Selfishly Multiethnic: Cultural Tourism vs. Genuine Love

Each day during our series, The Colorful Kingdom, we at Oakland Communion are journaling our responses to various prompts in the book Multiethnic Conversations. Each week during this series, I'm making one of my journal entries public with the hope that it will give each person journaling something to push up against and everyone else a place to enter the conversation. 

Q: "Describe an experience in which you had to leave your own comfort zone to engage someone cross-culturally." 

A: In 2007, I traveled to Guatemala on one of those infamous short-term Christian mission trips. We were there for a month, learning the language, assisting in a free clinic and supporting local coffee farmers. And because most of the group was white, young Christians, our leaders were quick to stamp out what could have easily turned into self-seeking and colonizing endeavor.

In a way, we were set up for Christian tourism from the beginning. There were probably two dozen options to choose from, each represented with a colorfully decorated table at what felt like a missions bazaar. The leaders of each group hawked their country as the most beautiful, the most needy, the most challenging and fulfilling place to go. We students signed up for our three favorites ("where you feel called to go"), and were assigned to one of those trips. I got my first choice. 

We were college students thirsty for experiences, and missions offered up a truly righteous way to travel. 

In our reading, DeYmaz and Okuwobi point out that, "in order to live a multiethnic Christian life, we must be willing to go. We must be willing to leave the comfort and familiarity of homogeneity in order to develop cross-cultural relationships and pursue cross-cultural competence."

But that's only the second half of the battle. The first is attending to why we are "going" in the first place. 

As we pursue unity between Oakland Communion and The Way Church, we need to realize that we are people thirsty for transformative experiences and opportunities for self-growth, and the Bay Area provides those opportunities in spades. Every weekend is a chance to see another amazing sight, take in another amazing show, hike another amazing trail. And there's nothing inherently wrong with pursuing transformative experiences. 

But if we're not careful, we could turn becoming a Multiethnic and Multi-economic church into yet another entry in our experience portfolio--something we do primarily because it does something for us, not simply because we love each other and desire to be together. And if we do that, we will become tourists of each other's lives, extracting from each other colorful cultural tidbits, instead of family who loves each other through thick and thin. 

One of our questions this Monday asked, "What were some challenges you faced in [engaging cross-culturally]?" Beyond the communication challenges, beyond navigating unfamiliar cities, or monetary systems, or cultural taboos, the primary challenge we need  to address in our cross-cultural relationships lies in our own hearts and motivations for engaging cross-culturally. If we "go" with the heart of Christ, who came to the world humbly, sacrificially, and out of genuine love, I suspect we'll be alright.


Want to join us at our next conversation? Check out our CALENDAR.