Review: Crossing Cultures with Jesus

Crossing Cultures with Jesus

Crossing Cultures with JesusKatie 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,

 

Review: It’s Not Too Late

dupee.indd

It’s Not Too Late, Dan Dupee. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016.

Summary: A book addressed to Christian parents of teens making the transition from high school to college on the continuing important role parents may play in their teen’s faith journey.

Last week, I reviewed Losing Our Religion by Christel Manning on the phenomenon of “nones”, adults who do not identify with any established religion, often having left the religious upbringing of their family and now facing the challenge of how to address the question of religion with their own children.

This book addresses the other side of this discussion, the desire believing parents have to see their children continue in their faith, and in the context of this book, Christian faith in particular. Given the rise of the “nones”, the fact that a number of young adults walk away from their faith during their college years, and the feeling that one’s influence over one’s children ends on move in day at college (we felt that), many parents wonder what can be done other than pray like crazy, not a bad thing in itself.

Dan Dupee, the chairman of the board of a large national collegiate ministry (not the one for which I work), would contend that it is not too late to have influence in the lives of older children, that parents’ influence is still significant, and there are things parents who care about the spiritual lives of their children can do, although he argues in the opening chapter that all of this must be leavened by wisdom, that it is not a matter of simple techniques or formulas, although he will lay out specific ideas of what may be done.

First of all, he asks the question of what a successful transition to an adult faith is. He proposes this definition, based on research with a number of parents of the students his organization serves:

The young adult Christian owns his or her faith in Jesus Christ, reflects it in priorities and decisions, and lives it in community with other believers, seeking to influence the watching world (p. 20).

He then proposes eight principles to which he devotes a chapter each in the book:

  1. Kids who make successful transitions don’t have perfect parents who know everything.
  2. Kids who successfully transition have parents who acknowledge their limits of control but still find ways to maintain their influence.
  3. The home is still the greatest place of opportunity for shaping the faith of a young person and preparing him or her for a life beyond the home.
  4. Kids who successfully transition have a bunch of loving grown-ups in their corner.
  5. Kids who successfully transition learn to “keep good company” in high school and maintain the practice in college.
  6. Faith can still thrive in an unfriendly place like college.
  7. In youth as well as adulthood, difficulties and trials can lead to positive spiritual growth.
  8. Kids who make bad choices need our love and support more than ever.

He prefaces the chapters on the eight principles by identifying seven myths that undercut these principles, including the ideas that parents must relinquish their influence during college, hope religious professionals can intervene, and accept that their kids will “sow their wild oats.”

The chapters are laced with stories of parents and children Dupee has worked with in their ministry and offer both hope and practical help. As both a collegiate minister and parent, I found his proposals spot on. As parents, we did find that the collegiate years were a critical time for “influence parenting”, that the company our kids keep does matter, and that trials can often be the place where positive growth can take place, as much as we never want our kids to struggle. The process was humbling as we found we had been far from perfect parents. The conversations about that strengthened rather than weakened our bonds and influence. As a collegiate minister, I love it when I get to work with students who still have strong ties to home and a vibrant faith that was shaped in that context. I have watched students thrive and own their faith during the college years, sometimes wrestling with painful episodes of doubt, or intellectual or lifestyle challenges, along the way.

I reflected on my own faith journey and how having a “bunch of loving grownups in my corner” had such an impact. The inter-generational fellowship of the church can be critically important. I think of the elderly missionary who radiated joy and shared her life along with milk and cookies as I tended her lawn, and would always pray with me. I think of some of the very “un-hip” adults who hosted a youth group full of “long hairs” as we studied the Bible together, often struggling with questions neither of our generations were sure of. I think of elders in my church, and our pastor who opened up our facilities to a bunch of those “long hairs” who were the result of the awakening of the Jesus movement, but who came with lots of baggage and more than a few joints. They took risks, showed up personally, and loved us with costly love, and many of us are walking with Christ today because of it.

It’s easy to simply look to ministries like the one Dupee leads or the one I work with to “rescue” our kids’ faith. What Dupee contends for here, that I would affirm, is that we are only one part of a team that includes parents and the church, all engaging with teens and young adults in partnership. As far is the influence of parents and church, it is indeed not too late!

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review: Learning for the Love of God

Learning for the Love of GodLearning for the Love of GodDonald Opitz and Derek Melleby. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2014.

Summary: Written for undergraduate college students who are Christians, this book explores the idea of academic faithfulness as an integral part of the student’s discipleship and how this is cultivated.

In the next week, many young men and women will head off to college, some for the first time. This will include many who have grown up within the Christian faith. Much attention is focused on the more obvious perils of campus life–the sexualized, alcohol-driven culture. What gets far less focus is the primary, at least formal, pursuit of college life–academic studies. If there is any attention placed on this, the focus tends to be on studying enough to get the grades one needs for grad school or job while not making an idol of one’s studies or allowing the intellectual life of the campus to corrupt your faith.

The authors of this book propose that what gets overlooked in all of this is a great discipleship opportunity, what they called in the first edition of this book “the outrageous idea of academic faithfulness.” Basically, they contend that if we call Jesus Lord, then he is Lord of what one does in the classroom, and that the call to be faithful to Christ includes loving him with one’s mind and seeking to bring a Christ-shaped mind to whatever one is studying. After considering this basic idea, they look at the example of Daniel and his friends at “Babylon U” as models of what this faithfulness might entail.

The question they explore through most of the remainder of the book is “how does one develop a Christian mind?” The authors, coming from a Reformed perspective, approach this primarily through the lens of learning to think in terms of “worldview”, and particularly, the classic Christian framework of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. They set this alongside modern and post-modern worldviews and then go deeper and elaborating the four aspects of this framework, both in the traditional terms and in what they called a “four-i-ed learning” framework: integration, idolatry, investment, and imagination. I found this latter approach a fresh take, and one of the highlights of the book, helping me think of familiar territory in fresh terms.

The final two chapters look at how one lives out this idea of academic faithfulness. They call for a life that is both connected to God and connected to the world in real acts of service and not mere intellectualizing. They challenge students to the patient work of digging deeply into an academic field, listening carefully and responding thoughtfully after one has done the hard work rather than parroting glib answers. This includes the hard work of “double reading”, considering both course material and outside reading of Christian sources on that material. They encourage students both to cultivate big dreams, and consider everyday acts of faithfulness as steps toward those dreams. And they conclude that the fruit of this hard work is that work becomes in one sense, play, in that there is always joy in knowing one’s work enjoys the pleasure of God.

Having worked in the collegiate ministry world for many years, I welcome this book. It is too easy for our ministries to overlook the academic aspect of the discipleship of our students. And yet, to think Christianly about one’s studies is crucial preparation for thinking Christianly about whatever work one does after college, and whatever one is thinking about.

If I were to quibble with anything, it would be that most of the emphasis is on worldview and the creation, fall, redemption, and consummation framework. While I use this approach, I also want to complement it with cultivating spiritual attentiveness through prayer as one studies, by cultivating communities of intellectual formation, by fostering what one friend calls “doxological fascination” with what one studies, and by thinking about our witness in the classroom as well as the residence hall. None of these are absent in the authors’ discussion, and may have been limited by the length of the book (127 pages).

The book includes appendices of sources, a kind of liturgy of academic faithfulness, and quotes from student interviews. Each chapter concludes with well-written questions for reflection and the material is presented conversationally and includes student testimony throughout. For that reason it makes a great gift to students headed off to college, or a welcome gift to students from a campus ministry on campus.

____________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher as an ebook via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Where I Was Last Week

My view walking to breakfast each morning

My view walking to breakfast each morning

Some of you who follow this blog might be curious where I was this past week that led to taking a break from posting new material. I don’t always like posting about travel away from home before hand on social media. As it turns out, I was in Mexico for the past five days at an international conference of collegiate ministries that is held once every four years. I was invited to lead one of the workshops during the conference and also to give one of the plenary addresses. There were roughly 1100 delegates from approximately 159 nations present.

Slavic and Zina from Moldova

Slavic and Zina from Moldova

Needless to say, it was a new and humbling experience to be in such a global gathering of people who work in higher education. At one meal, I would be talking with a national leader of a student movement from Korea, at another, a leader from Malawi. I have been on a list serve with a number of people from around the world and had the opportunity to meet many of them face to face for the first time. I met a Peruvian who had written me some time back (I’d actually forgotten this!) about book recommendations for research he was doing. What a surprise to learn that my name appears in the acknowledgement page of his paper! I had the opportunity to meet the national leader and one of the staff leaders of the student movement of Moldova. We’ve helped their work in various ways over the years but had never personally met–a wonderful highlight!

It will take me a good while to sort out all the experiences of these days, which were packed morning to night–hence no time for blogging. But a few initial impressions:

One was an overwhelming sense of our common humanity, shared faith and calling. We are all people working in the world of higher education seeking to connect our faith with the lives and studies of students and faculty. But there is more. We all have families with the joys and concerns these bring. We all struggle with the exigencies of daily existence and in finding the resources to do what we dream.

Another impression was of the incredible mosaic of diversity reflected in music, languages, dress, and other cultural practices. For one thing, it was a joy to discover the hospitality of our Mexican hosts, the pride they have in their rich culture, and the beauty of their country. In the United States, there is a strong tendency simply to view Mexico as a problem. I came away finding myself thinking that until we can appreciate the richness of culture, of physical beauty, and among many, the faith, hard work, and pride of Mexico’s people, we will have much more difficulty resolving the problems that exist between our nations. Viva Mexico!

And this was true wherever I looked. I met people who, even though they had a clear eyed appreciation of the challenges their countries and their universities face, are people who love deeply their countries and their universities and the students and faculty with whom they work. I got a glimpse of the unique opportunities and challenges many face and also realized even more deeply how much I do not understand.

A final impression I will share here is what an impressive group of people this was, both spiritually and intellectually! In the track I helped co-lead (with a New Zealander and a Sri Lankan) we had gifted faculty from all over the world. One was the first female president of her university in Trinidad. I heard a student from New Zealand give a message that would put to shame many seminary-educated pastors in my country. I heard a Palestinian Christian speak about suffering and yet speak out against anti-Semitism. I was impressed afresh with how much we can learn from the rest of the world!

These are first impressions. As I said, the conversations and experiences of these days will be something I mull over for a long time.