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Faith Without Borders

7 ways to become a cross-cultural Christian.

When the military moved our family to Tokyo, we were blessed to find a vibrant church of Japanese believers. Our first Easter in Japan, my thoughts filled with spring, I dressed in pastel colors. But when I walked into church that morning, everyone was wearing red.

Before I could say "Happy Easter" to the usher, he greeted me, "Happy Resurrection Day!"

When I slipped into a seat next to an American friend, she explained it to me: "The Japanese wear red on Easter—Resurrection Day to them—to honor Christ's shed blood."

In that moment I realized several of my ideas about Easter were cultural. Since then, I've discovered many aspects of my faith are grounded in my American paradigm rather than in my Bible.

Faith has always been embroidered by culture. But we risk creating God in our image when we view him only through the lens of our experiences. Our God is too small if we limit him to our culture.

Did you know Americans have become minority members of our religion? By numbers alone, the language of Christianity is no longer English. Soon, two-thirds of all Christians will be from Africa, Latin America, or Asia.

If God loves everyone, irrespective of political borders, then we need to do a better job of becoming citizens of the world. Who are our international sisters in the faith, and how can we get to know them? We might just find that in knowing them better, we discover new ways of knowing ourselves—and God.

1. Read a different newspaper.
American television's "world news" offers little coverage of stories outside the U.S. And newspapers have limited space in which to display six continents' worth of news. So why not broaden your source of news coverage?

Almost every nation has a newspaper or interest group devoted to covering its news. Hundreds of newspapers are a click away. You'll find many of them at www.world-newspapers.com. My favorite source for global politics is the International Herald Tribune at www.iht.com. If your interests are specifically Asian, try Asahi Shimbun's Asia Network at www.asahi.com/english/asianet.

2. Take a personal interest.
Do you know the origins of the coffee you drink? Ugandans hope you do. Uganda's cash crop used to be tobacco—before Americans decided smoking was bad. Now their biggest export is coffee because Americans have decided drinking coffee is good. Did you know your daily Starbucks run had global implications? I didn't either until I met someone from Uganda.

Now, whenever I see "Uganda" in a headline, I read the story. Why? It's important to my friend, so it's become important to me. Pay attention to the people around you; find out where they're from, where their roots lie, and take an interest. The next time they celebrate their culture, join them! Observe Chinese New Year. Take part in Scottish Highland Games. Eat your heart out at a Festa Italiana.

3. Vacation somewhere new.
In 1998, when the military sent my family to France, we went to Morocco for Christmas vacation. As our trip approached, I became increasingly nervous. We were entering Morocco during the holy month of Ramadan, and in 1998, the U.S. decided to bomb Iraq throughout that season. I didn't know what sort of reaction Americans would receive in a country that's 98 percent Muslim.

As it turned out, I was completely unprepared for what we experienced. Our golf caddy, a man who lived just above poverty level, gave us a Christmas present. Our taxi driver invited us over to his home to meet his family and join them in breaking the Ramadan fast. Had I not visited Morocco, the only portrait of Muslim nations I'd have would be prejudicial and negative.

Travel expands your knowledge as well as your world. Yet many of us vacation in the same place every year. Do you know at least enough Spanish to say "please" and "thank you"? Then most of South America is at your doorstep. With just English you can navigate Australia, New Zealand, the Bahamas, Singapore, or (surprise!) India. India now has the largest English-speaking population in the world.

Or start closer to home by sampling the different cultures in North America. If you normally vacation in tropical Florida, head to the Southwest or the wild coasts of Maine.

4. Enjoy international art and music.
If you don't have the time or money to travel, you can still explore foreign landscapes through art and music. For example, I never appreciated Cézanne's landscape paintings until I visited southern France and stood at the very places he'd painted. As I saw the vivid blue skies and gaunt trees, I discovered I'd disliked the paintings only because they were unfamiliar. Now I find art from other cultures fascinating.

From the elemental shapes in African sculpture to the detailed work of Asian printmakers, you can learn something about the world your sisters live in by studying their art. Visit a local cultural museum or go to a large city to see a traveling art exhibit.

Similarly, people have always turned to music to express emotion. So what melodies do your sisters in Christ hum as they go about their day? What words do they whisper? Are the songs about freedom? Pain? Celebration? Visit Harmonia Mundi's online catalog at http://harmoniamundi.com/usa/catalogue for traditional music from European countries. Or visit World Music's website, www.worldvillagemusic.com/anglais/artistelist, for music from around the globe.

5. Check out foreign books and movies.
Every time I read a foreign book or watch a foreign movie, my vision of the world expands. The word foreign comes from a Latin word meaning "on the outside." Reading a book or viewing a film is seeing the world from someone else's perspective.

Most writers and film directors search for truth when they practice their craft. When they discover it—even in the mundane or the secular—they also discover God. And you can too.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Movies: Hotel Rwanda (South Africa/ Britain/Italy/Canada, 2004); Le Retour de Martin de Guerre (France, 1982); Maria Chapdelaine (Canada, 1983); Shall We Dance? (Japanese version, 1996); Babette's Feast (Denmark, 1987); Il Postino (Italy, 1995); Life Is Beautiful (Italy, 1997).

Books: The Little Prince by St. Exupery (French); Crow Lake by Mary Lawson (Canadian); The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukyama (Japanese); Polite Lies by Kyoko Mori (Japanese); Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (Iranian).

6. Practice your hobby internationally.
When my husband, Tony, and I married, I committed to participating in one of his hobbies so we could spend more time together. To my surprise, I found I actually enjoyed golf as much as I appreciated our couple time. I've now golfed with Tony on four continents. In so doing, I've also met generals and presidents of multinational corporations, and in the process have glimpsed their various lifestyles and cultures.

Travel virtually by joining an Internet group that focuses on your hobby. The Internet has created a world without borders in which you can "meet" people across the globe who share your interests.

Or use your hobby to aid those outside your culture. Do you enjoy reading? Help fund a project to restock books for schools in Afghanistan or Iraq. Do you enjoy quilting or weaving? Make something to give to an organization collecting blankets for impoverished people in Africa.

7. Picture Jesus.
If Jesus were alive today with the cultural references he had when he walked this earth, he'd probably feel more at home in Near Eastern cultures than he would in America. And he certainly wouldn't speak English. That idea makes me feel a bit like an outsider in my faith. But that's OK. All cultures radiate a part of God's image because they're comprised of people God created. Problems begin when we all reflect the same sliver of his image. When that happens, we begin to believe that sliver is a complete picture of God. But when we explore other cultures, we gain a fuller portrait of our Creator. tcw

Siri L. Mitchell is the author of four novels. Her latest, Moon Over Tokyo (Harvest House), releases in July. Find out more at www.sirimitchell.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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