We stood at the front of the church with our heads bowed. I could feel the hands laid on our shoulders of dear friends from Iran, Afghanistan, Austria, Germany and Mexico. The pastor prayed: God, we know Dave and Dina were sent to Europe to share the love of Christ. The American church sent them to us, and now we are sending them back!
My husband, Dave, and I served as Global Partners missionaries in Europe for eight years. Dave was the Europe area director, and I networked with local churches in a central European country to lead a Global Partners team that reaches out to Muslim refugees and immigrants. I also started an internship program for young adults.
Much of our Christian faith is framed in our church context and upbringing. I remember the first time I visited a Catholic Mass and the first time I went to a Pentecostal camp meeting. I had a lot of questions: When do I sit or stand? Should I take Communion? What are they all saying up there on the stage?
Experiencing other faith traditions forces one to ask a lot of questions. Multiply those questions when you go to another culture. What does church even mean? What parts of my church experience are simply a part of my home culture and do not transcend all cultures? What do I hold onto and what do I leave behind? Living cross-culturally requires a lot of self-examination.
When I was studying the Bible with refugee friends who had come to Central Europe from Muslim countries, I was struck in a new way by the power of grace in the gospel. I was not simply offering my friends a new set of theological pillars: “Come be a Christian! We have better rules!”
No, we actually have freedom and love. Just read through the book of Galatians and you will see it over and over again. Paul sounds like a hippie with all of his references to freedom and love in chapter 5:
- “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (5:1a)
- “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love” (5:6b)
- “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free” (5:13a)
- “ … serve one another humbly in love” (5:13c)
- “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (5:14)
- “But the fruit of the Spirit is love …” (5:22)
I’ve heard it said that the farther one gets from his or her home culture, the easier it becomes to link arms with others in the global church. We bond over the centrality of Christ, not clinging to our differences. The global church is beautiful. The diversity of the church reveals that the church is not limited to a narrow expression. It requires humility to admit that my expression of faith might not be the only way to live out Christianity.
We’ve just moved back to the U.S. Dave has a new role with Global Partners as director of partner engagement. I will continue to lead NEXT, Global Partners’ mentored cross-cultural internship experience for young adults.
It’s dawning on me how I need to use the same cross-cultural skills I used when adjusting to life in Europe now as I reenter an America that is different than when I left. I need to listen well before rushing to judgment. I need to look for Jesus in the margins and among the oppressed. He likes to hang out there. I need to seek to serve instead of cling to my own privilege and power.
Christ calls all of us to be sent to communities and relationships with people who are different than ourselves. May we enter those spaces with humility, freedom and love. We just might have something to learn.
Dina Horne is an ordained Wesleyan pastor and is currently the site developer for NEXT, Global Partners’ mentored cross-cultural immersion experience for young adults.