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Thoughts from the field (South Asia) - Cross Cultural Servanthood


Lately God has been redefining what it means to lead and serve in a cross-cultural context. I have lived in the U.S. all my life, and my view of leadership has been shaped by our society, church, leadership books and what’s been modeled before me. I like the American style of leadership. It’s what I know and what feels most comfortable to me; however, it’s not the best way to lead in a cross-cultural context. I moved to Asia one year ago to work with a Christian organization and I have made judgments along the way that leadership was lacking. Unfortunately, I was looking at leadership through “American” eyes as the definitive way to lead. This reminds me of a story that illustrates how well-meaning Americans can desire to “help” people in other cultures and “lead” them based out of their own cultural context: The Monkey and the Fish: A typhoon had temporarily stranded a monkey on an island. In a secure, protected place on the shore, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and in need of assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish. A tree precariously dangled over the very spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down and snatched the fish from the threatening waters. Immediately scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfactions swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature. The monkey’s motivations might have come from a good place; however, the monkey hurt the fish (actually it was much worse)! While we might have good motivations people rarely form their impressions of us based on our motivations. Actions speak loudest which is why it’s important for us to take the time to understand what really will help the people we’re ministering to. In Cross-Cultural Servanthood author Duane Elmer writes, “Humble leaders suspend their agenda, vision and personal wishes and listen to the wisdom of God through his people.” The truth is, as Americans, we like to come in and “fix” things. In some ways this is a good quality, but it can be detrimental to our relationships with locals if it’s done without listening to them and allowing them to shape our plan…or override our plan. This is probably humbling for the average American. It’s humbling for me. But humility is the most important attribute in serving. Micah 6:8 says, “He has showed you 0 man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 1 Peter 5:5 says, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Walking humbly with God will help us walk humbly with others. Actually the Bible has 66 references to humility. Jesus himself came to serve and not to be served (Matthew 20:28). Philippians 2 tells us in our relationships with one another to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus who made himself nothing and became a servant. Our relationships with locals will be the primary way we exercise humility in on the mission field. Elmer writes, “Learn from the people. They will feel valued, and your presence will be a positive experience for them. Whatever else you accomplish will be a bonus. Refrain from correcting or judging the local people; instead, ask why? Seek understanding; study the local people and their ways with an open mind. Then you will be liked, and those you've touched will grieve at your departure.” Patricia

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