally. Perhaps the best text to consider as an example (and the one I brought up in my discussion in class) is Galatians 5:19-26. I am amazed at how the things mentioned in that text can be so very true and relevant in cultures as divergent as America and Vanuatu. They are sometimes manifested in different ways, but the deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit are very much cross-cultural.

One last observation I shared was the way in which I have been able to understand how absolute truths can still be applied in variant ways. For instance, we understand the command to "honor your father and mother" to be absolute. However, "honor" in Vanuatu looks something like making a way for your parents to be in their home village, well taken care of (food, clothing, housing, etc.) by their son(s). On the other hand, in America it could be quite admirable to financially provide your parents a comfortable residence with care givers (e.g. assisted living or retirement village) who are able to provide a comfortable and pleasant atmosphere that they very much enjoy, albeit hundreds or even thousands of miles away. But in Vanuatu, to pass off your loved ones to someone else's care would actually be interpreted as dishonor. Sometimes it can be a challenge to determine what in my makeup is "American" and what is truly "biblical." I think that setting up an American church in a non-American culture can be a recipe for a very empty faith, because such would not be relevant to the individual. This only adds to the beauty of Scripture - it's ability to be applied across cultural lines.

One of the things we hear most from people who travel internationally is how that experience affects them in various (mostly positive) ways. I think there is a great value in understanding cultures foreign to our own, especially as it relates to our faith. Some day as Christians, we will be able to be a part of "a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes ... saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb'" (Rev 7:9,10). It's a blessing to get to experience that in a small way even here on earth!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

OT Story

A couple of weeks ago, one of the instructors here at OC had a speaking engagement out of the country, and asked me to fill in for him in his Story of the Old Testament class.

On Tuesday morning (at 8am - which is VERY early for college students), I had 50 minutes to present an overview of both Ruth and Esther. It was fast and furious, but I enjoyed the opportunity to view the books from a "30,000ft level" perspective. Some of the highlights from the Book of Ruth that we discussed were:
  • the fact that the narrative serves to present a bright spot amidst the perilous time of the judges,
  • it illustrates the compassion that was at the heart of the old Law (gleaning, levirate, kinsman-redeemer),
  • of primary Jewish concern, the legitimacy of David... and ultimately Jesus,
  • and most beautifully, the providence of God ... for Ruth/Naomi as well as for the establishment of the kingdom.
Some things we focused on from the Book of Esther were:
  • the historical setting of the narrative (why were there Jews living in Persia?),
  • God's ability to work in spite of evil people/motives,
  • and once again, the providence of God for Esther/Mordecai, the Jewish nation, and ultimately the Messiah/kingdom.
On Thursday morning, I had the equally complicated task of giving an overview of the entire book of Isaiah in only 45 minutes (a quiz over the assigned reading took a few minutes of class time). Because of time constraints, I was forced to take an outline approach to the book, which I hope proved to be helpful.

So much of our understanding the writings of the prophets depends upon the historical context of Israel/Judah, so we spent some time recalling what was happening in both the North and the South during Isaiah's time of prophecy (invasions, foreign alliances, etc). We then looked at his unique "calling" from chapter 6. I think chapter 1 is especially valuable in setting the tone for the entire book, because it gives a glimpse at the real problem Judah/Jerusalem was facing: a very poor spiritual condition. They continued to go through the "right" motions, but their hearts were woefully far from God. From there, we considered:
  • the fact that Jehovah is a universal God and is in total control,
  • the 6 woes,
  • judgment/redemption terminology,
  • an interesting historical interlude (ch.36-39) regarding Hezekiah and Assyria, as well as the introduction of Babylon,
  • and finally, Christ, Redemption, and Consummation (with an emphasis on Messianic prophecies).
Isaiah's writings are very deep and sometimes hard to understand, but I remain in awe of how God used him to communicate His enduring love and devotion to His people and His cause. What an awesome God we serve!

Friday, November 15, 2013

World Mission Workshop

Photo credit: Henoc Kivuye, Oklahoma Christian University

The World Mission Workshop has been taking place on the campuses of Christian Universities since "Harding College" hosted the first back in 1961. As such, it is geared towards university students interested in foreign and domestic missions. Approximately 350 students from several different schools attended the workshop this year, hosted by Oklahoma Christian University here in Edmond.

I was given the opportunity to speak twice during the weekend event. My "keynote" was during the normal OC chapel session on Friday morning. Hardeman Auditorium seats 1,200, and every seat was filled, making it (by far) the largest crowd I've ever had opportunity to address. The theme for the workshop was "Renewal: Experience It. Share It." I chose to share a story of renewal from Vanuatu during that session. Looking back on our 8+ years in Vanuatu, it is really encouraging to see the ways in which the gospel has changed lives, particularly within family units. I centered most of my thoughts around Sam and Leimawa in Etas Village, and the significant change they've undergone over the past several years in response to their faithfulness to Jesus. I think they are a perfect example of those who have "laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One..." (Col 3:9,10).

I was also given the opportunity to teach a class on Saturday morning, and was very pleased to have 40-50 show up for that. The title of my lesson was "Sharing the Gospel in the Shadow of Traditional Religion." I had never really stopped to think about all the challenges we face in Vanuatu because of the indigenous religious roots that are shared by the ni-Vanuatu, but preparing this lesson really facilitated my "connecting the dots" on a number of issues that we face. Hopefully my presentation broadened the perspective of those present, to help them understand some of the unique contexts in which the gospel is being shared and having positive impacts.

A couple of professors from Harding University were in my Traditional Religion class at the workshop, and invited me to come and deliver that lecture to four sessions of their "World Christian" class (approximately 240 students total). It was a pleasure to travel there last weekend for a couple of days and share with them.

We continue to enjoy our time Stateside, and have especially benefitted greatly from our experiences at OC. It continues to be a wonderful opportunity for growth and fellowship.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Missions Prayer Group

There is a group of 15-20 students on campus who have formed an unofficial club of sorts that focuses on God's mission and how they are/will fit into it. They come from a diverse set of majors, but all of them are purposefully prayerful for how God can use them in their various vocations. It has been very encouraging to get to know several of them.

A few weeks ago, two of the group members came into my office and asked if they could conduct their Monday night meeting at our house, and have an opportunity to ask us about our life and work experience in Vanuatu. They requested that we split into guys and gals, because many of the questions they had prepared were gender-centric (especially the role of wife and mother on the mission field). I wasn't sure how a Q&A would go, but was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtfulness of their questions.

Both Shawnda and I came away from the experience very encouraged. We were grateful to be able to be an encouragement to these young people, and also appreciate so much the wisdom that is being manifested in them at such a young age. In fact, several of the group members have stopped by my office in subsequent days "just because they wanted to pray for me."

Today's youth sometimes get a bad rap, and perhaps often justifiably so, but rest assured that there are some very high quality young people that are seeking to glorify God in their lives. If you know of such a youth, let them know that you are proud of them and the decisions they are making! And be praying for them diligently.