By Stanley Ow Chong Kheng
Stanley is the GMMI National Lead Facilitator in Singapore.
What is Cross-Cultural mission? My wife and I became missionaries or message-bearers at a later stage of our lives. We were exposed to the secular working lives and the ministry of the local church. I was one of the Assistant Pastors of a medium size church that grew from about 250 to 1000 members over a decade. My wife continued to be a supportive pastor’s wife. Years later, God planted in our hearts for the Land of the Rising Sun. Together with 2 very young children (ages 18 months and 4 months) we crossed into another culture in order to love and serve the Japanese. Japan has 1.5% Christians according to one of the latest reports.
Crossing into another culture
I remembered the words of my late Missions Professor, Dr Morris Williams from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, USA. He served in the continent of Africa with his family for many decades. He said, “when you serve in another culture, go with an attitude to learn and that we are different, our ‘home’ culture- be it America or Singapore is NOT better or worse, or superior or inferior. There is always something we can learn from the host country.” It is crucial for us as cross-cultural message bearers to have an attitude of a servant to learn and serve the people that God has called us. Do not go about with a ‘big brother’ attitude of “Let me come and teach you the ways we do things – the correct, superior, better and the only way.” Be patient, observe and learn from one another. At the right moment in time and after you have earned the respect and genuineness from the people, perhaps you may suggest other ways of doing it. Over our years in Japan we have learned many valuable customs, values and practices from the Japanese. With God’s help, the Japanese can also learned about some good Singapore cultures or customs. Let me share few Japanese customs and cultures that brought about greater understanding of the Japanese.
Knowing brings understanding and appreciation
Thousands of lives perished with tens of thousands lives permanently altered through the tsunami and nuclear plant disaster about a year ago at Fukushima. As in 9/11, the world was in a state of shock when they viewed the unfolding of this disaster before their very eyes through the news. However, the common remark is, “Look at the stoical Japanese in the midst of a national crisis!!” Why? There are some important factors.
The Japanese are drilled for emergencies especially earthquakes when they are young. My 2 boys often had the exercises while they were in the Japanese kindergartens. Though shocked in terms of its extent, they can expect earthquakes to happen even in their life times. They appeared to be ‘fated’ passively as an allowing of their gods, perhaps due to some offences made known or unknown to them. Some religions accept natural disasters as the will of their god or gods. They reluctantly accept the outcome and move on in life.
Community living is another area to consider. Though individualistic in their thinking, they act and behave as a unique cohesive community. Voluntarism comes easy for the Japanese, especially if it is good for everyone in the community. It differs from our Western mindset of protecting our human rights or individual space or privacy. This mindset causes a challenge to an individual’s decision in accepting Christ as his or her personal Savior. The Japanese build on consensus and group decision by the most senior in age within the group. A Japanese man in his 60s can be offended when you consider him old because many live till 90s or even 100s especially, in the rural areas.
It is always our goal to share with the Japanese about Kingdom culture, values, and principles. With the right attitude and respect, we can learn more cultures of peoples and God’s culture.