It’s All About Us

American Flag ID-10047802SA Grunge FlagID-10092404 (1)

“It’s all about us.”

My heart sunk upon hearing those words.

Recently, I had one of those cross-cultural experiences that left me shaking my head in dismay. I was a part of a meeting in which three young American guys wanted to meet with some local Anglican youth leaders to share with them about an upcoming music concert they were organizing and to learn from them about how to attract a more ethnically diverse audience that truly reflects the diversity of Cape Town. (Apparently, when they had their big music concert a few years ago, it mainly attracted white, middle-class young people.) This was how the meeting was pitched to me.

After introductions, the three guys dived right into marketing strategies: How can we get the word out about the concert? Which methods are most effective? The local youth leader guests had a lot of suggestions. After tackling this for nearly an hour, the American guys moved on to dates: What is the best day of the week to hold this concert? Which is best—evening or afternoon? Then they asked advice about what to charge.

When I asked the question about who was on the line-up and if they were using any local talent, one of the guys misunderstood my question, thinking I was referring to local church bands or choirs. No, I replied and pressed on with my inquiry: Are you including any national South African Christian music groups? There are a lot of great music groups in this country. If you want to appeal to a wider audience, you need to consider including South African groups. The three guys seemed stunned. One sputtered out, “Well, it is really all about us.” That’s when my heart sunk. And I thought to myself, Yes, it is really all about you.

I’ll give the guy the benefit of the doubt; I don’t think he meant his words to come out like that. What he was trying to say was that the concert only included their musicians because this concert was a part of a wider movement and they know the musicians with whom they are working. However, it came across to me, to this American who is living and serving in Cape Town, this ethnically diverse city, that the organisers of this music concert already have a plan in mind. They wanted to meet with local people, leaders who could get the young people to come; but at the end of the day, I don’t think they wanted to listen to them or to learn from them.

I went away grieved, shaking my head and thinking, This is why so many people think we Christian Americans are so arrogant. We come to another country to serve; we want to help. We listen nicely to the local population but go along with the plan we have in mind. Because in the end, we really know better and we want to go home feeling good about ourselves.

Perhaps I am being unfair in my reflections, but this has been my experience on a handful of occasions; and it is very painful.

I have made a lot of cultural mistakes since I moved to South Africa. I am still learning, but I honestly believe that I am willing to learn and I think God has given me the gift to be sensitive to others, no matter their culture or background. No doubt, these three guys want to do something good and want to serve the Lord, but they came across as wanting to come with their agenda and to do their own thing and not being willing to listen or to learn. A bit of humility and a listening heart would have gone a long way. I hope at the end of their concert, they won’t find themselves in a similar situation they were a few years ago.

I welcome your thoughts about similar cross-cultural experiences you have had. We can all learn from one another.

(Art credit: “US Flag Stock Photo” by nixxphotography and “Grunge Flag of South Africa” by zdiviv, both courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net)

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Keeping It Real

One Junior group delves into scripture (All Saints Belhar, Cape Town)
One Junior group delves into scripture (All Saints Belhar, Cape Town)

One thing the Rooted in Jesus Junior programme does is encourage children to memorise scripture. The idea is that the Word of God gets off the page and takes root in the child’s heart. Memorising the memory verse is a key element of the Junior programme, and it is one that I like.

Another group's Memory Verse Corner
Another group’s Memory Verse Corner

As a child, I hated to memorise scripture. I used to think, Why do I need to memorise this verse? I have a Bible, or I could ask Mom and Dad. However, the few scripture verses I did memorise as a child have come to mind at times when I really needed them, and I know it was the Holy Spirit using these verses to minister to me. I regret not memorising more scripture, so I can appreciate the importance the Junior programme places on the memory verse; and I strongly encourage Junior leaders not to skimp on this but to make sure each child memorises the verses.

Mom and Dad modeled the importance of knowing scripture and of having devotional time with God. When I was growing up, before school each day, we would have a short time of prayer together as a family, and each week we would have a family devotional time. I hate to admit it; but at the time, I didn’t really value these times together. I was always rushing before school to get ready on time and could have used the extra minute or two. Our family devotional time didn’t take much time, but it seemed to cut into my evening routine. However, I did think it was kind of cool that we had this weekly time together as a family.

Now as an adult, I realise how formational to me were these dedicated times of prayer and scripture reading together as a family. I realise how powerful it was for my parents to pray over me and my siblings each day before we went to school; those prayers of protection, guidance, and wisdom went a long way—more than I will ever know.

When I have a family of my own, I plan to carry on these two traditions of family prayer and devotional time. I plan to teach my children the importance of reading and memorising scripture, as we do it together, keeping it real.