Helping people is complicated.
It is always complicated, and becomes only increasingly so, when you are attempting to cross cultures. Now obviously there is a big difference between complicated and impossible. And as believers, we have tremendous advantages as we go to help people, in that we have a Word that transcends cultures, a God who is not bound by our culture, and the Spirit who speaks to people in all sorts of different cultures. But, we are going to have a difficult time really benefiting from those advantages, if we don’t at least acknowledge, that helping people cross culturally is complicated.
In an interesting article on what’s happening with the non-profit, Invisible Children, the author quotes someone who tries to help us appreciate just how difficult helping others cross culturally can be.
“Imagine you had some really well-meaning Japanese high school student who is really motivated by what he sees on the television about Ferguson. He shows up in Ferguson and he wants to help, he wants to make a difference. He doesn’t speak English, doesn’t have much money. What’s that person going to do other than get hurt or cause trouble? Nothing whatsoever.
“Now imagine this guy was a millionaire. Whatever this guy does is just going to be a disaster. How could it not be? You look at that and it’s obvious. Just try to put yourself on the other side of this. Now we’re the Japanese billionaires. We’re just as foreign. We’re just as clueless. We’re just as relatively wealthy.”
Again, I don’t think this kind of illustration means it’s impossible to help. In some ways it is a bit of a caricature. Because, it is assuming the person is foolish and not willing to learn and listen. Plus, the reality is, sometimes people from different cultures can see things that those within the culture cannot. But, with all of those qualifications, it does make a point, doesn’t it?
It is very difficult to help others if you don’t at least start by recognizing your own difficulties in understanding and then moving from there to really loving them and listening. I personally think one of the best helps I have had towards becoming a missionary was receiving training in biblical counseling, because when it comes to helping people, truly biblical counseling emphasizes the importance of involvement, entering into the world of the people you are counseling and asking questions and listening to the answers.
Helping people doesn’t end there, but that’s a good place for it to start, and it seems especially difficult for many of us, who are American Christians.