Identity In God and Mission Overseas (with Dave & Anna)

In this Broadcast we hear from Dave and Anna, who are working in a Middle Eastern city, about keeping a sense of your identity when you are working in cross-cultural mission...


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Dave & Anna's Background

  • Moved to Middle East about 8 years ago
  • Their kids are growing up in 3 cultures, English, American and the culture they live in.
  • The issue of identity comes up a lot! 

Cultural Reputation Identity Challenges

  • When they moved culture they suddenly didn’t know how to communicate.  Didn’t know how to introduce themselves. What you say when introducing yourself in a new culture is huge. 
  • People you meet want to know you, they want to be able to fit you into their worldview. But if you use the terms and the identifiers that you previously used, they can’t understand you, especially your true identity as a child of God.
  • Some labels in UK don’t transfer, such as christian. In the Middle East it means westerner or even American such as Donald Trump, or Rhianna.
  • In the Middle East when you say you are a Christian you are saying you are the enemy - someone who invaded their country in the past. We don’t want to be identified that way, as we are of course there for the good of the city. 
  • We need to be careful about how we introduce our identity to others. The Apostle Paul did that when he said ‘For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them’. 1 Cor 9:19. Though he was free in his identity he chose to make himself a slave to the culture he was going to.
  • When we came to our new culture we had to empty ourselves of our home culture labels, such as businessman, pastor, christian because they were just unhelpful. Some you are just forced to such as smart, pithy or successful. 
  • It’s a big sacrifice to lay aside the identity of your culture and what you are left with is your true identity, which should be as a child of God, who God loves. 
  • Because we want to speak into a new culture there are some labels that are worth picking back up, such as businessman. It allows people to understand you within their worldview, so that you can then go deeper with them to communicate you are a businessman that Jesus loves. We need to assimilate into the new culture in order to have a voice to speak. 
  • Western culture is individualistic and Middle Eastern culture is collectivistic. We talk about who I am, where as in the Middle East it is about the groups I am part of. 
  • Don Larson says that when you go into a new culture you want go in as a learner not a teacher, as a trader not a salesman, a story teller not a judge. This is because you want to be insiders, not outsiders in the culture so that we can communicate. It is a lot harder though. A Story teller to tells of Gods love
  • There are some identities that are tempting to take on when entering a new culture. Resist!
    • The Western Saviour. The one with resources that at solve all the problems. But you are the saved not the saviour.
    • The Team Leader. The aim is not to lead, but to raise up local leaders.
  • A lot of people who people who come to work cross culturally come for two years learning language and culture. So many start to serve or start a ministry early as they feel like it is lazy to not be starting something. It’s the pressure to do things, rather than resting in their identity in God.

Core Identity Issues

  • This happens internally.
  • In the book ‘Families on the Move’ by Marion Nell, she looks at helping people to transition, She identifies the two big issues she has seen working with teens: 
    1. The feeling their parents chose their future for them.
    2. The trauma of building their identity around a place, and then being forced out of that place.
  • She concluded that you cannot build your children’s identity around something that can be taken away from them. 
  • Our core identity cannot be built on something that can be taken away. So what can never be taken away? It’s our identity in Christ. 
  • Listen to Wendy Mann’s talk on Identity in God
  • Sherwood Linger in 'Ministering Cross Culturally' identified the concept of the 150% person. When you go into a new culture you might become 75%. Some of your previous culture might drop off leaving you the 150%. You end up with more than you had before. 

What Are the Things that Enable Us to Live Through an Identity Crisis?

  • Remember that no matter what happens Jesus loves you and has taken away shame and fear. 
  • The Holy Spirit is alive in us, and there is grace to live under limitations that you might encounter. It is freedom to give up our freedom.
  • Come to God and be vulnerable and ask Him how He feels about you. That is your identity.
  • Look ahead to eternity.

Q&A

1. When you talk about laying down identities from the old culture, do you still keep an element of this when talking to each other/praying, or do you tend to relate to each other in the same way you will to the culture you are trying to reach into?

  • It changes over time.
  • In our home we have decided to have an American culture, but when outside the house we pick up more of a Middle Eastern culture and language. 
  • Some things we don’t lay down as we want to be more Godly appropriate than culturally appropriate.

2. How much can you wear the identity of the culture you are going into when the people there know it isn't your native culture?

  • It’s the final 25%.
  • You are never going to be 100%, and will always stay as the learner in order to get a seat at the table.

3. Have you any comments on doing marriage and/or raising kids in a different culture?

  • Parenting is tough where ever you live.
  • In the Middle East everyone expresses their opinions!
  • Have learnt to sleep that there are many more ways to doing something that you previously thought.
  • Having kids gives you more instant ways to connect to people. 

4. What challenges have you found between knowing who you are and then living your identity?

  • It’s about time.
  • I don’t have enough time to communicate who I am and be build good friendships.
  • I know how to do that really easily in my home culture, but it takes so much longer in another culture. 

5. How has living in the culture that you are in helped you to understand more about your own identity in Christ?

  • We live in a collective culture and so people are trying to understand you through your group.
  • The Trinity is a group and we are part of a group that is with God. 

6. For someone re-entering their original culture, what challenges could they find, and what practical observations could you make for them?

  • The move back needs to be seen like a new cultural move.
  • The same expectations, preparation and attitudes need to be in place.
  • Avoid the attitude of judging and being cynical! 

7. Can you recommend any helpful books and resources to help understand identity and culture?

  • towinsome.com is an amazing group blog.
  • Read biographies of people who have gone to other cultures.