Ana Fletcher

What is Intercultural Engagement? (Intermission – Issue 35)

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I am partial to a good Sri Lankan curry – and I’m slowly learning how to make them. I line my curry leaves, cumin, cardamom, chilli, cinnamon and mustard seeds up on the bench. I grind and mix them with the other ingredients and then simmer them all together. Finally – and often salivating from inhaling the aroma – it’s time to eat. Delicious!

 What is Intercultural engagement?

Intercultural engagement is a bit like the spices in a good curry. It’s incredible how a small amount of any spice can add flavour to an entire dish. But a concoction of spices simmered together can produce an incredible flavour; one with a richness and depth that no single spice can produce. It’s still possible to pick out the distinct notes of each spice. If anything, the contrast with the other spices complements and enhances their flavour. Together, they have been transformed into something else.

All analogies have limitations – and this one is no different – but, I think it does help to explain what we mean by intercultural engagement. Culture is something to be celebrated. Intercultural engagement recognises and honours the differences and commonalities between cultures, and values the contribution of each culture. Intercultural engagement takes place through respectful, authentic interactions that allow each person to be shaped by the others and in the process each is transformed to produce a depth and richness that wouldn’t be possible without the “other.’’ It isn’t a dilution of culture. In the same way that “iron sharpens iron”, intercultural engagement helps to draw out the best of every culture while making us more aware of our own cultural blind spots so that everyone benefits from the gifts that each has to contribute.

What about multicultural or cross-cultural?

We often find ourselves in multicultural or cross-cultural situations. Multicultural situations are an important first step that can provide the basis for intercultural engagement to flourish. Multiculturalism itself doesn’t require any interaction between different cultures. It simply means that there are multiple cultures present and acknowledges the diversity between them. In other words, all the spices are lined up on the bench but they haven’t actually been combined together…yet.

Likewise, done well, cross-cultural engagement becomes intercultural engagement. The term cross-cultural can sometimes reinforce an ‘us’ as the ‘givers’ and ‘them’ as the ‘receivers’ attitude. It can be hard where we are in the majority, or in positions of privilege or power to receive the gifts that others have to offer and for us to allow our own way of being and doing to be indelibly changed in the process. Cross-cultural engagement doesn’t have to be that way! Interculturality recognises reciprocity. No single culture is the ‘norm’; every culture is both giver and recipient.

A biblical analogy

Perhaps the best and most well-known biblical analogy for intercultural engagement is the image of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians. The church itself is meant to be the ultimate expression of intercultural engagement! The church is the united body of Christ where the difference inherent to each part of the body is essential to the functioning of the whole body. Each part must share a life-in-mutuality and solidarity with others, ensuring care, honour and protection of the most marginalised. It is this body that is the lived expression of unity in Christ.

When our own identity is founded in Christ, we aren’t defensive about our own inadequacies. Nor are we threatened by difference. Instead, we embrace ‘others’ as fearfully and wonderfully made. It’s only once we acknowledge the essential part of each member of the Body that we can flourish, growing into the fullness of Christ. God’s mission is to reconcile all things to one another and himself and the church, as Christ’s body, is meant to be a witness to all of humanity of the reconciling love and grace of God. An intercultural church is good news to a world fractured along cultural divides!

Using our imagination

What might an intercultural church look like? Intercultural engagement is dependent on relationship. Like the spices mixing together, or the parts of the body working together, it is the interdependent relationship that forms an intercultural community. Relationship is one of the best places to discover others’ strengths and gifts (and our own inadequacies and blind spots). We cannot be satisfied with being multicultural or cross-cultural in our church contexts or in the way we do mission. We have to get close enough to those who are different from us for authentic, reciprocal relationships to form.

Imagine a church where everyone’s gifts were known and utilised and where those with power and privilege empowered those from minority groups. Maybe there would be a roster of preachers from diverse cultural contexts. Maybe different languages would regularly be used for scripture readings and prayers. Maybe worship would be led by a variety of people using the style and music from their own cultural background. Maybe leadership would increasingly reflect the diversity within the church. Imagine this church engaging ‘interculturally’ in its local context. People from different cultural backgrounds would know that they are welcome and that this church, Christ’s body, is a place where they have value, can belong and can contribute because of, rather than in spite of, their differences.

Final thoughts

As the Body of Christ, we must learn how to engage interculturally within the church and in our communities. Like a good curry, it will require some simmering for the flavours to develop – we will need love, grace, patience and perseverance. But as we allow ourselves to be transformed into the fullness of Christ, the end result promises to be the best that God has for us. 

Questions to consider:

What might be some steps that can help a church community move towards becoming intercultural? How do you personally identify yourself culturally? Where are you from? What are the cultural influences that have shaped you? How can you learn from those who are culturally different from you in your context? How can you encourage them to use their gifts?

Recommended resources for further reading 

Dan Sheffield, The Multicultural Leader: Developing a Catholic Personality, Clements Publishing, 2005

Jay Ruka, Huia Come Home, 2007

Mark Lau and Juan F. Martinez, Churches, Cultures and Leadership, IVP: Illinois, 2011

Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, Abingdon Press, 1996

Rosemary Dewerse, Breaking Calabashes, MediaCom Education Inc., 2013

Sandra Maria Van Opstal, The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World, IVP, 2016

Soon-Chan Rah, Many Colours: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, Moody Publishers, 2010

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles and contexts, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. 

Each Intermission article will be uploaded periodically and can be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Alternatively, to receive the physical copy, feel free to email us at office@nzcms.org.nz or call us on 03 377 2222. 

Where gladness and hunger meet (Intermission – Issue 34)

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“The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)

My deep gladness and the world’s hunger

Several years ago a group of my friends chose to relocate our lives to a neighbourhood where the social fabric was wearing thin, with holes and tears in some places. After a year spent praying for the neighbourhood we discerned that the best way to ‘help’ was to move in and become part of the neighbourhood. Early on, one of our team shared this quote from Buechner at our team night. Over the years, a passion for sport led him to start a Sunday afternoon football club for neighbourhood kids and he began to coach local sports teams so that young people who wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity could not only play sports but also receive mentoring and discipleship. A passion for education and the different people and cultures in our world led him to become a teacher aide and eventually a secondary school teacher specialising in geography. With others, he opened his home to students from refugee backgrounds who had nowhere else to go. None of it was easy for him. But he could have joy amongst the day-to-day struggles because he’d found the sweet spot where his own deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger met.

When I first heard Buechner’s quote and tried to figure out what my deep gladness was, the first thing that came to mind was good food. I felt very unspiritual! Yet, when I think about my ministry in that neighbourhood, it was my love of food (making, eating and sharing it) that was foundational to meeting a deep hunger. No pun intended. God is in the business of satisfying the hungry with good things (Luke 1:53), and in opening our meal table we were able to join him in this task. Bellies were filled. But equally, loneliness and isolation were eased? and desire for connectedness and belonging satisfied.

In the early days, our family celebrations became opportunities to bring people from every part of our community together. Over food, friendships were formed between people who might never have otherwise met or only met in adversarial settings: migrants and former refugees, self-identified gangsters and ‘streeties’, religious leaders and social service providers, Christians, Muslims, agnostics, law-makers and activists. For that season our call to ‘go’ was actually to stay home and reclaim the kind of hospitality (literally “love of strangers”) described in the gospels (Mark 2:13-16; Luke 14:12-14, 19:1-10; Matt 25:35-36). In doing so we were privileged to experience the richness of God’s banquet table and to invite others to experience the goodness of God’s Kingdom.

When the going gets tough

Following God’s call is not always easy. It does not always include happiness, security or comfort (Matt 16:24-26). However, there are many things that help to sustain us in our call when life gets difficult. One aspect that offers sustenance is the joy to be found at the intersection of our passion and God’s mission. Straight out of university, I volunteered as a lawyer in South Asia to help rescue people from modern-day slavery. It was hard, gruelling work. The pursuit of truth and justice is part of my hardwiring so when freedom and justice for victims seemed elusive, living in the intersection of my passion and God’s mission helped sustain me as we waited for God’s kingdom to break through.

A few years later some of us started a social enterprise cafe that helped equip young people who weren’t in education, employment or training. I did the baking and helped mentor the young women. It was a different type of hospitality than that practised in the gospels, but one that had potential to provide economic and social justice for those who might otherwise get left behind. All twelve young people who completed their work experience with us successfully transitioned to paid employment and a few years later we can see the fruitfulness of the investment in many of their lives. It was physically exhausting and financially draining (we were only open a year and had some debt to pay back), but in the midst of a painful and challenging season, we knew that we were at the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger met.

How to find your call 

So how do we discern where God is calling us to? Buechner helpfully writes: “There are all different kinds of voices calling to you, all different kinds of work and the problem is finding out which is the voice of God, rather than that of society, say, or the super-ego or self-interest. By and large, a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to, is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do, and (b) that the world most needs to be done…

If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you have missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leprosy colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are bored and depressed by it, the chances are you’ve not only bypassed (a) but you probably aren’t helping your patients much either…”

How kind it is of God to call us to serve His Kingdom in ways that are life-giving for us too. If you find yourself pouring out for the sake of God’s Kingdom but you feel heaviness, bitterness and the weight of your sacrifice and service overwhelming you, then perhaps you need to consider whether you’re serving where God has called you. Conversely, if you already love what you do but struggle to answer how it is advancing God’s mission, perhaps you need to re-think how you can meet the world’s deep hunger. God’s call always sends us to serve His Kingdom in the world (Matthew 28:18-20; John 17:18, 20:21). What we must learn to do well is to discern the intersection of our passion and God’s mission in every season of our life.

Questions to consider:

What do you think Buechner means by “deep gladness”? How is this different from happiness? What are the things that could be your deep gladness? Where could these meet the world’s deep hunger?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Introducing Ana

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Hello, kia ora, vanakkam, my name is Ana. I am stoked to have recently joined NZCMS as the Intercultural Communities Enabler, in partnership with the Anglican Diocese of Wellington. For me, stepping into this role feels like the next part of the journey that God has been leading me on. I am incredibly grateful for that.

I have spent most of my life living between cultures. I was born in Sri Lanka into a Tamil family and migrated to Aotearoa at the age of one. I grew up in Mt Roskill, Auckland which has a reputation for being one of the most ethnically diverse parts of New Zealand and was involved in a community led development there. After training as a lawyer I spent some time with International Justice Mission in Washington, D.C. and South Asia. More recently, I have been learning Te Reo Māori as I begin to explore what it means to be Pākehā (a person living in relationship with Māori as the tangata whenua). I have also been passionate about mission on the margins from a young age. For the past few years my Scottish husband, Paul and I, have been part of Urban Vision-a missional order of the Anglican Church. We have recently relocated to Whanganui with our son Ishmael as part of an Urban Vision team. Paul and I were both ordained as deacons at the end of 2017.

I am really excited to discern what God is doing among the different ethnicities and cultures in New Zealand and discovering how we, as the church in this place, might better reflect the full diversity of the Body of Christ so that we can receive the integral gifts that each part has to offer.