Crossing Cultures with Jesus, Katie J. Rawson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015.
Summary: An introduction to international student ministry that focuses on both entering into the world of international students, led by the Spirit of Jesus, and drawing those students lovingly into Christian community.
In 2017, 1,184,735 international students were enrolled in studies in US universities. Of these 362,368 came from China and 206,698 were from India. It might surprise you to know that over 15,000 of these students come from Nepal and 3,000 of those students are studying in Texas! (Source: “US: international students top 1.18 million”, The PIE News).
For many, like myself, who work in collegiate ministry, these statistics point to an amazing opportunity. We literally have the world on our doorstep at many university campuses. The opportunity to welcome these students and to share the Christian message with those who are interested, sometimes from countries where this would not be permitted, is a great privilege. Many will return to their countries to occupy significant positions of national leadership in government, business, education, and other key fields. Yet sadly, there are many international students who are never welcomed into an American home during their academic studies in the States.
The challenge in this work is to pursue it with sensitivity and grace. Often, we mistake politeness for interest, or people will say “yes” so as not to offend when they are not truly ready to do so. When we cross the street to welcome these students we are crossing cultures, just as much as if we were to fly to their country. Katie Rawson writes this book out of over thirty years of experience with international students, offering not simply a set of “how to’s” but an incarnational mindset and a spirituality of international student ministry that I believe is much needed if we are to genuinely extend the love of Christ in ways that will connect across the different cultures these students represent. She writes:
“We are sent into the world by Jesus just as he was sent by the Father. With the Spirit of the Father and Jesus inside us, we display Jesus to the world, just as he embodied and displayed the Father. As Jesus entered our world and drew us into his world—the community of Father, Son and Spirit—we are to enter the worlds of those around us and draw them into the community of Jesus. God is already carrying out his mission in the world through the Spirit, and we are to go out as participants in his mission, led by the Spirit, just as Jesus was. And our motive is the same motive Jesus had: to display the glory of the Father to all the peoples of the world so that every people group might join in never-ending worship of the Trinity. . . .” (p. 13)
The two key words or phrases here are “entering” and “drawing in” and the book is organized in two parts around these. After introducing the book with some information around the challenge and opportunity of cross-cultural evangelism and the love of the good and beautiful God that is at the heart of the universe and hopefully fills our hearts, Rawson turns to entering in. But instead of giving us technique, she teaches us about keeping in step with the Spirit and the vital importance of prayer. Then she begins with the importance of building trust through acceptance and honor while being aware of cultural differences. She helps us understand how our reading of scripture may be colored by worldview lenses, as well as understanding the different worldviews of internationals, particularly from Asia and India. Particularly critical here is understanding different values systems around four key values: honor, innocence, joy, and power.
The second part of the book focuses on drawing people into community. First, and foundational, she focuses on the characteristics of welcoming communities. She applies research by Doug Schaupp and Don Everts on the Five Thresholds of Conversion (a good overview is offered in this video) to communities working with internationals, showing how important walking with internationals through these thresholds is vital to avoid superficial conversions with no lasting transformation. She offers very practical ideas on communication and the differences between direct and indirect styles, different learning styles (conceptual, images, and intuitional), and the value of story. She follows this with a way of sharing the gospel as a story about brokenness in the world (available here electronically). She concludes by discussing how communities are important in the making of disciples when people believe.
I would describe this book as both practical and wise. It includes lots of tips and ideas, but also reflects the wisdom and spiritual insight and stories of many years in international ministry where the outward journey of reaching students has been matched with an inward journey of knowing Christ more deeply and learning to walk in step with his Spirit. Each chapter includes both individual reflection questions and group discussion questions (written by good friend and ministry colleague Marc Papai) and recommended resources related to the chapter topics (including extensive online resources at crossingculturesbook.org). It is great for collegiate ministers, ministry teams or anyone interested in welcoming and loving internationals students, entering their worlds and drawing them into community,