|Posted on May 7, 2013 at 3:05 AM|
This walking the two
That sees me neither
Or the Other
Seems to promise so much
Seems so unfulfilled, empty, vague
The gift of betweenness
As we journey to be
May we be generous with our
by David Michie, Perth, Australia*
I came across this poem in a Paul Hiebert book when studying Cultural Anthropology at Morling College nearly two years ago. It resonated with me the first time I read it, and it resonates with me even more now in Malawi. It resonates with me because it captures well for me the tension, frustration and hope of living in another culture. This is especially true for me as a cross-cultural missionary trying to serve effectively in the culture that i'm in, and trying to identify with the people we walk along side to the best of our ability. This road of "inbetweenness" is not an easy one but nevertheless it is a gift.
The face of missions is changing in so many ways today. One of the ways is that missions is no longer just about 'pioneering' work where traditionally the Western 'Christian' nations sends missionaries into the unreached Majority world. For the Majority world are now sending missionaries of their own into the wider world too. Missions has become "anywhere to everywhere." The importance of 'cultural mediation' is therefore important.
The late missiologist, Paul Hiebert suggests that missionaries will need to be engaged in 'cultural mediation' as "inbetweeners" - "who stand between different worlds, seeking to build bridges of understanding, mediate relationships, and negotiate partnerships in ministry" (Hiebert, 2009:179). This is so important for me to remember as I work with the church here in Malawi. While it is not pioneering work that I will be engaged in as the church is quite well established here, but its about 'negotiating partnerships in ministry' for the growth and expansion of God's Kingdom here in Malawi. I imagine a day when the church here together in partnership with foreign missionaries reach the pockets of unreached groups in Malawi such as the Muslim Yao tribe, the Chinese diaspora and the Asian (Indian/Parkistani) communities living here. The ability to build bridges of understanding between cultures is so crucial in this work.
Living in Malawi has really brought out this reality of "inbetweeness" for me. Its a tension I feel on a daily basis, walking the inbetween of cultures. Not just between the Western and African culture but also between the Chinese and African cultures too. Living here in Malawi has really forced me to think more deeply about my "Chinese-ness." While I have grown up in Australia with its western values and I consider myself "Australian", there is an inescapable part of me that is still Chinese - my looks and my family story and identity. Jo and I have been confronted to think more intentionally about our kids, and what kind of "identity" they will have growing up here. They are Australians but their heritage is Chinese. While we bring them up in an "Aussie" kind of way, we also want them to appreciate the heritage they have come from. That is why we take them to the Chinese resturant here (run by mainland Chinese) on a weekly basis so that they are exposured to the Chinese language and culture. We have started teaching them Mandarin. Yes, it is quite funny especially as my Mandarin is pretty limited! And I hope to tell them more of my family history so that they grow knowing it just as my grandparents have told me. In doing this, I hope that they will grow up confident in who they are and comfortable in their own skin, and that they will appreciate their "tri-culturalness" - Chinese Australian living in Malawi. That they will see this as a gift, the ability to walk in the "inbetweeness" of cultures but firmly grounded in their true identity in Christ.
One of the challenges of living in the 'inbetweeness' can be 'discontentment' as the poem suggests. For we are neither rooted in one culture or the other. But we need to be 'generous' with our discontentment. What does this mean? For me, I think this discontentment of being an "inbetweener" should not make us guarded or defensive because we will often be misunderstood, but rather to see it as a gift that can be used by God to build bridges between people of different cultures and bring reconciliation where there are differences. We are to be generous with our love, kindness and grace shown in our words and actions. This is the kind of generousity that we are to show. For Christ came as the great "inbetweener" between Heaven and Earth, to be our ultimate mediator between God and Man. He was greatly misunderstood but He loved us nevertheless to even die for us on the cross so that we might truly understand God and become citizens of His Kingdom.
"The gift of betweeness as we journey to be fully one" is the hope that we have that one day in the New Creation our cultural distinctiveness will no longer be barriers to fellowship, but become a way by which we worship King Jesus as His unified people. Until that day, as we live in this world of brokeness and conflict, we use our gift of inbetweeness to navigate between cultures and hope to create foretastes of the coming heavenly reality along the way.
* Taken from The Gospel in Human Contexts - Anthropological Explorations for Contemporary Missions by Paul Hiebert.