Stale Bread

I looked down at the stale loaf of white bread in my hands.

Something happened here that I don’t understand, I thought.

I’m in a remote village in southwest China, a couple of hours by car from the nearest “foreigner store” that would sell white bread. I thanked my translator, feeling a mixture of shame, gratitude, exhaustion, and confusion. I’ve tried desperately to be laid back, fit in with the crowd, and go with the flow. What have I done to make my hosts feel that the breakfast that every other person in the entire complex eats every morning, isn’t good enough for me? I walked back to my room in the hospital dormitory, looking out over the dusty mountains as I ran back through every conversation I’ve had in the past 24 hours. The constant emotional drain of being misunderstood once again washed over me. Then it hit me like a slap to the face… I said too much. This is not the first time that my talkative personality would be my downfall.

Let me back up and provide some context. Four years ago I went to China on a long-term mission trip. I worked with an organization that provided medical services to low-income families. The organization was just starting to branch out and offer special education services as well; which was one of the main reasons I chose to work with this organization, being a speech pathologist by trade. During the time I was with them, I was offered an incredible opportunity: Train the first group of Chinese speech-language pathologists at this extraordinarily rural hospital. Ever the adventurer, I’m always up for a good challenge.

Due to the organization’s needs, I would go to the hospital on my own. My team… the ones whom had served in China for a number of years and understood the culture…they would stay in the city and continue their work.

Back to the bread.

I had been at the hospital a few days before the stale white bread showed up. The afternoon before, the hospital-provided translator and I went to lunch together. I stood looking at the food in the cafeteria and exclaimed how excited I was to eat. I told her that I didn’t eat much for breakfast, was hungry, and the food looked great.

That was it. That right there. It doesn’t sound like I was complaining, right? At least not to an American’s ears.

In America, if I wanted to say that I didn’t like the breakfast, I just come right out and say, I didn’t like breakfast. In general, Western society tends to engage in direct communication to get our point across. This is not as true of Chinese culture. If you didn’t like breakfast, you wouldn’t directly complain about it. That would embarrass your host and be rude. Instead, you would use an indirect form of communication. As I reflected on this interaction, I think my translator took my mentioning that I didn’t eat much for breakfast to be me telling her that the breakfast was inadequate for me. She must have sent someone out to pick up what she felt would be a more traditional American breakfast.

Ugh. So much for going with the flow.

This day and age a lot of people might ask why we need to learn about cultural differences? Do these seemingly small blunders really matter? I think they do matter. They matter when we want to honor, respect, serve, and truly love our neighbors. When I recount this stale white bread story, I can’t help but think about how Jesus had to cross socio-cultural barriers for us. I think about the way that God became man-how He came to us.

He was born as a human, assimilated to our world, ate the food we eat, and communicated to us in our language. He attended our festivities, sat and ate with us, and spoke in parables just so we could relate and understand.

We live in a global world.

All of us engage with people from cultures other than our own. It may be at work, at church, in our neighborhoods, or even on mission trips. People from all different cultures are all around us. But if we’re blind to our neighbor’s cultural differences, we could end up offending our neighbor in our efforts to show love.

I hope you’ll join me this year at the Imagine Conference. Amongst the various other break-out sessions, we’ll have speakers experienced in cross-cultural engagement helping to lead us through a conversation about culture and teaching us how to relate to our neighbors from different cultures. Let’s imagine what it looks like to love our neighbor in a way that will be truly meaningful to them…and avoid eating some stale white bread in the process.

Register for the Imagine Conference!


Becca Densmore, Mission Council Representative, North Way Christian Community – East End

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Perspectives: Understanding God’s Heart for the World

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”
John Piper

Several years ago I had the privilege of taking a class at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement”. This class excited me personally, and I signed up with the hopes of gaining insight on engaging internationals right here in Pittsburgh. Missions is a great passion of mine, having received a Masters in Arts in Religion with a focus on missions at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. My passion has led me to build relationships with my neighbors with Muslim backgrounds, work with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) in Australia, engage with Pittsburgh Regional International Student Ministry (PRISM), and purposefully reach out to internationals in my neighborhood. I knew this class would only further ignite my heart for missions. I was right.

I was blown away by the class. We studied God’s heart for the unreached, the biblical call to reach the nations, the history of missions, missional approaches throughout the centuries, and we ultimately gained a deeper understanding of God.

The accessibility of the class was incredibly encouraging. The material was applicable to anyone who stepped through the door-whether a person had previous involvement in missions, worked at a church, was a lay leader in the church, or was a Christian simply wanting to learn more. I was very impacted by the class.  The content was straightforward, deeply biblical, and helped us move toward God’s heart for the world and Himself.

To my surprise several of the lessons were taught by mission-minded pastors and leaders that I had already rubbed shoulders with in the city.  I made new connections with people doing ministry in the city and learned practical next steps for engaging more intentionally with my Muslim friends in the city. It was also incredibly encouraging to see a fellow church staff member in attendance receive the nudge from the Lord to begin a prayer group for the church. They have been meeting for over a year now and have spread over to an additional church campus.

I was encouraged to hear that “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” would be represented at the Imagine Conference this year. I want to strongly encourage anyone looking to know more about God’s heart for the world to consider participating. Do not let anything stop you from pursuing God’s call for you in this area. As I think of a Christian’s call to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), I am also reminded of the promise made in Romans 8:31-39: nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). As we serve God and our hearts align more closely with His, may we be reminded of the hope and security we have in Him.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Register for the Imagine Conference to discover more of God’s heart for the world and where you fit in.


Pat Michael, North Way Oakland Outreach Director (In Partnership with Didasko Ministries)
patm@northway.org

 

For more information on a Perspectives Class near you, click here.

Next year’s Persepectives course: January 22-May 7th 2018

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