Many of us haven’t had to rub shoulders with people of different cultures and ethnicities for quite some time now. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to have an unexpected run-in with a stranger at an airport, someone who speaks a different language at the grocery store, or a new neighbor or co-worker from a different country. This pandemic has made us insulated, communicating mostly with family and close friends, and I wonder: Will we struggle more with connecting across cultures after the quarantine than we did before? Building cross-cultural relationships is a muscle that requires practice and strengthening, and many of us have not had to exercise this muscle in a while.
Certainly a lot of us feel like we have grown and changed over the course of this past year. We’ve witnessed horrific racially-motivated crimes against Black and Asian communities that have shaken us to our core and forced us to confront the racial divides in our country. Many of us have read a copious number of books and articles and listened to podcasts all related to race and culture, and slowly but surely our racial consciousness has been growing. These are all really good steps. Though I’m saddened that it took the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as well as skyrocketing rates of anti-Asian racism to grab the nation’s attention, I am glad that many of us now know better. However, the hard truth is that simply knowing better doesn’t necessarily translate to doing better.
This year is offering us glimpses of possibility. Churches are beginning to meet outside in socially distanced formats, children are reentering classrooms, and families are venturing to playgrounds and other spaces outside their local community. Over time, we will begin to meet more people of other cultures as we become more physically mobile. But it’s important to remember that physical mobility doesn’t automatically translate to cultural competency.
There’s a lot that we used to do that needs correction. More than that, we must realize that just because we’ve always done cross cultural relationships one way, it doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do things or that it’s the only way. I see this extended quarantine as the opportunity to hit the cultural reset button. We will soon be stepping out into broad daylight, rubbing shoulders with friends and strangers alike, and we have the choice to try something new.
We’re all in different places along our journey of cross-cultural relationships, so the application of this challenge to hit the reset button will look different from one person to the next. My encouragement for each of us is simply to commit to change.
The next time you engage with someone of a different culture, be conscious of how you talk and act with them. Instead of asking people questions such as, “Where are you from? No, where are you really come from?”, consider asking instead, “What are your roots?” Instead of interrogating people with all the why’s of their culture (e.g., Why do you eat that? Why do you celebrate that? Why do you think that way?), we can choose to simply enjoy someone for who they are as a unique individual. We can enjoy their presence and leave room for open-ended conversations by asking, “Tell me about yourself” and “What’s your story?”.
We can also be mindful of our emotions and whether we are starting to feel uncomfortable or upset. Too often, when we are confronted with cultural differences we have a knee-jerk reaction to resist or control the situation. We complain, accuse, or even leave. But my gentle encouragement to you is to stay. Stay, learn to keep that opinion to yourself, and choose to love. Connecting across cultures is an opportunity to change ourselves instead of trying to change others.
Loving our neighbors of other cultures will take time, effort, and continual strengthening. We must train ourselves to change and grow; it won’t just happen overnight. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Christians are compared to athletes, who exercise self-control, discipline their bodies, and choose to persevere.
When it comes to cross-cultural relationships, we have to take time to assess what we’ve done in the past and how we want to do better moving into the future. Before this pandemic is over and before quarantine is a distant memory, let’s consider the ways we can show more love, more hospitality, and more equality to the people around us. We won’t always get it right. We’ll make mistakes. But that’s part of the learning process. Keep hitting that cultural reset button, so you can continue to strengthen your cultural muscles. I promise you, it’s worth it.
I like the statement about the opportunity to change ourselves. That is so important, yet I think that is scary for many people and why they play the blame game. Change is hard, but we don’t have to do it by ourselves. We have the Holy Spirit to help us open our hearts and minds so we can truly love our neighbor.
Grace P. Cho says
Yes we have the Holy Spirit to help us! So glad we do.
Brenda M Russell says
Good morning Everyone,
I am a real human being not a robot (smile).
Please take a deep breath!
We are on a roller coaster journey called life. No one can get off, fasten your seat belts, only lift your hands to Praise God.
Now, to begin with, God is the Creator and we are all His craftsmanship. We cannot choose how we are fashioned. We wake up and our babies are born. Who can understand that?
I love my children and I am thankful to God for them. I didn’t ask God if He could make certain they looked like my mother and grow up to act like my grandmother. Then my husband’s family would not be represented.
It is futile to want to know why God created so many cultures and so many flowers and so many fish and so many birds. He is God!
Let’s be honest, we want to be in charge of others and not ourselves. In real life, it does not work that way. We have to learn to accept others who do things differently from us.
We cannot choose what others wear and the foods they enjoy. Don’t be a person who wants to be in charge of the world.
Let’s love God and love people. Be Good Samaritans and represent our Lord and Savior well in our daily lives. Be mindful, our children are watching us and God is too.
I love you all.
A Concerned Mother
jackie nowlin says
Do you know of a bible study that is studying this topic, how to celebrate our differences and bridge gaps with each other? How to understand the pain and fear many black people feel? I am a white women in a white BS and would like to talk about the racial injustice in our next bible study.
Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison is a great place to start!
Grace P. Cho says
Jackie, I love that so much. I second what Adora said about the curriculum that Be the Bridge provides. Lucretia Berry also has a curriculum you can go through on Brownicity.com.
…and other cultures have to accept ours as well….I have been to many different countries that hate the USA and when they come here they are filled with a mindset that is just not us….while we send food…medicine…missionaries…build homes and water wells…and supply doctors and clothing….and yet they feel we hate them and do nothing to help them….so untrue but that is how our country is presented to other cultures…many who dont even realize its their own govt that is mistreating them and yet blame us for their situation….in our church and schools and neighborhoods(and I grew up in a poor one) I have never seen people of color or different creeds or ethnicity treated unfairly…..
Elizabeth Hayes says
You live in the United States and have never seen a person of color or different ethnicity treated unfairly? With all due respect, I can only assume you are living in a bubble or you don’t view the treatment of others as unfair. If we don’t acknowledge reality or are insensitive to it, it will never change.
Grace P. Cho says
Lila, as someone who has been to different countries and who has grown up overseas as well and as someone who has been treated differently and unfairly because of my ethnicity, it’s painful to read your comment and the perspective you speak from. You see those who are outside of your culture or nation (our nation I should say since I’m American too) as being needy yet ungrateful, which is how we’ve been taught in the church to view them as. Unfortunately, that is the Western saviorist mentality that sees others who are outside of our context as less than and that we need to save them, and since we help them, they must be grateful. But Jesus was one who broke through hierarchal systems and became the lowly WITH us. He didn’t demand appreciation but became friends with those who were often marginalized and left out, who were cast out and deemed unworthy of community. I hope you can see that as you read through Scripture and as you let the Spirit speak to you through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.
I have never left a negative comment on any Christian post, ever, but there’s a first time for everything.
I already feel over inundated with cultural correctness from the media and political sites, I don’t care to see it on Christian posts also. This is not the only one, it is just getting more & more prevalent. Basically we Christians are being called racist, but in a polite way.
I always thought of Incourage as being a site to learn Biblical truth, insight, and in doing so grow closer to God. Some of my favorite authors are on this site. Now I feel it’s agenda is edging closer to political correctness. I am truly considering deleting Incourage from my email and Facebook accounts because of this. I pray that doesn’t happen.
Joyce, learning about how to engage in and grow in cross-cultural relationships is very biblical, and so is speaking the truth in love. One read through the gospels is a reminder of how important this very topic is to God’s heart. I’m so glad Jesus crossed “cultures,” corrected his followers when they refused to, and continues to give us so many second chances to see our own sin, repent, learn, grow, and change.
Becky Keife says
We’re so grateful you have chosen to spend time here at (in)courage. As you may know, our three core values are to build community, celebrate diversity, and become women of courage! Read more here: https://www.incourage.me/start
Celebrating diversity in God’s kingdom means we embrace the unique gifting and diverse experiences of different women. We desire women of varied backgrounds, ages, and life stages to come to (in)courage and hear reflections of their own stories. We also want women to learn from stories unlike their own in order to grow in compassion, understanding, and unity as God’s daughters.
Our aim is certainly not cultural correctness, but to grow in compassion. I’m grateful for Michelle’s perspective and her gentle encouragement to us all to be intentional about how we interact with and love people from different cultures. I hope you choose to keep coming to the (in)courage living room so we can all learn together by God’s grace.
(in)courage Community Manager
connie ker says
I am a senior woman, so change is not an easy process after decades of life. When I was in school, even college, I was not around anyone from a different race or culture. My, how that has changed. My formative years were void of international relationships or even different skin colors. I have a new neighbor from India, and have written before on this comment page, that we have nothing in common except we are women. She is never home, working at her hotel that she owns, and it’s OK. When people come to her house, they are from India too. I may get to visit with her when the weather turns warmer and we’ll go from there. I do remember a Sunday School song, “Red and Yellow, Black & White, we are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world”. This lost year of Covid 19 has kept us distancing, isolated and avoiding people, even family, for high risk seniors. The vaccines have given me new freedom to return to church on Easter Sunday with my newlywed son & daugher in law who are coming to visit. Looking forward to the Easter Story and the Joy it brings to all Christians.
Connie, Thank for sharing your context with us. I want to encourage you to reach out to your neighbor and learn more about her story. You never know what kind of friendship might result if you extend hospitality in the way Michelle is talking about. I’m with you on the journey!
Elizabeth Hayes says
I find myself in a position of not being able to NOT comment on this post and the comments I have read. I am noticing a trend on incourage posts that speak about race or ethnicity. They seem to elicit negative or angry responses and this saddens me deeply. If people will not acknowledge the fact that people of color and different ethnicities are currently, and have historically been, treated unfairly then it leaves me hopeless that things will ever change in the United States. One only need watch the news or pick up a newspaper to see for themselves the unfair and vile way Asians are being treated recently. I believe God expects us to treat everyone with kindness and to not close our eyes and say or do nothing when we see discrimination and violence against others. I have come to the conclusion that how we are raised has a great deal to do with how we see others. I thank God I was raised by parents who taught me to see every human being as equal and to never stand by and say nothing when I see a person treated badly because of their ethnicity.
Grace P. Cho says
Elizabeth, grateful for you standing in solidarity with us and for lending your voice to the comment section as well!
Karen Knowles says
I agree with the comments Lila and Joyce made. I am tired of the scolding from leftists and it has become much too frequent on this site. Sad to see the political correctness that has crept in. People are attacked if they don’t go along with it. I am not a racist and don’t know anyone personally who is and I am 78 years old. Our country has long since dealt with the slavery issue of the past, but those on the left want to continue to use it as a political ploy forever trying to stir up division in our country to further their agenda. Please, enough of this nonsense!
Becky Keife says
As you may know, our three core values at (in)courage are to build community, celebrate diversity, and become women of courage! Read more here: https://www.incourage.me/start
Celebrating diversity in God’s kingdom means we embrace the unique gifting and diverse experiences of different women. We desire women of varied backgrounds, ages, and life stages to come to (in)courage and hear reflections of their own stories. We also want women to LEARN from stories UNLIKE their own in order to grow in compassion, understanding, and unity as God’s daughters.
We have no leftist agenda or desire to fuel false political correctness. That assessment feels harsh and dismissive of the author’s clear intent to encourage. Our aim is to grow in compassion and awareness. I’m grateful for Michelle’s perspective and her gentle urging to us all to be intentional about how we interact with and love people from different cultures. I hope you choose to keep coming to the (in)courage living room so we can all learn together by God’s grace.
(in)courage Community Manager
I disagree with you, Becky. It took me less than 5 minutes on Michelle’s Instagram stories to uncover posts blasting police brutality, white privilege, etc etc. Surely (in)courage is aware of what their contributors are putting out into the realm of social media. Focusing on race and ethnicities, rather than our common belief in Jesus as Savior, is extremely troubling to me. I’ve been on the fence about unfollowing IC for a few months now, but the recent social justice posts are divisive and made the choice easy. I miss the encouraging articles focused on sound biblical principles, rather than the author’s politics and personal opinions.
Becky Keife says
Thanks for weighing in. I love that (in)courage has 24 writers on our staff. 24 women who span 5 decades, countless geographical regions, life stages, and denominations. Certainly we don’t all agree on every social or political issue — but we don’t have to! That’s the beauty of doing life in community. We all agree on the core tenants of Scripture and that Jesus Christ is our Savior. We agree on our commitment to vulnerably share our own personal stories and point one another to the hope of Christ. Beyond that? It’s okay to not agree with everything someone writes or says or shares or posts. We choose a posture of listening thoughtfully, loving unconditionally, and heaping on the grace. We are all women who need Jesus! (Oh, how I need Him.) I hope you choose to stick around (in)courage and continue to be encouraged by the voices you love and listen with an open heart to those whom you might disagree with.
Thanks for your post today, Michelle. It reminds me with a run-in I had with my next door neighbour recently. English is not his first language, but we spoke through gestures and he let me pet his chubby cat. Oh, how I wish we could have connected more! He and his wife graciously invited me inside to meet all of their children, but because there are many Covid cases in our area, I had to decline. I’m hoping as the weather is warmer I have another chance to chat!
Grace P. Cho says
Love that, Adora!
Nancy Ruegg says
I love the question, “What’s your story?” to open a conversation with a new acquaintance. Backstories offer much insight about a person. And if our motives are to understand, support, and encourage, we can each do our part to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3)–even with unbelievers.
Becky Keife says
Amen, Nancy! I love and appreciate that so much. Yes.
Carol Brown says
Is it allowed to copy this excellent article and put it on Facebook? It clarifies and encourages us how to change. Thank you.
Beth Williams says
Racial violence & prejudice has been around for a long time. Hitler killed thousands of Jews, Christians have & still are being martyred in many countries across the globe. It is time we took our heads out of the sand & started talking about how to bridge the gap. Go to almost any university & you will see diversity. We must learn to walk the Jesus walk to love & commune with others from various cultures. There is nothing to fear from other cultures. You may learn something new & heck might even make new friends.
Michelle, I’m so grateful you wrote about this to get us thinking about how we might hit reset and extend hospitality to our neighbors in new ways. I’m already dreaming about how I might host some of my neighbors for a meal and bring us together after the pandemic has separated us. Thank you for the challenge!