One of the greatest joys for a Christian is to be used by the Holy Spirit to bring the knowledge of Christ to others. The jailer at Philippi, the woman at the well, and the shepherds were all excited to make known abroad the Good News of Christ — that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our sins against us. God could have made evangelism a hardship, but chose instead to make it a joyful work. An added happiness comes from seeing the Gospel take root in the hearts of those who have never heard it before.
In this presentation I will address the challenges of cross-cultural teaching, and provide some guidelines that may help, including the use of media. I have gleaned ideas from many talented missionaries. As a college religion instructor for eleven years I have sometimes learned the hard way. I have had the privilege of teaching Ukrainians, Chinese, Buddhists, atheists, Muslims, Mexicans, Ethiopians, Koreans, a Saudi, a follower of Wicca from England, an Australian, Congolese, a Peruvian and a Latvian. As I write this, I am teaching a class of 11 students from 6 countries. They are all different, and yet, in most ways they are all the same. Paul instructs us to not see people from a worldly viewpoint but rather a heavenly one, as those for whom Christ has died to win heaven (2 Cor. 5:14-17).
At the start you may notice students are less inclined to speak in class or ask questions. In many countries classroom discussion is discouraged. It may take students a longer time to feel "warmed up" toward an American teacher and each other. Don't expect immediate classroom interaction. Some of my students have taken about a month to adapt. The use of media can help break down this barrier. Look for images or video clips that connect with your audience's homeland or cultural background. This may help them to feel more comfortable with you and the subject matter. For instance, there is a variety of images of Christ that appear more Asian, or African, or Hispanic (we may forget that Jesus was not German or Scandinavian as some artists portray Him.) Utilize scenes from their own background to identify with the biblical concepts you are teaching. Ask them to explain how things work in their own culture, as a way of connecting them to the wonderful truths of Scripture.
Many students today are very tech-savvy. Use their familiarity with electronic devices to your advantage. Ask them to look up certain things in class, or for homework assignments. Encourage them to find examples from their home country of teachings you are explaining. For instance, when discussing signs of the end times, have them find similar signs from the recent history of their country. Post these images in future classes for all to see. This helps to make the subject matter very relevant.
Cultural differences are interesting to explore, but can possibly cause difficulties. I once pushed a Bible on a table toward a Muslim student. He asked, "Why would you treat your holy book so carelessly?" Other students were offended that they were asked to purchase a Bible, because in their homeland a Bible is considered too important to buy; they come as gifts. At times, you may have to explain yourself more thoroughly.
If teaching in another language, the accuracy of the translation is obviously crucial. Today we have access to a variety of translations of the Bible. According to experts, there are three major gaps that show up when trying to communicate cross-culturally:
- Language Gap — It is a challenge to translate from the biblical languages into English, but then to convert the material into another tongue for your class, this adds an entirely new dimension. It is essential to keep the context and translation as close as possible to the Bible's wording and intent.
- Cultural Gap — Once again conveying a biblical thought from the first century to our own culture is enough of a challenge, but then to convey this thought faithfully into another culture presents more difficulty. Learning things about the culture of your students will help in this transition.
- Spiritual Gap — Due to our sinful nature none of us understands the things of God on our own, unless the Holy Spirit enlightens us (1 Cor. 2:9-16). As St. Augustine once said, "How do you defend a lion? You don't. You let him out of his cage." We must remember that the power to convert the heart to faith in Christ is in the Word of God alone. It is "the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). Your role as an educator is simply to place this before your students, get out of the way, and let the Holy Spirit carry out His work through God's Word.
Avoid the use of American colloquialisms, such as "Step up to the plate," "That's for the birds," "Shoot the breeze," "Monday morning quarterback," or "Take a rain check." Think through the metaphors or illustrations you will use, or be sure to explain them thoroughly. The same is true when it comes to imagery or movie clips. Use things that you know will transcend cultures. Certain movie images or songs from our culture are well-known to others. For instance, while teaching children in Ukraine I found that some lines from Arnold Schwarzenegger movies were an instant hit and gave me an immediate sense of familiarity with junior high-age students. For some of them it was the only English they knew. You can make wonderful use of the Internet in this regard. Search for things that make a connection with your students.
Many students come from places where soccer is popular, and they know little or nothing about American football or baseball. Discovering something about teams in their homeland helps make a connection. Occasionally make use of soccer images or illustrations in class to help keep their attention or teach a concept. Another way of connecting with them is through Facebook. Establish a page for your class that helps them stay in touch with each other, and use it as a regular opportunity to inject spiritual messages. If they come from multiple countries, break students into smaller groups to interact so they see how much they have in common.
Some foreign students are frustrated by how little Americans know about other parts of the world. For instance, not everyone who lives in Africa or Asia lives in poverty. Preconceived notions may be wrong. Many of the foreign students we encounter in the US are highly educated, tech-savvy, quite knowledgeable of American culture, and even know some of our history. A common complaint is that American students seem to care little about getting to know foreigners and their homeland. Spend some time in class asking questions about their home country.
A retired college professor from my church, who was voted the top teacher at a large university numerous times, gave me this advice: "The key to good teaching is this: Make sure your students know you love them. That's it." Missionaries will tell you kindness opens the door to evangelism opportunities. Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven." Talk to your students about their lives. Show interest in their country and culture. Let them know you care about them. Think of yourself as a living sermon of Christianity. How you interact with them is a reflection of Christ.
I hope this presentation has generated some interest in teaching students from a variety of cultures. Give some feedback or other ideas that would help in this special work. There is no greater gift that you can give than sharing with others the wonderful news that they have a Savior from sin and death. How wonderful to represent Him who has paid for our guilt by His sacrifice, and gives us the promise of eternal life in heaven through faith in Him. May God bless your work in His Kingdom.
Illustration: The Night Visitors copyright 2015 Janet McKenzie www.janetmckenzie.com
Collection of Mepkin Abbey, Moncks Corner, SC
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