How do you intentionally engage the culture in which you have been placed?
As I wrote this down, I was asking myself why this is on the list. It seems so … obvious. But I’ll try to explain why it made the list.
In the film “Chariots of Fire,” Eric Liddell has a line that says something like, “Wherever you are, be all there.” To me, this is an essential characteristic of a person seeking to live missionally.
So many times, we are everywhere but where we are. We are dreaming about where we want to live or do ministry. Or we are back in Egypt, Spain or fill in the blank. We think about how it was in yesteryear. What happens is that we tend to cheat on our investment in the place where we are.
What if you are only in a place for six months, 12 months or three years? Does that affect the way you live your life? Some people would say yes. You may think that since you will be moving on shortly, there’s little point in investing in someone. Instead, what if you made the most of every opportunity where you are planted today?
I think it is about making intentional choices to engage in the community and not just in the Christian (or American) sub-culture of that community (if there is one). My wife gave a terrific example of this while we were living in Spain. Shortly after we moved to Madrid in 2001, Susan was at an event at our children’s school one morning, sitting with a group of Spanish mothers who also had kids at the school. She did not know a lot of Spanish, but she was trying.
One of the mothers asked Susan, “You know that there is an American Women’s Club here in Madrid, don’t you?” My wife said, “Well, no, I did not, but besides – this is my community, and you all are my friends. I want to have Spanish friends.”
Susan was an instant hit. She had access to the community. She made an intentional choice to engage in the community.
There is nothing wrong with the American Women’s Club. They have some awesome events there in Madrid, as we later found out, but the point is that it was not Susan’s default setting. Her default setting was to intentionally engage in the culture.
It is sometimes so easy to go to the familiar. I know in the South, where I am from, the Christian sub-culture is so strong. When you move into a community, it’s usually easy to find a really cool church of whatever style or flavor you want, and you can start developing community with the people in that church … and never meet anyone in your own neighborhood. It does not have to be that way, but it is that easy.
We make choices to engage or disengage every day. One of my mentors who has helped me in my missional thinking over the years is a guy by the name of Lonnie Reynolds.
Lonnie and I are both on the leadership side of our organization, and so we could sit in front of the computer all day long and never interact with anyone else. Lonnie was telling me the other day that he likes to do his administration stuff in the morning so that in the afternoon he can go into his community and hang out with people.
I am doing my own experiment with this right now. I live about 25 minutes (if the wind is at my back) from Basel, Switzerland. I am going into the city and trying to put some of my thoughts to practice in regards to this very topic. I love the urban setting, and I have missed it since I moved from Madrid. I do not know what my engagement in the city of Basel will look like, but each time I am walking around town, I pray, I observe the people, and then I look for ways to connect with them.
Perhaps on another post I will write down what I am learning along the way. However, the last thing I want to do is prescribe a certain method or program. About the time a formula starts working, circumstances change anyway – not to mention that my culture here will look different from where you live.
I have to intentionally choose to leave the computer and get out of my house if I am going to be missional.
Think about the intentional choices or opportunities that you have when you go to a new place.
Where do you live?
If you have children, where do they go to school?
What clubs are there to join?
What hobbies do you have? Are they individual hobbies, or do they allow you to be in community with others?
Where do you shop?
Do you do online banking, or do you go inside the bank so you can have a conversation?
Where you go for your neighborhood coffee or tea?
Where do people hang out?
Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but you get the idea. I think we make choices in how we engage in the community where we live.
Will we be givers to the community or takers from the community?