The face of New Zealand is changing. Globalisation has scattered the nations all around the world, including to Aotearoa New Zealand and in the past ten years, the ethnic diversity of this country has increased vastly. Auckland today, for example, has over 200 ethnicities and 160 languages spoken. (1)
As part of this, many churches are reporting growing ethnic diversity within their congregations, resulting in ‘multicultural churches.’ This is both an opportunity and a challenge.
It is an opportunity to learn to embrace the diversity of the global church and experience the richness that it brings. But it leaves us with a challenge: how do we follow Jesus’ command in John 13: 34-35 to love one another as Jesus loves us? What does it mean to love each other, especially when the other is different to us? Many of us struggle to interact meaningfully within familiar culture, so how do we interact meaningfully with different, diverse cultures? In order to answer these questions, we need to understand some principles of cultural relationships.
Multicultural relationships suggests an acceptance of multiple cultures within a community.
Cross-cultural relationships suggests there are efforts to recognise similarities and differences between cultures and to hear and learn from each other.
Intercultural relationships suggests that there is interaction, learning, and understanding between cultures to create a community that moves forward together, with equality of contribution and standing. Identities are not neglected but commonality is also sought.
Understanding this should result in our grasping that in order for us to begin to love each other, we need to grow from being multicultural churches and communities, to intercultural churches and communities. It is at this intercultural level that we can truly know each other and then love each other for who we are rather than our ethnicities or where we have come from. This takes time, intentionality, communication skills, humility, and ultimately the love of Christ - but it can show a watching world the power of the gospel. For as John 13: 34-35 goes on to say, when we love each other as Jesus loves us, the world will see our discipleship.
Culture is dynamic and complex, which makes it challenging to define, understand, and navigate. Attempting to do so challenges our assumptions and stereotypes even before we’ve begun to get past the initial, “Hello, how are you?”
One phrase that is becoming popular is ‘cultural intelligence.’ This measures the ability of individuals to effectively reach across cultural differences by providing not only tangible skills to navigate culture, but also for inward transformation required for deep understanding and lasting change. It involves developing our knowledge, interpretation of cultural situations, and communication skills, and goes beyond relating to different ethnicities and nationalities: the skills learned can be applied in so many different contexts.
Importantly, the journey of cultural intelligence begins with a journey inwards, to an understanding of ourselves. In this journey of discipleship, we grow in our awareness of how we see the world, define our values, and the way we do things.
We are brought face-to-face with our best and worst parts. We discover that others see the world differently, have different values and do things in ways that we would “never do...” but we also learn that this does not necessarily make them wrong. When cultural norms collide, we need to learn to respond in ways that are loving and respectful. It is very easy to make gross generalisations about the ‘other.’ It is harder to seek to understand why the ‘other’ behaves in a certain way, and how we can respond.
A tangible witness to a watching world
Our witness to the world challenges how the world views Christians. Imagine an Arab and a Jew, transformed by the love of Christ and demonstrating it by choosing to live side by side in peace. This would show the gospel’s power to reconcile to a watching world. It would open doors of mission and ministry, particularly in cross-cultural contexts.
One similar example is that of Keimei and Grace Suzuki and their family. Keimei is Japanese. Grace is Chinese. Their three children were born in New Zealand, and are Kiwis. They are bound together as a Christian family, incorporating the best of all the different cultures. If you know your history, you’ll know the atrocities that the Japanese committed in China. The love of Christ in this family is a strong witness to the watching world about a loving God who redeems culture for his plans and purposes, in the closest human relationship of all. The Suzuki family hope to bring this message of reconciliation to Japan, as they seek to show the Japanese people about the love of Christ through their family’s witness.
Photo Credit: Shireen Chua
As they go, we need to also consider: each of us is called to bear witness wherever God has placed us, whether overseas or here in New Zealand. This requires that we are equipped to love well. It is a lifelong journey of discipleship, that brings joys and richness, as well as misunderstandings and heartaches – but we become all the richer for it as we become more Christlike on this journey together.
When we see others for who they are and learn to interact deeply with those who are unlike us, we can begin to love others as Jesus did. This has the power to deepen relationships, transform lives and show the love of Christ to the watching world. This is radical!
Story: Shireen Chua
Shireen Chua is a member of the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle and works for OMF New Zealand. She coaches cultural intelligence in the cross-cultural mission context. For more information please email [email protected]
1. Chen, M. 2015, October 19. Superdiversity has reached critical mass – it’s New Zealand’s future. Retrieved from nzherald.co.nz here.
1. What are the different cultural groups represented in your church?
2. Do your times together reflect these different cultural expressions?
3. What could you do to explore this?
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