Not for the faint of heart

Sustained cross-cultural interactions are not for the faint of heart. As multi-ethnic church expert, Mark Deymaz often says, “In a multi- ethnic ministry setting, there’s a 100% chance that you will be offended by someone or offend someone.” In my experience, the glorious work of reconciliation is equal parts exhilarating and excruciating.

Just last week, after months of careful planning, preparation and prayer, a small group of pastoral leaders and I hosted a large multi-ethnic ministry leadership conference. While much of the conference went well, it ended on an extremely sour note when the well- meaning keynote speaker made comments that were both oppressive and offensive to many historically subjugated people in the audience.

I immediately felt sick to my stomach and my mind and heart buzzed with questions. How could someone so awfully and insensitively misuse their power in a Christian setting, much less at a multi-ethnic ministry conference? How did this happen in spite of our efforts to create a welcoming and encouraging conference for members of all cultural groups? Did I just waste months of my time on a “lost cause”? I felt betrayed, hurt and hopeless – feelings that are often experienced by reconciliation workers.

The work of reconciliation is often excruciating because it is the work of the cross. If reconciliation work isn’t painful, I’d venture to say that it isn’t really reconciliation work. Reconciliation requires that we partner with equally imperfect individuals who are also clumsily scaling the cross-cultural learning curve, forgive those who carelessly wrong us, repeatedly ask for forgiveness, engage in awkward and unpredictable situations and like gluttons for punishment, keep coming back for more.

As much as I hate to admit it, I am not  a superhero; I know that I  will stop coming back for more if I am not sustained by a strong biblical and theological foundation for cross-cultural reconciliation. I will lose my will to stay in the fight if I lose sight of the fact that by reconciling with others I am simply following in Christ’s reconciling footsteps. I will lose my will to stay in the fight if I lose sight of the painful cost that Christ endured in order to reconcile himself to me. I will lose my will to stay in the fight if I lose sight of the fact that even the most seemingly ineffective reconciliation work lives on in the power of the resurrection and will one day have its intended impact. If our work is not rooted in the power of the cross, we will inevitably quit. Reality check: you’re not a superhero either. You too need a solid biblical and theological foundation for cross-cultural unity.  And we must instill these values in the people that we lead toward cross-cultural unity.

I’m grateful for and highly recommend the excellent books that Curtiss DeYoung, Brenda Salter McNeil and Soong Chan Rah have written on this topic.