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Building Bridges of Friendship Across Cultures

The following quotes from experienced pastors contain important but sobering advice for anyone called to multicultural ministry:

"Love will always find a way to build a bridge of love and concern with your ethnic neighbors, even though cultural mistakes are made."
   - James Duren and Rod Wilson (1)

"If we are going to deal with people as people in a culture that is vastly different from our own, we have to come to the fundamental realization that people are different from society to society, and to do this we are going to have to make the major move to change.

"If we are going to be persons among people, our privacy, our established patterns of what is convenient and comfortable are going to have to be drastically modified. Our sense of belonging to ourselves will have to be filed away and we will have to develop a sense of belonging to others, which charaterizes so many societies in the world.

"This sort of experience involves a tremendous emotional drain. It is an extremely difficult attitude to take and position to follow. It means 'becoming all things to all men so that by all means we might win some' in the deepest sense, and it means a type of cultural suicide which Paul characterizes as being 'crucified with Christ.' "
   - William Smalley (2)

"Why such strong words? Even though they were intended for missionaries going into a 'vastly different' culture, there is a fundamental attitude involved here.

"Even the most kindly intentioned among us takes it for granted that as our relationship with other ethnic people develops, it will do so on our terms. That is, these other folk will become like us, not that we shall become like them. They will learn English, the rules of baseball, how to drive a car and where McDonald's hamburger place is. As they adjust more and more to these things, we shall get on quite famously. Of course, they will want to make these adjustments, for it is obvious that these ways of ours are the best ways!"
   - James Duren and Rod Wilson (1)

"In order to reach any lost soul with the gospel of Christ, we must love them, and that includes respecting their cultural heritage.

"And loving friendship is the key to cross-cultural ministry. Listening. Spending time together. Sharing our values and our faith, and learning about what matters to them.

"Learning about the culture will help place your relationship on a firmer foundation. Every culture has shared behaviors which help people know what to expect and how to interpret their neighbor's actions. Here's just one example:

"'In Yap (a small island in the South Pacific), an invitation to chew betel nut is a cue to initiate conversation. This cue is equivalent to offering a cup of coffee in the United States. Here guests terminate the conversation by suggesting they must leave, whereas in Yap the host terminates the conversation by saying that it is all right for the guests to leave. A failure to grasp the meaning of such cues results in misunderstandings, confusion, and oftentimes interpersonal conflict.'"
   - Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers (3)

(1) Excerpted with permission from "The Stranger Who Is Among You," James Duren and Rod Wilson, William Carey Library, 1983.

(2) William Smalley, "The World is Too Much With Us, Reading in Missionary Anthropology II," page 702.

(3) Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally." Copyright 1986, Baker Books.

* Read our article on Friendship Evangelism for practical suggestions for building cross-cultural friendships.

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