By Colum Cille
The Institute for the Theology of Culture:
New Wine, New Wineskins
In a few weeks I will be flying overseas and beginning a new season of life. This new season will bring with it many challenges: learning a new language, performing a job that I’m not exactly ready for, and the predictably unpredictable minefield that is adapting to a new culture. New surrounding religion, new social mores, new foods, new holidays, new customs – even giving “the finger,” if I was so inclined, would require different fingers than which I am accustomed.
In addition, the country is predominantly Muslim (in order to protect my identity I will be referring to the country as Dunya in this blog, the Turkish-Persian-Arabic word for “world”). As someone who follows Christ, it has felt awkward telling others this part. “Muslims don’t like Americans,” or so I’ve been told by countless, well-meaning people (enough times that I have to wonder whether that’s Americanese for “Americans don’t like Muslims”). Or, from the more churchly, “God bless you, they really need Jesus.” And we don’t?
At times I’ve tried to ease the awkwardness by stressing the financial benefits or the adventure of traveling across cultures, an attempt to make it understandable, even normal. But they’re lies, and not even good ones – there are other countries I could go to for more money and more exciting adventures. I believe that by going to Dunya I am somehow following Jesus.
On one occasion, after explaining where I was going and about my job, an incredibly warm-hearted person asked me, bristling with enthusiasm, “So is this gospel-centered?” Somewhat caught off guard, I lamely replied, “Well, in the sense that I’m a Christian.” I don’t know his intention behind the question – the gospel means different things to different people – but the more I think about it, the more I like the question. I at least hope this is gospel-centered. I hope this in whatever small way makes the kingdom of God more visible – to myself as well as others. If “Muslims don’t like Americans” and vice versa, then simply showing up can be a small gesture of God’s reconciling work. Even if not a single person “accepts the gospel” as popularly understood, if friendships are born which otherwise would not have existed, the kingdom of God will be present.
As a way to keep myself gospel-centered and to include others in the journey, I have decided to try to blog regularly with the NW community. I thought it would be meaningful to share reflections on cross-cultural missions, prayer requests, and even the occasional ethical dilemma or two.
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