A few years ago I was a part of a really neat group of Jesus followers trying to develop a training to equip Christian neighbors to relate to their own neighbors cross-culturally and racially. We called it “The Neighboring Initiative”. http://www.neighboringinitiative.com
We spent a year in six different neighborhoods around Atlanta learning from indigenous neighborhood leaders about best principles and practices on loving cross-culturally and racially.
One of the neighborhoods we ended up in was Clarkston, GA., just outside of Atlanta. Clarkston has the largest refugee population in the US. We found ourselves meeting at a Muslim Community Center set up in the heart of Clarkston serving and loving their neighbors.
We asked some questions about what life was like in Clarkston and their impressions about the people that come in from the outside and help. It was a wonderful time of learning as we listened to their reflections about what’s it’s like to be on the receiving end of help.
One community member said in the middle of our dialogue that,
“There’s a huge sock assumption in Clarkston.”
What prompted her to say this is that many missions teams that don’t live in the neighborhood and don’t have relationships with the neighbors will make judgments based upon the fact that they see little kids running around with no shoes on. They will automatically assume that just because they don’t have socks that this is what they need and so will show up to hand out socks. What they fail to realize is that many of these children are from Africa, which is a warmer climate and having socks on is not a huge priority.
This happens all of the time when we are trying to serve cross-culturally or racially. We make assumptions based upon what we see without truly understanding the whole story. This lady was very gracious and wasn’t upset, but was clearly speaking to a huge concern when we serve and engage with a culture we haven’t taken the time to know and understand.
This is why trainings like Dignity Serves are so important. http://dignityserves.org
The key emphasis in Dignity Serves is to serve based on giving and receiving and one of the key elements to receiving is learning to listen and not make assumptions about what you think needs to happen.
Whenever we are seeking to relate cross-culturally or racially a few simple thoughts are; slow down, don’t make assumptions, and seek to be a friend prior to doing anything together. After all this was the way Jesus served and loved His neighbors.