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Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), by Jane Vella, will challenge you to adopt principles of listening, learning, and teaching, useful for leadership, relationship, and ministry.
Vella educates adults; however, she does not simply teach. And she does not merely stick to her own cultural group. She facilitates learning in many cultures and for many different groups, mostly community development projects.
I’m personally very familiar with this kind of work and many of the places and people Jane Vella writes about. Vella’s books are important to me because my goal for summer outreach teams of interns is for the students to have the best learning experience of their lives. I want students to gain a deep revelation of who God is, His love and grace for the world, and their calling to engage the world in response to His amazing grace. Vella refers to this kind of learning as the ‘quantum’ concept, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
To teach effectively, we must listen.
To teach effectively, we must listen.To truly listen, we must ask open-ended questions.
Our Student Mobilization Centre (SMC) team is in the process of writing their own job descriptions. This is a very open process, requiring each of the members to engage, initiate, and define their contribution to the whole. That process and this book has helped me realize I need to be even more effective at listening and giving open questions when teaching.
Open questions need to be put to the ‘safe’ environment; they are usually best when posed in small groups. For example, when I teach I ask participants the question,
“What was your best learning experience?”
When forming small groups to process questions, Vella encourages teachers to define learning tasks and follow through on them so that the participants truly participate in the learning process. Defining the learning task is done when we apply Vella’s Assessment Principles, which is simply done by asking questions.
Applying Vella’s Principles
Who needs What and defined by Whom? or ‘WWW’
Vella’s key assessment principle is the question:‘Who needs What and defined by Whom?’ This assessment is best accomplished by building questions into the application process, either before or immediately after acceptance to a training program or internship. Prayer for participants and decisions about what should be emphasized in a training experience can be made with greater effectiveness when we ask the right questions, keep record of responses, and assess the information gathered. This WWW assessment is not only for training; it is also an important leadership tool for assessing the needs and capacities of our team, their staff and their projects.
Field Ministry Internships (FMI), a principal program of the SMC, is a serving/learning outreach project for university student teams. Students integrate their field of study with a cross-cultural ministry over an eight-week summer intensive. Jane Vella, her books and other web resources for Dialogue Education, have confirmed that many of the aspects of our FMI program help students gain that quantum learning experience.
For example, to help students feel ‘safe’ we form small teams of 4 to 7. During the first few days in the host country, we typically send small teams out on a scavenger hunt in order to expose them to the new surroundings and help them learn how to get around with some measure of independence. However, this exercise is also a bonding experience that takes place within the safety of their small team.
Another reason for small FMI teams is that they may integrate well as a short-term team on a long-term field project. In this way, the students also gain a greater level of participation in the serving/learning process. The students design their own field projects on site as they learn to observe and listen to nationals and long-term project leaders. They are taught to assess the needs of the long-term personnel and projects while they are serving.
The safety challenge for FMI is the uncertainty of a cross-cultural experience. This challenge is overcome when FMI participants are safely embedded into the long-term project team. Within that safe environment for learning, FMI participants become more deeply involved in the learning process, which raises the creativity and energy level. Participants are therefore offering more of themselves in service and learning more about the contribution God has specifically called them to make during their summer internship, and perhaps, over the course of their lives.
3. Listening: Student Participation in the Assessment
Applying the Assessment Principle is a leadership challenge. We set the example of Listening and we invite our participants into the Learning process by giving them a Leadership assignment: Participate in an Assessment.
Before reading Vella, FMI was structured with four phases:
- Orientation – an intensive seminar, like a mini-Discipleship Training School, and project preparation.
- Cultural Awareness – the first few days at the site of the field project, getting acquainted with the new surroundings/people, including a scavenger hunt.
- Ministry - while serving the field project, participants write a proposal for a 5-year ministry project.
- Debriefing – the final few days reporting, saying good-bye to new friends, and evaluating.
I have since added a fifth phase, an Assessment Phase, just after the Cultural Awareness phase and before the Ministry phase. The assessment of the project was originally assumed by the FMI leaders. However, students had little appreciation for that important phase. To better equip the student participants for leadership in learning, we now require them Listen and to document their Assessment before writing their project proposal. By doing so we are showing more respect to the field project and the community they serve. We also show more respect to the FMI students, giving them more opportunity to participate and take responsibility for their project proposal.
These are only three principles, however Vella’s books outline 7 steps for course design (PDF download). I commend this amazing teacher and her principles to you as you develop training in your context. Pay particular attention to the key words, RESPECT and ENERGY, which are at the top of my list of priorities for equipping students for the life-work and calling.
If you or your group would like to learn to apply these principles for outreach and training, please contact me. If you would like to know more about the Field Ministry Internships program, and the Student Mobilization Centre network of Youth With A Mission‘s University of the Nations, send me a note.
I am expecting quantum changes as we train emerging leaders for every arena of society in response to Christ’s command to ‘make disciples of all nations’. (Matt. 28:19)
Why is it sixty-two percent of the churches in Madison, including ten congregations with one thousand or more weekly attenders, identified no missionaries serving on mission fields? (Jericho 1997:7) Perhaps the lack of significant cross-cultural engagement is the result of an insufficient biblical model of the church. Perhaps the weakness of the “modern” church is the preoccupation with growth and size as a measure of success. Many say that “bigger is better”, but this has no biblical foundation.
The church is a complex system, “a living organism.” The church is called to bear fruit. Jesus taught us the “mustard seed” principle, which like complexity theory “illuminates the long-range significance of small actions.” When individual decision is made the foundation of church identity, the fruit that is borne is a culture of individualism. Individual choice and personal need becomes ultimate, rather than the unswerving purpose of God to share his mercy with every person in every culture. To begin to overcome this culture of individualism, one must first deny self and then lead a community of believers to do the same. Only then will the church fulfill her mission.
The letter to the Galatians may be Paul’s most important, representing the life and death struggle for the universal Church. It may have been followed by what may be the most important event in early church history, the Council of Jerusalem.
Paul also exhibits his most combative attitude in this letter. He does not open with any sense of gratitude for the church at Galatia, as was his custom. Paul, instead, must take on those other “teachers” who are presenting a “different gospel”, which undermines Paul’s gospel of justification by grace. Those other teachers were what Paul calls the “circumcision faction” (NRSV), who were demanding Gentile believers to observe the law of Moses, to become circumcised, which is to rely on Jewish Heritage.
Paul had met with Peter, had joined him at table fellowship with Gentiles, and later rebuked him for pulling away from that fellowship when those “Judaisers” arrived. Even Barnabas pulled back and joined in this “hypocrisy.” Paul calls into question the motives of those teachers; was it to avoid persecution or to gain some advantage?
It’s unclear exactly who those other teachers are that are putting Gentile believers under a “yoke of slavery,” but his words for them are as biting as ever. He claims they will “pay the penalty,” that they are “accursed,” and he wishes that they would “castrate themselves.”
Paul declares that the believers who have come under that “yoke” are “stupid” and “foolish.” They are by their actions denying the sufficiency of Christ, the gospel of Grace Paul preached to them. They are willing to “add” something, as if something more were necessary, to their simple trust in God.
Paul’s argument is that everyone, even Jews who do ‘works of the law’ in accordance to their heritage, must abandon their hope for a right relationship with God through trust in any other means, including Jewish Heritage. We must all find our hope and place our trust in Christ alone. Paul argues that Jewish heritage is more than adherence to Mosaic Law. Their father is Abraham, whose faith in God and not his adherence to any law. Therefore, Paul argues that reliance on law is finished for all Christians. The law does not and cannot foster the kind of faith and trust that leads to life. The Law was an imperfect agency, added as a kind of tutor, which identifies sin.
Followers of Christ are to emulate the trust of Abraham. The controversy called for the Council of Jerusalem. The consequences of this letter and this issue had divided churches, and if it had not been resolved, may never have allowed for Gentile believers without conversion to Judaism. The consequences would have dramatically hindered missionary efforts. The core of this issue may be the strong tendency of many Jews to place their trust in their ethnic and religious identity.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians calls us to eliminate all barriers to full religious participation based on race, sex, social status, etc. This is the challenge, I believe, for any cross-cultural transmission of the gospel. For that reason, if this controversy had not been sufficiently quelled, it would have done irreparable violence to the gospel of grace.
This question, “Can we transform the world through students?” calls for serious reflection regarding this generation, historical examples, biblical precedent, and issues of leadership credibility.The following reflection is an exercise I have undergone to refocus my own efforts and the ministries of Youth With A Mission’s Student Mobilization Centre.
First, we must ask, “What problem? What needs transformation?”
I believe the Glory of God is revealed as Jesus’ followers portray the truth of the gospel both by proclamation and by loving our global neighbor. The good news: There is a growing number of young people who are activated to help solve the world’s problems, poverty, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, etc. They want to serve among the poor and needy and make a difference. The problem: Those who desire to do something about global human need have little grounding in biblical truth; they either see little need or have insufficient understanding to proclaim the gospel.
Next, we must ask “What harm would be done if the problem isn’t solved?”
If this problem is not solved, a hopeful generation of emerging leaders may lose heart after facing the enormous global challenges without sufficient biblical christian worldview training. I see the urgent need to mobilize a new generation of student missions volunteers from every academic discipline who will learn to think biblically and who will preach and practice the gospel of the kingdom with relevance to the issues and needs of today.
Next, we need to consider the solution or solutions and why the solution(s) are desirable.
Why is it a good idea?
Jesus method of training was simply, “Come, follow me.” While classroom instruction has value, Jesus simply modeled his lifestyle and his followers experienced that life and learning while serving alongside him. Our solution for mobilization of today’s university students into short term mission projects complements the specialized training students are getting in universities. Our solution specifically engages the student’s worldview and motivation for service, providing a biblical framework, personal discipleship, and community involvement to help them relate personally with Jesus while they serve. The distinctive of our summer projects for students is the integration of the theoretical with the practical, the sacred with the secular, studies with service, the local with the global, and the personal with the corporate calling to make disciples of all nations.Students come to grasp the height, width, depth and breadth of God’s love for a needy world as they portray his kingdom through loving relationships in community.
We must also ask “Why is solving this problem relevant?”
More specifically, “Is this problem and solution relevant to you and to your community? Your church? Your ministry? Your profession? Your family?”
Our student ministries are designed with partnership in mind. Our Centre partners with student groups, church groups, professionals, and field projects. I believe today’s Church must be both a sending and a receiving church, which means we must make our commitment to the developing world a more complete partnership between the sending and receiving communities. The Student Mobilization Centre invites new partners to participate in these community bridges of 21st century missions.
Finally, “Is our solution credible? Do we have some kind of track record of results?”
The Student Mobilization Centre facilitates practical opportunities for university students to integrate into working cross-cultural ministry situations related to their fields of study. Our Field Ministry Internships teams are short term learning-serving summer experiences for students and christian leaders. Students gain academic credit serving collaboratively with one of our many integrated development and church planting projects in the developing world. FMI students from over 100 colleges/universities in nine nations have participated on 75 teams in 34 countries since 1989.