Growing up, my family would read the Christmas story every Christmas morning before opening our presents. I can remember often cuddling up on the couch when my dad or sister would be reading. I’d envision this pristine manger scene with snow falling and baby Jesus was all wrapped up in a perfect white cloth. I would envision Mary & Joseph, the Magi, and baby Jesus … and they all looked like me. The scenery of the manger even matched what I would see on farms near my home.
My only frame of reference was what I knew. I was Caucasian, living in the USA – and so was my imagination.
At the time, this was enough for me – I didn’t realize there was more of the world to see and understand. I didn’t see how my one-track mind was limiting my worldview and I definitely didn’t see how this impacted my view of Jesus.
Fast-forward a few years. My family made a big move to a city in another part of the country. This city had diversity! On my first day at the new school I was blown away by my classmates … I didn’t even know some of the countries they were from. At first I was so intimidated! We didn’t look alike, we didn’t speak the same language, we didn’t come from the same religion, and even our lunches looked (and smelt) extremely different from one another!! For the first time in my life, my culture was not the majority in the room. I remember thinking, “How on earth will I connect with these people?!”
Choosing to Get Uncomfortable
After a few weeks of discomfort, I knew I had to make a choice. I was confronted by the thought: “Briana, you need to let go of your fear of the unknown and take a risk or you will live a very lonely, sad, shallow year wishing you were back with the kids who looked just like you, ate the same foods, spoke your language … You are wishing for comfort.“
So, I made the choice to get curious and get uncomfortable!
I began to ask friends about their family, their home, their food. I began to try different food – and boy, did I eat some things I never thought I would! Fish eyes, cow tongue, tamales, sushi, jerk chicken, and sticky rice?! … Who knew that was a thing?! (Side note … It really is sticky – and I learned that the hard way at a formal dinner when my napkin got stuck to my hand.)
I began to learn greetings in other languages and eventually I would call my best friend’s home and ask her mom in Japanese to speak to my friend. I’ll never forget the day I received a Japanese name to be called by in their home: Momochan.
I would be taught (and highly embarrassed when learning) to salsa at parties in a family friend‘s home. Growing up as a pastor’s kid didn’t exactly teach me rhythm.
As I grew to love learning and other cultures, my life became richer – my friendships became richer.
Of course it wasn’t all easy. I had to confront my biases, fears, prejudices, and the ugly parts of my soul. My friendships also allowed me to learn about major world religions and a sense of hopelessness would often loom over me.
Truly knowing someone – knowing their interest, culture, past, religious beliefs, their story – is difficult. But I knew it was what God called me to. How could I show them Jesus if I was afraid to truly know them?
My heart, mind, and attitudes changed over several years living amongst new immigrants, refugees, and minorities. But something else began to profoundly change when I learned more about my friends and the cultures they represented. My heart and mind began to be transformed and renewed. My burden for the nations grew stronger as my worldview was expanded.
My curiosity turned to radical love.
The Ends of the Earth
After I graduated university, God wanted to do another work of refining in my worldview. See, even though I was learning to grow in my burden for the lost and other cultures, I still saw Jesus as a Saviour grounded in my cultural context. I had this wrong assumption that when people met Jesus, they would become more like me, more western.
I went to Costa Rica on a mission trip and saw Costa Rican believers worshiping God through the gifts of soccer, photography, and hospitality.
I moved to Germany for a year to be a nanny and attended a local church in Berlin. This church operated so differently than what I was used to in the USA, and I would often decide it would be better if it did things my way. But one Sunday during worship, I felt the Holy Spirit so clearly during a worship song (sung in German) and God whispered, “I am God in this culture.”
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13 NIV)
I moved to Canada and God expanded my worldview to care for the Middle Eastern community in a way that I don’t believe would have been possible if I‘d stayed in my American context.
In Colombia, I saw how Jesus prompted a local pastor to speak on a topic that matched our Canadian mission team skit. We had no way of aligning the topic besides the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Every time I saw God move in a new cultural context I realized that my view of Jesus was too small. Jesus is not the Saviour of my culture – He is the Saviour of all. And He is the same God that we all seek to worship.
“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6 NIV)
Now when I look at the Christmas story, I have a new hope and a new perspective. I see Magi coming from the unreached places of the world to seek after Jesus. Because Jesus didn’t come only to save the people that looked just like Him – He came to save the whole world. What an amazing story!
Briana Southerland serves as Share Ministries Pastor at FAC. Learn more about ways we get to partner with teams here in our city and around the world to share the hope of Jesus!