The world is becoming smaller. It is becoming increasingly common that, wherever you live, you will find yourself relating with someone from another culture. This is true in workplaces, neighborhoods, and churches. When confronted with a different culture, there are three common reactions. There are those whose coping mechanism is to “avoid” and “isolate.” They will only pursue friendships with their kind. They will have their own social hangouts, build their own living compounds, and even do their own church. The second reaction is to attack the culture they do not understand because it is different. They will mock, misrepresent and even demonize the other culture’s norms and practices; usually, this is done from ignorance. These reactions are driven by selfishness, pride, and a stubborn refusal to learn from others. For the Christian, it is a failure to understand and apply the gospel. The third reaction to cultural diversity is embracing the challenges and the blessings that come with such relationships. It is a humble, gospel mindset to love, teach and learn from fellow believers. It is an attitude that pursues unity in humility while maintaining individuality. Allow me to illustrate this and then draw some concluding implications.

A Zambian mother decided to wrap her crying baby on her back. She instinctively picked the kid up and, in one motion, “threw” her on her back while picking a chitenge (Zambian material used to wrap a baby on the mother’s back). A western woman, a mother herself, saw that and she was concerned for the baby’s safety on her mother’s back while the mother picked up the wrapper. Instinctively, she runs over to hold the baby from ‘falling’. By the time she got there, the Zambian lady had wrapped up the baby and picked up her bag, ready to get on with business.

Was the Zambian woman careless with her baby? Not at all! She has wrapped up babies on her back for years! The chitenge is her unique tool, and the baby knows the drill. Was the Western woman wrong in showing concern? Not at all! That is her motherly instinct. She was faced with a new scenario, and in her mind, it was risky. Thankfully, the two women talked and laughed about this instructive and funny incident.

This is the nature of cross-cultural relationships. We have different ways of doing and looking at things (perspective), such that two people (mothers) with similar concerns (safety of a baby) will act and approach things differently and still be doing their duties faithfully and lovingly.  Therefore, in cross-cultural relationships, it is essential to note the following:

1. Clear, honest and respectful communication. We have to learn to ask questions to understand why others are doing what they are doing. We must also learn to answer, explain and clarify questions that others may have to help them understand. It is important to remember that other people from different cultures have lived for centuries without you.

2. Patience and tolerance; we must exercise high patience and tolerance levels in light of the differences. We cannot be offended by every act or question. We must bear with one another when we do not understand each other’s practices and norms. We must learn to communicate.

3. There are several ways of doing things. Sorry to burst your bubble, but your great-grandmother’s recipe is not the only way to cook! God has not commissioned you to get everyone to follow your way of doing things, and your practice is not the standard, so allow people to do things their way and learn what you can from them.

4. You do not have to express your opinion every time. There is a time to learn in silence. Trust me; the world will do just fine if they do not hear your opinion about every little thing! One hindrance to humble learning is our eagerness to express our opinions about everything. There is a place to watch & learn.

5. Have a sense of humor! Let us face it; there are things other cultures do that are just funny and crazy! People from a different culture will often say or do things that will not make sense. Those are precious gifts for laughter, do not waste them with your serious pettiness. Dwell with others with understanding and enjoy a good laugh!

That, in many ways, is the power of the gospel! It draws people from all tongues, tribes, and nations, people of all ages and social statuses, and make them one. It enables us to love the people God loves. Even though they are different from us, we can still pursue friendships with them. 

Article by Chopo Mwanza, Deeper Reflections