On Multi-Cultural Ministry/Life

So it is a fact that we live in a growing Multi-Cultural environment.   The stats tell us that in 2050, the minorities will be the majority in America.  That might sound scary to some people, because that means change.  But I think it is a great thing.  Why?

Well, having multiple cultures in one area forces a few things to happen that might not otherwise happen.  In a mono-cultural society, people pretty much assume that they know everyone else and how “things work.”  Things happen because they do.  In a multi-cultural situation, things don’t happen in homogenized ways.  Flows aren’t standard, and even patterns of thought must be analyzed, because people are (don’t be scared) Different from each other.

I learned this while ministering as a Youth Ministry Assistant in Lexington, MA.  Though New England is much homogenous, it is not completely so.  There is a large Chinese and Korean presence, as well as a growing Hispanic and historic African-American populations.  Though people tend to be segregated into comfortable communities in urban areas (and perhaps less so now than in history past), the suburban areas and rural areas (Western MA and NH) are more mixed.  So at Grace Chapel, I ministered to families from some very different perspectives on the spectrum of cultures and needs associated with those cultures.

Remember when I said that this multi-culture situation causes things to happen?  One of those “things” is Personal and Communal Growth.  When I began reaching out to others, I was at first scared, but that went away after I found out that the “other” person is another human being.  We both drink water and breathe air and eat food (though in different ways – that’s cool).

Then, another “thing” was being Humbled.  Oh, was I humbled.  At first, I blindly walked into relationships, thinking that I would be able to help problems and solve stuff – I would Help others, and things would be great.  I didn’t realize that often, the Western notion of Doing things for “others” isn’t the primary thing that people in non-western traditions need.  In being Humbled, I learned how to really Listen in new ways.  I had to step out of my context, and put on the mask of humility and realize that I was the learner in this situation, and I needed to Learn the needs that I never knew existed.

This I also had to supplement with Research and Interviews with lots of people from the new cultures that I was ministering to.  I’ve come to realize that even as we learn the cultures of others, we are never really expert on them, because they change in new contexts.  In order to survive as a minority culture in a majority culture, new traits develop in response to the interactions with the people and ways around them.  As this changes, we have to continually reevaluate the needs of the people we are serving.

As a minister this is hard because we have a certain identity that is wrapped up in being a Western minister (though we don’t realize that the word “Western” is there).  Often, our logic and strategy doesn’t work when reaching out to people who don’t understand our systems, and simple education of those systems do not necessarily help those who may be simply seeking “belonging” and “community” rather than ESOL and Ethics lessons (though these are also some other needs).

So as you begin to minister in a Multi-Cultural situation – realize that you will be scared at first.  You will be humbled if you continue, and you will need to continue and reevaluate how and what you are doing according to the response and needs of those you serve.  I’ll tell you that it has been a blast serving those who are different from me, because I as learn about their needs and hopes, and loves and problems – I change too.  I am not the same person I was a second ago, and I’m not the same person I was last year.  I have learned, applied, and begun to live again – and hopefully surrounded by the myriad of different types of people God has given us to live with.

Do you have a multi-cultural experience you’d like to share?  Send me a message or leave a comment and I’ll share some of mine.


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