Cross-cultural visits: a view from Africa

By Karobia Njogu, cross-cultural mission manager, CMS-Africa

The results of CMS-Africa training programmes are communities that have begun to manifest profound change.

These communities of best practice are the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in the hearts and ministry of leaders and in the lives of people so that they begin to obey Christ’s commandments to love God and neighbour in every area of life.

This may sound like a trite statement, but far from it; the gospel of Jesus has been spread far and wide in Africa but the impact of it in every area of human and community life has not been as evident.

CMS-Africa has facilitated cross-cultural mission exchanges and visits with these communities of best practice. This has been for all ages: from people in their early 20s to older people coming from different cultures, for a day or two to several weeks and months. Several times a year we have teams from various dioceses visiting each other (for example in May the Tanzania Mothers’ Union visited Kenya, spending time with CMS-Africa and then Mbeere and Embu dioceses).

We also have people coming from Europe and North America to Africa to serve in community ministries in Africa and to work in the Church. The reasons for this are:

  1. At CMS-Africa, we believe that mission belongs to God and he is the one who calls and sustains; he defines mission and determines its frontiers and what the needs may be. Our role is to respond to his call and to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this mission.
  2. We facilitate opportunities for Christians from different backgrounds to serve each other and each other’s communities and to grow together and learn from each other. CMS-Africa provides opportunities for visiting missioners to receive from the local context, and so plans for structured input in their lives. We believe that God is challenging all of us to learn and change in new ways and that everyone can learn from even the most needy-looking or desperate situation – because God is at work to transform each person into his likeness.
  3. Some of these community projects are great opportunities for people to be engaged in and to serve. They have needs which missioners can meet with skills, time and other resources.

We have had time to observe how overseas organisations have done mission placements. There can be challenges when people from different contexts and cultures come together. In the specific area of cross-cultural mission exchanges or interaction, some of these have been:

  1. Sometimes the number of visitors has been large, thus overwhelming the local ministry, the host organisation, even CMS-Africa. Frequency of visits can also be a challenge.
  2. Generally, the local context is fairly forgiving of cultural misdemeanours; there have been cases where visitors are insensitive, either to their local hosts’ sensitivities or to their own cultural biases. This can pertain to food preferences, dress and opinions on general issues like politics and economics. An initial induction could help avoid such problems.
  3. Problematic worldview: such as when missioners have a paradigm of solving problems and helping people rather than getting a different perspective and having their lives impacted by the local community.

CMS-Africa is leaning more to the idea of involving younger people, to broaden their worldview early. This can be achieved in a fairly short period of time. If more senior citizens are going to be involved, we recommend that they come for longer periods, at least six months.

This would enable them to engage with the local context for a meaningful period. Further, CMS-Africa is keen to have missioners stay in homes of church members, partners or staff members.

For people looking to lead cross-cultural mission exchanges, I humbly suggest that there are several things that must be considered if these visits are to be useful and effective, especially for the kingdom. For our context, these things can also apply for our trainers and facilitators who go to churches and communities of different cultures. This is also a form of cross-cultural mission, because they don’t just teach and train but also mentor and walk with people. In those interactions, they also need to be prepared for cross-cultural mission engagement.

  1. Agreement on clear outcomes for both the visiting missioners and also for the hosts. These include what the missioners seek to achieve over the set period, how it will be gauged, and what the hosts seek to accomplish, how the capacity of the host has been built by the interaction and what felt needs have been met. Boundaries also need to be agreed on: what can be done and what are no-go areas, for example that there will be no funds exchanged and that documentation (reports, photos and stories) are handled with integrity. It is important that hosts don’t feel used by missioners.
  2. Organise the logistics: itineraries, communications with all involved parties and stakeholders: service providers, host communities, project managers and so on.
  3. Induction for both hosts and visitors. This is very important as it prepares the visiting missioners for engagement with the local culture and also the hosts to prepare to welcome people in mission from another culture.

In summary, we at CMS-Africa believe that God is in mission, the mission is (all) his, and he involves all people in different roles in his mission.

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