Kara Powell and Chap Clark shared some research in the Jul/Aug 2004 Youthworker Journal (p. 50-55) that indicates a strong need for youth leaders to understand a variety of multicultural issues, not just those in urban or international contexts. So, I'd like to offer three suggestions as we navigate a few issues around multi-cultural and global youth ministry. Frankly speaking, it's only a start. But as one Korean proverb states, "…the start is half the journey."

Knowing What We Don't Know

In the classes I teach related to youth ministry and culture, I always ask students to do two things. First, I ask them to read a book called Ministering Cross-Culturally by Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers. While there are many significant books on this subject, this text helps readers examine their personal views and values regarding issues related to time, judgment, handling crises, goals, self-worth, and vulnerability.

Next, I ask them to befriend a person of a different ethnic background, and discuss and interact with that person's views on the same subjects, in order to become more aware of the differences.

At our Eastern University Youth Life Institute, one of the most enlightening and educational moments is when we have times of intentional discussion about these issues. Students ask me a range of questions from "Why do Asians study so hard?" to "Why is ‘chink' so offensive to Asians?" to "Do you think there will be a backlash against Asians after the movie Pearl Harbor?" These students are white, Hispanic, and African American, and I think these are legitimate questions, and the answers will hopefully bring about a greater understanding so they could be more effective with the Asians in their ministries.

Knowing That We'll Never Know It All

Perhaps Captain Nathan Algren said it best (Tom Cruise's character in the movie The Last Samurai). The catalyst to his growth to understand more of Japanese culture was initiated when he noted that "there is so much here that I'll never understand…and though it may be forever obscure to me, I can not but be aware of its power."

Some people come to ministry across culture thinking they know all the answers. Yet, there are so many complexities to each person and situation. For example, in the Asian-American ministry context, some outside believe that all Asians are smart and buy into the "model minority" myth. Others get their stereotypes of Asians from Jackie Chan or Jet Li movies. However, even within our Asian context, we have terms to describe the varying degrees of the "American-ness" of Asians. Someone who has just immigrated to America and speaks little English is classified as an F.O.B. or "fresh off the boat." On the other hand, those who've assimilated into the white culture can be termed a "banana" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). Just looking at an Asian American (or any ethnic person, for that matter) from the outside doesn't do justice to the rich complexities of who that person is. For example, we'd never, if one of our female students got pregnant, stereotype and assume that all female students will get pregnant, would we?

Rather than labeling or making assumptions about a person based on race, culture, or ethnicity, it's important to approach each situation with humility; acknowledging that I can't fully understand, but that I can be aware and learn.


Knowing What God Knows

In the last YouthWorker Journal(Jul/Aug 2004), Efrem Smith wrote, "It was a multicultural, multiethnic, supernatural phenomenon that led to the start of the first Christian church…" and we're to look forward to "…spending our eternal, spiritual lives in a Christ-centered multiethnic community." Between the multicultural, multiethnic start of the church to the eternal future spent within a multiethnic community, Acts 1:8 clearly calls the church to be witnesses and expand the church and kingdom across multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial bounds in the here and now, as well. God calls the people (youth workers included) to go to the Samarias and to the "ends of the earth."