Unity through diversity
By Siegfried Ngubane
Our world has become very diverse and is becoming more diverse as people move around more easily and quickly than in previous years. Both corporate businesses and Christian organisations seek ways to improve their places of work and ministry in order to thrive and attract people from different cultures.
In recent years, the topic of multi-culturalism and multi-cultural teams has become popular and many books and articles have been published. But for Christian missions, working cross-culturally has been part of the game right from the beginning. The story of the early church is all about crossing boundaries.
The book of Acts narrates the movement of the gospel of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, fulfilling Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8. Like ripples caused by a stone dropped into a pool of water, the witness of Jesus’ followers extends to new people groups in ever widening geographical areas. The Holy Spirit guides and empowers this movement from beginning to end.
The first signs of the cross-cultural gospel appear on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by the miracle of people from all nations hearing the Good News in their own language. This event indicates that the gospel is not confined to any single nation or tongue. It can address all people in their own ‘heart language’, which is a foundational pillar for the church in mission.
The story of Peter and Cornelius paves the way for a mission to Gentiles (Acts 10). We see an actual example of that mission in the church in Antioch (Acts 11:19-26). This is the first multi-cultural church, where Jewish and Gentile Christians worship, and apparently, share meals together — a big issue in their cultural world! How interesting to note that the first multi-cultural church was also the first missionary sending church!
Under the guidance of the Spirit, they sent out Paul and Barnabas on the first ‘overseas’ mission to Gentiles as well as Jews (Acts 13:1-3). Mission today does not remain the activity of lone Christians but is the calling of the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.
A beautiful picture of the people of God in the ends times is seen in Revelation 7:9. “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
God’s people are multi-ethnic, multiracial and multi-cultural. To reach the entire world for Jesus, biblical diversity is required. A diverse team is better equipped to reach people in diverse contexts; it also models the gospel’s relevance for people of every culture.
Duane Elmer, author of many books on cross-cultural ministry, describes obvious benefits to multi-cultural teams. When God created the world, He pronounced it good. This proclamation allows us to celebrate the diversity of God’s creation in cultures (Cross-Cultural Conflict, 1993, 13). Therefore, although there are challenges, the benefits are great.
In this issue, you will read how a multi-cultural team in Tanzania has been able to thrive over the years. Gédéon Mashauri’s training article will introduce to us several ways that cultures different from one another. Stephen Nitte La’abas of Nigeria, having served on teams in Malawi and Niger, will shares wisdom from the Apostle Paul in Acts 17. You will also read how three mission agencies in Ghana are raising funds to send youth on short-term missions trips beyond Ghana. Lastly, you will learn about the Antanala people of Madagascar for focused prayer. Enjoy reading!
Siegfried Ngubane serves as SIM’s Regional Director for Southern Africa. Previously he served for nine years as the director for SIM’s South Africa office. An ordained reverend, he and his wife, Maureen, reside in Cape Town. Contact Rev. Ngubane at Siegfried.Ngubane@sim.org.