The other day my wife and I had some friends over for a meal after church, one of whom was an American of Hispanic background and also a seminary student. We came to discuss some of our experiences at seminary. One of the things we spent a bit of time reflecting on was the difficulty that some international students have integrating themselves into the community.
It is no secret that many of our evangelical seminaries are dominated by white, middle-class Americans. For this one fellow, he even felt that to a certain extent the seminary had become a sort of clique for this demographic. Although I largely fit the demographic, and look and sound American, I have noticed that there are even occasions when I find myself feeling slightly out of place. It is hard to put my finger on it, but a British friend of mine suggested that there is something different in the way I think in comparison to many of my American brothers and sisters in the seminary.
One of the things that I get excited about is the changing face of Christianity. As its center rapidly shifts from the West into the developing world where it is growing at astonishing rates, there are things that are going to change in the future. We are going to be increasingly confronted with different theological expressions borne out of different cultural and historical contexts. We are going to come into contact with new forms of worship. We are going to see what place prayer occupies in the lives of believers from different backgrounds. It is very exciting and will give us tremendous opportunities to rethink the way we do things, and provide new ways for thinking about our fidelity to Scripture.
By why wait for these changes to be more evident here? The opportunity presents itself already now. The body of Christ is spectacularly diverse, and we need to embrace this diversity. Even if your seminary is dominated by the typical demographic, there are likely some students who come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds and we are to be one with them in Christ Jesus. There is also a lot we can learn from them. Consider these suggestions:
- Get to know them. Just sit down and talk with them. Find out who they are, where they are from, and what their story is. A lot of us have unique stories about how we found our way to seminary, and those who come from different parts of the world are no different. You will get a feel for how people from different areas of the world operate and think just by talking to them on this level.
- Discuss theology and faith with them. As I alluded to above, they are probably going to have different perspectives on different issues, and it is well worth your time to explore those differences. To some degree it might be difficult for you to understand where they are coming from because there is a cultural barrier between you, but do what you can to try and get inside that framework and understand their perspective. It will be a rewarding experience.
- Be open-minded. Allow them to criticize Western culture and the Western Church, or if they are from a different part of the West, American culture and the American Church. Hear what they have to say and give it an honest and fair analysis. Dialog with them about it and see what different understandings their criticisms are built on.
- Make them feel at home. While you may be away from home as you attend seminary, you’re probably still in a familiar context and environment. For some international students, however, everything may be entirely foreign to them. Invite them into your home, share a meal with them, get your families together, avoid dominating your conversations on Monday with football talk, go to worship with them, invite them to worship with you, eat their food, talk about their culture, just hang out together. There are a myriad of ways to make this happen.
- Pray together. Above all, because your bond is found in Christ, embrace that. There is no greater unity to be found than when His people kneel together before Him.
Perhaps you have some other suggestions from your own experiences that you could add to this list. Please do, that’s why comments are enabled on this site. Interact with us.
It is important to remember that the Kingdom of God is not one nationality or ethnicity. It is global and universal, and cultural distinctions are broken down by our unity in Christ (Gal. 3:28). The fabric with which the Kingdom is woven together is incredibly diverse. Embrace that, learn from it, and rejoice in the diversity of God’s people!