Addressing Cultural Barriers

Addressing Cultural Barriers

Where do cultural barriers come from? How do they begin? Every culture is founded on a set of beliefs that often drive customs and traditions in us as individuals or as a group of people. These beliefs may develop because of a desire or feeling about a concept/idea, or become a response to a situation or circumstance that may have occurred.

Have you ever noticed all of the cultures that exist within our society today? Now more than ever, when we look around in our world, we have a multitude of cultures within a culture, challenging the identity and belief systems of each one. These belief systems (from these various cultures) often shape and influence the lives of the people that comply and identify with a particular culture.

Church Culture 

Have you ever thought about the culture of the church? What is the culture in our synod, our districts, our congregations, and our church family? Do we have any cultural beliefs that act as barriers between us?

MOST Ministries Encounter with Cultures

I just finished a book about the story of the founder of MOST Ministries. I am sure that many of you have heard of this organization. It was started by Gayle Sommerfeld, who used to reside in the Ann Arbor area. The book not only tells the story of how the ministry began and how the Lord was at work using an ordinary person like Gayle to impact the world, but also gives a perspective on the various cultures she came in contact with, their belief system, and how it shaped their view of life.

One section that particularly struck me had to do with long-term and palliative care for AIDS victims. Gayle had been in Kenya on a mission trip. She was leading seminars on how to care for victims of AIDS that taught healthy nutrition combined with spiritual and emotional care. During one of her seminars, she noticed a couple (husband and wife) listening intently and taking scrupulous notes. During one of the breaks, she observed them in deep conversation and asked to join them. She learned that they had made the decision to reach out to members of their congregation, share the fact that they had AIDS, and to invite others to join them in community to share and encourage one another.

What are our Views of Parents with Prodigals?

What kind of barriers and stigmas do we carry around with us about parents with prodigals? What beliefs or shame do we associate with prodigals? Could our attitudes, which may again and again come across as judgment, cause parents to say “I am fine” when they are not, or to say “No, I don’t need your help,” when deep down they really are asking, “Won’t you comfort me?”

Unnecessary Suffering

The couple in Kenya that decided to share their secret with their congregation showed courage and trust. In their country, AIDS has a huge stigma attached to it. Another one of the seminar attendees had a daughter who had contracted AIDS. She was fearful of sharing with anyone what was going on with her daughter because she was the music director at her congregation and held an important position within her church body.

Many of the countries Gayle and her teams visited had various stigmas that kept people closed off from the very help that they desperately needed and craved. In China, India, and Latvia, her team found out that the people feared death or shunned the elderly for various reasons and, as a result, were afraid to learn more about taking care of the sick, elderly, and dying. China had a stigma toward baby girls, considering boys a blessing and girls a curse. In India there was a high rate of suicide within the youth culture. Youth, fearful that they might shame their family by not passing an education exam, would often commit suicide before even knowing if they had passed their test or not. Gayle and her ministry team wanted to bring hope to these people, but the culture and beliefs kept them closed off from receiving the gift of life (Jesus Christ) that her team desired to share with them.

Break the Silence Barrier

With eyes wide open and motivated by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to recognize the barriers that exist within the four walls of our church. We can become aware of parents that have prodigals in our congregations. We can begin to pray for these parents and ask the Lord to give us compassionate hearts, so that we can support them and be of help to them in any way possible. So what are the barriers that are causing us all to keep quiet? Where do they come from? How can we, like Gayle and her team, try to understand our culture and, by the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, reach out to these hurting parents (and families) among us?

The Michigan District is partnering with Faith Family Reunion to offer two retreats on “Being a Parent of a Prodigal.” The first retreat will take place on October 21, 2017 at St. Matthew, Grand Rapids, and the other will be at Good Shepherd, Lansing on November 18, 2017. For more information and to register, click here. For more information on Faith Family Reunion and what they can do for church leaders, click here

Photo (c) Anthony Harrison/Lightstock

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