Stumbling my way through cross cultural ministry

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Church girls at Werri Beach, Gerringong

Our church had a weekend away together last weekend. One of the things I loved about it was the huge number of people that came, especially a heap of people from our fellowship group. We weren’t expecting that many of them to show up – but they did, even some who haven’t actually come to fellowship group this year. It was nice to have everyone together again.

The thing I am learning this year is that cross-cultural ministry is really, really hard. I love it! But it’s hard! I always knew it was a difficult thing, but this time two years ago, I think I expected that there would be some sort of latent supwerwoman inside of me who would learn to step up, meet the challenges head on and do some awesomely spirit-filled work for the good of the kingdom. Church ministry would be different once uni was over. I would be able to focus all my “ministry effort” on church. I was going to do things really well. Yeah. Well of course, that’s not really how it goes!

Like previous years, our group has been a wonderful source of joy this year, but it has also been a source of frustration! Our group – the international group – has seen huge number of people come and go thoughout the year, but not many of them have committed to stay long term. Some of them leave for very good reasons. They move countries, they move cities, they move to the other side of Sydney and don’t have a car to commute to church. But there are many more who come along to our group, and then go without giving any reason. Some disappear entirely. Some stop coming to our group, but will stay at church doing other things. It’s been really hard to interpret why people don’t feel like they can stay with our group. Is it a cultural thing? It is something to do with family back home? Is it because Matt and I don’t speak their language? Following these people up is hard. I have lost count of the number of awkward phone conversations and episodes of miscommunication I have experienced this year trying to get in touch with long absent group members!

I know it’s a learning process, but sometimes it just feels like constant failure. What makes this supposed failure even harder to bear is that all around us, other cross-cultural outreach initiatives at church seem to be flourishing and are being excitedly celebrated by the rest of the church. It’s so hard! How come when I invite girls to come to our group they seem to ignore me, but when other people invite them, they turn up? How come they say no to our group but yes to another activities? Is it because I don’t speak Mandarin? Korean? cantonese? Maybe that has something to do with it. I don’t understand their background. I guess it would be harder for them to trust me than it is to trust someone else who understands their experience and culture.

The last couple of weeks, however, have been uplifting. There have been a couple of helpful opportunities to reflect on how the church works as a body. What a great thing to remember! Matt and I aren’t solely responsible for building up people from overseas at church. We work alongside our brothers and sisters, and we all contribute to each other’s ministries in the way we support and encourage each other. Over the last couple of weeks I have been encouraged by so many other people who serve internationals at church, and it’s definitely made things easier, even as I look forward and see the potential for more difficult times ahead.

This was why the weekend away was so fantastic. The fact that so many of our group members were there wasn’t just because Matt and I were awesomely organised and enthusiastic invite-rs. It was because throughout the church there were other people also looking out for our group members. And that’s kind of the way it is supposed to work, right? Brothers and sisters supporting and helping each other in ministry. It was a good reminder that we are not working alone – and we are not supposed to be working alone.

And underneath all this reflection on how the church works, there is deeper reflection about myself: What do I need to change if I am going to be able to better understand people from other cultures?

Big things to pray for, and lots of food for thought! I am both daunted but really excited about how this group will go for the rest of the year and into 2011. If you are a praying type, could you please keep Matt and I in your prayers as we keep trying to build up the internationals at church?

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Hanging out at the beach with our fellowship group, ex-fellowship group members and friends

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