How can you say you know me if you’re only seeing me through the eyes of your own culture?
I was sitting at a church cafeteria at an overnight retreat my sophomore year when God hit me over the head (it felt like literally), with this realization. In a moment, I saw with sudden clarity that I had been living and viewing God only through the eyes of the majority American culture that I had grown up in. This was evident in the churches, fellowships, and influences that I subconsciously chose to surround myself with. If my faith and culture were so intertwined, then, how much had I allowed my view of the Lord of the universe to be boxed in by my limited worldview? In this moment, God seemed to be asking me: What if I am so much bigger than what you’ve been taught? What if the different cultures that I created were made to display different aspects of who I am, and yours is only a piece of it?
I wanted to know more, so I connected with the Asian ministry on my campus, a culture I was very unfamiliar with as a third-generation Chinese-American from very white communities. I joined a multicultural church. I began working with refugees and poor neighborhoods in inner city St. Louis. In my Spanish classes, I learned about the history and culture of Spain and Latin America. I found that even within American culture, there are so many different subcultures, each with their own unique and beautiful expressions of humanity. I felt my understanding and awe of God expanding as I participated in Korean-style prayer and African worship. Each experience pointed me back to an infinite and unknowable God, one who crafted his people in unique ways to create a fuller picture of himself.
As I prepare to leave for Spain in the fall, I keep thinking back to that moment when I first got a glimpse of the vastness of the glory of God. As an Asian-American in Spain ministering to North Africans, I imagine that there will be many, many moments in the coming years where I will feel completely inadequate and culturally inept. But I have also become more and more convinced that we need to cross cultural divides in order to point each other to God in new ways. How many beautiful moments with God, and each other, are we missing out on because we are unwilling to step out from the comforts of our own cultural boundaries?