AN ARCHBISHOP IN AFGHANISTAN A Global Church
Did you know that Christianity was thriving in Yemen long before it arrived in the UK? That there was an archbishop in Afghanistan long before there was one in Canterbury? That there were flourishing churches in Ethiopia while Roman legionnaires still patrolled Hadrian’s Wall?
It was the book “The Lost History of Christianity” by Philip Jenkins which showed me how embarrassingly one-sided my understanding of the global church was. Perhaps it’s a legacy of our imperial past, but while we may think that the UK is the epicentre of global Christianity, in truth it was never more than one small part of God’s global body.
A Global Church
A multicultural church is not a new idea. The sheer breadth of God’s salvation plan was evident at the beginning and it is there at the end: from God’s ringing declaration in Isaiah that “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” to the vision in Revelation of people from every nation, tribe, people and language gathering around God’s throne. It has always been God’s intention for his message and his glory to be received and reflected by all the peoples and nations he created.
Interserve has long sought to build multi-cultural teams wherever we work, but this is not always easy. In fact it sometimes feels as if we are deliberately complicating matters!
I find myself constantly having to think about how best to phrase an email to a Korean or an American, how a request for assistance would be received differently by an Australian or an Ethiopian, how an appeal or a prayer letter or a campaign slogan would work in Portuguese or Spanish or Dutch as well as English.
This slows everything down. We constantly have to work against our own cultural instincts. Dutch people find themselves having to tone down their natural bluntness, Singaporeans learn that hierarchies work differently in other cultures, power dynamics are different in Malaysia and Scotland, timekeeping is viewed differently in Pakistan compared to Germany (and so, for that matter, is hospitality.) At every stage there is the potential for misunderstanding and causing offence.
My favourite example of cultural blindness is when Vauxhall tried to market their Nova car in Spain, only to learn, after a quarter of disappointing sales, that in Spanish “no va” means “it doesn’t go.” I constantly make mistakes of this sort, and they’re not always as humorous.
Our Eyes Opened
So why do we bother?
We are not doing this out of a desire to seem politically correct but rather because multicultural teams are a reflection of God’s global scope. We learn humility as we discover that “our” way of doing things is not as universal nor as perfect as we had imagined. We receive new insights into God’s glory as we watch our Korean brothers and sisters pray, as we hear Scripture read in Dutch and Bahasa, as we learn from the perspective of someone who came to Christ from a different religious background.
Our perspective is broadened, our eyes are opened, our appreciation of God’s global plan is enriched. Above all, we get a foretaste of the day when people from every people and nation will gather around the throne worshipping God in a glorious cacophony of languages.
Written by a Partner serving in South East Asia