[Editor’s note: P2C-Students offers opportunities for young adults to go on mission trips nationally and internationally. We want all people to experience God’s heart for the world. This blog series is one way to discover more about the what, how, and why of #globalmissions.]
I grew up in a diverse city. Despite this, I didn’t have many friends from other cultures. The new town to which I moved seven years ago was by contrast mostly monocultural. As I’ve walked the streets of my neighbourhood, however, I’ve noticed a diversity of cultures increasingly changing the face of my town.
Unlike my growing up years, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to engage intentionally with a more diverse group of people. However, it’s often easy to only spend time with people from similar cultural backgrounds. To interact with another way of living typically requires greater effort, because the norms that make life efficient cannot be assumed.
Yet for Jesus-followers, there is a clear invitation to engage with those who are different. God’s kingdom is made up of people from every culture (see Revelation 7:9). “Cross cultural living” is a beautiful and challenging opportunity to know God and his people more fully.
I’d like to introduce you to four of my friends who are living cross-culturally here in Canada as a way to learn together about engaging with new cultures.
Éli is Québecois, with French as her first language. She grew up in Laval and currently lives in Montreal. Éli loves welcoming people to her city and helping them live cross-culturally, which she describes as “stepping into someone else’s world to understand, to love, and to serve.”
Éli’s Christian faith motivates her to take this posture. She explains:
Whenever we cross cultures in love, we look more like Jesus who, for us, crossed the largest divides of all: he became flesh, and then he became sin for us. In response to the gospel, we cross divides with Jesus for the good of our neighbours.
The practical reality of Canada’s diversity also motivates Éli to live cross-culturally. She notes that, “while we often understand crossing cultures as synonymous to moving to an entirely different country, I find there are lots of cultures right here at home.”
When love motivates local cross-cultural living, it may also prompt gentle corrections of things that don’t align with Jesus’ way of life. Éli coaches,
Don’t be afraid to reverse a cultural tendency in a meaningful way. For example, pedestrians in Montreal do not say hi to each other, not even on their own street. This could be beautifully challenged, when appropriate. Crossing over to their culture does not mean you have to agree or abide with everything.
Éli also wrote an article in this blog series. Read her thoughts on What is global missions? And why does it matter?
Kapia was born in Congo and moved to Canada as a kid. He’s lived in four different countries over the course of his life, and currently lives in Scarborough, Ontario.
Kapia describes living cross culturally as a “journey of exploring and discovering things about the culture I’m taking part in, and actually adapting some of those ways.”
Being a minority in a majority culture, Kapia shares that,
One of the challenges of adapting is not assimilating in such a way that I begin to lose or suppress my own culture. When I was a kid at school, my friends would ask me, “How come your food is so different?” The food I brought for lunch had different aromas and looked different from their pasta and sandwiches. As a kid, at times I felt ashamed, and I found myself letting go of my culture in public to fit in.
Whether we consider ourselves to be a part of the majority or a minority, cross-cultural living requires walking in the tension between embracing a new culture, while holding on to who you are. Kapia shares that
Certain things are good to assimilate to. For example, learning to wear a jacket in winter in Canada. It would be weird to ask someone coming from Africa to continue living like they did in Africa. There is adjustment and adaptation, but sameness is not what we’re after. We are different people from different places, and that’s okay.
One of the things I like to do when attending special celebrations like a wedding is to wear my African prints. I like bringing my culture with me on those occasions, and I like how bringing my culture with me creates opportunities for me to engage with others. It opens the door for them to share their cultures with me.
It’s clear from Kapia’s experiences and examples that living cross-culturally means knowing and being confident in your own culture, but also being willing to adjust and adapt to other cultures.
Alexandra is from Bolivia. She came to Canada as an international student at York University in Toronto, and now lives in Ottawa.
Alexandra says that “cross-cultural living means learning. It’s more than surrounding yourself with different cultures. It’s interacting and engaging with them.”
Some seasons of life make opportunities to learn about other cultures readily available. For Alexandra, university was one of these seasons.
Being in such a multicultural school gave me the opportunity to meet people and make friends from different parts of the world. I loved my closest group of friends because we had so much to learn from each other. We would share stories about our families or how we do different celebrations and holidays. We would try to learn each others’ languages.
Other seasons of life require greater intentionality to continue learning. As Alexandra recalls, “Once I moved to Ottawa, I found it harder to make friends. So in order to continue to live cross-culturally, I had to be intentional with reaching out or finding diverse communities.”
Whether or not we have obvious opportunities to learn about other cultures, Alexandra says that the most important thing is to be intentional.
Jocelyn grew up in small-town Ontario, has lived abroad multiple times, and currently lives in Toronto. She loves languages: currently she can converse in English, Japanese, and Mandarin; she’s learning Korean; and she knows a bit of Spanish and French.
From her many years of experience, Jocelyn has so many great tips, principles and ideas for us to live more cross-culturally. Here are some of my favourites:
Practise hospitality. Imagine that you’re welcoming home a beloved family member who has been abroad for many years.
- Meet them at the airport
- Show enthusiasm at spending time together
- Invite them to your home. Listen to their stories
- Prepare a small gift
- Feed them
- Invite them into your life
No matter what you do, have a heart posture of generosity.
Bless your international friend with honour—don’t underestimate them.
- Celebrate the accomplishment of someone expressing themselves in a second (or maybe third or fourth) language.
- See someone who is “not like me” as needed, not needy; they have something valuable to contribute.
Seek out and seize opportunities.
- Join culture clubs on your campus
- Take a language course or join a language exchange/conversation club, then look for a buddy to practise with
- Attend cultural events and festivals in your city and seek to meet people
- Befriend owners and staff at restaurants serving foreign cuisine (or get a part-time job at one)
Offer to be the host.
- Take international friends sightseeing in your city or to engage in some kind of “Canadian experience”
- Bring friends to a favourite local restaurant or cook for them
- Invite others into your home for a holiday celebration or just to hang
I heard a speaker say once that “God is so grand and so great, it takes the distinctiveness of all peoples to even begin to approximate his grandness and generosity” (Donna Dong).
Living cross-culturally expands our world and our hearts.
It helps us know God better.
It is a way to represent Christ to the world.
So how will you live more cross-culturally? Like anything relational, it will take time and effort to know others. But as any of these four friends will tell you, it’s so worth it.