Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he instructed his followers that as they were going about, they should be discipling all of the ethnic groups of the world (Matthew 28:19). Most of us who follow Jesus are familiar with this passage. But for most, it is pretty intimidating to think of reaching beyond our own ethnic group, our own cultural comfort zone, and initiating meaningful relationships with people from other groups. But without that barrier crossing, there will be no discipling of all nations….and Jesus will not be treasured by all peoples…and he will not receive the honor and glory he deserves.
So why is it so hard to follow this teaching of Jesus? Well, among other things, it’s naturally uncomfortable! People and culture are so complex and complicated, that it is hard to build meaningful relationships with people who are different than us. We like being understood, and we like understanding people. But when we cross cultural and language barriers, things are easily misunderstood and confusing. Just think of the simple act of greeting someone. A little while ago, a friend and I stopped into a local mosque to check things out and learn about their activities. An African American female Muslim convert enthusiastically greeted us, excited to share about Islam and opportunities at their mosque. Well, a normal American greeting would usually involve a handshake. But when my friend extended his hand for the customary handshake, the gal graciously declined, saying, “For religious reasons, I do not shake guys’ hands.” It was a bit awkward, I must say. But awkward moments are often the norm when reaching out to those from different cultural and religious backgrounds. And most of us would rather avoid those awkward moments. And so we do. And so the 3 billion people from unreached people groups continue to go without a meaningful Jesus witness within reach.
If you are one of those Jesus followers who recognizes the need to reach out beyond your comfort zone, yet are feeling a bit overwhelmed….take courage! You are not alone! As the Lord has spoken so many times to his timid followers in the past, “Do not be afraid! I am with you!” With an understanding of his loving and empowering presence, just take a step. Find someone different than you, and say hi. Be a friend. Get to know them. What they like. What they fear. What makes them tick. Ask about their culture and family and religion. Learn. Don’t get overly worried about how you are going to “preach the Gospel.” Live the Gospel alongside them, and you will learn as you go. But first, you must GO!
(If you are interested in gaining more practical experience in reaching out across cultural lines, we offer experiential, guided training and coaching through The Guild Training Network. Check out guildnetwork.org for more info, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)