I wish I’d read this book years ago. I certainly wish I’d read it before I repeatedly offered food to my friend, Ibrahim, who kept politely refusing! If only I’d read a book which pointed out how gaining ‘awareness of a few basic cultural differences that impact relationships (can) help us build trust more effectively’ (p. 65). If only I’d thought more about Ibrahim’s cultural and religious life and realised that during Ramadan the offer of an ice-cream outside the cafe at Chatsworth House, however well meaning, showed a lack of thoughtfulness on my part.
So, I wish I’d read this book years ago. But not only because it provides advice on ‘how to’ become more sensitive to the differences which are part of developing cross cultural relationships (though it does that in large measure. See the helpful chapters on ‘Examining Worldview Lenses’ (Chapter Five) and ‘Understanding Value Systems’ (Chapter 6)). Rather, this is a book with a deep theological vision, rooted in a trinitarian understanding of mission and the Christian life. As the writer comments in her introduction:
‘We certainly need knowledge about cross-cultural differences, but knowledge is not enough. We also need a companion, guide and model. We find all these in Jesus…so that every people group might join in never-ending worship of the Trinity’ (p. 13).
Knowledge is not enough. And though Katie J. Rawson clearly has a LOT of knowledge of different cultures – she shares numerous stories of her encounters with international students from a range of cultures (including, phew, her mistakes!) – what I like about this book is the emphasis on seeking God, imitating Jesus and relying on the Holy Spirit in our work. And to do so not as individuals but as those in fellowship with other Christians engaged in the same mission. It’s in this area that I could see this book being of particular help to all those engaged in English Conversation Classes or international ministry.
At the end of each chapter, there are questions both for personal as well as group reflection. I could imagine this being a great book to share as a team. Maybe you could read a chapter each week and spend time before or after a class thinking about one or more of the searching questions she asks?
You may find you disagree with some of the conclusions she makes (for example, I wondered whether the chapter on ‘Communication that Matters’ (Chapter 9) might lead us to think that we need to become experts in cross-cultural communication before we attempt to do anything?). And some of us might be challenged by her view that in order to cross from Western to Eastern cultures we need to understand and share the gospel with a focus on honour and shame rather than (only) guilt and forgiveness. For those of us who have been brought up to think about the gospel primarily in terms of how a righteous God punishes Jesus for our sin in order to remove our guilt, it will require a bit of thinking to see that for some of our friends from shame or power based cultures a different way of explaining the gospel may be necessary.
However, I guarantee that the insights she gives into the depth and power of the gospel to cross all cultures (and the usefulness of a simple set of 6 drawings she describes as the ‘Broken diagrams’ to explain the gospel to people from collectivist cultures (Chapter 10) will be of help to all.
I would heartily recommend this book to all who want to get better at developing cross-cultural relationships and who want to become more equipped to share the gospel in ways which really hit the spot. I hope that after reading it, I might be more prepared the next time I take Ibrahim to Chatsworth House!
Part of the 2:19 Team
Author: Katie J. Rawson
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
ISBN: 978-0-8308-4438-8 (print)
ISBN: 978-0-8308-9892-3 (digital)