What Did You Say?
Love the nations by learning to listen.
The Twenty-First Century is irrefutably global. Voluntary immigrant and involuntary refugee relocations have changed many nations. Places once fairly mono-cultural are now marked by cultural plurality. This demographic shift forces people to interact with those who are different from them.
FEAR OF THOSE WHO ARE DIFFERENT
Humans tend to be afraid of what they don’t know or understand. People from different cultures and backgrounds can fall into this category. This fear can cause people to avoid those who have different skin colors, different facial features, different ways of talking, or different cultural lenses.
Christians can vanquish the fear of those who are different through the antithesis of fear: love. Christians love God, and the overflow of that love causes them to love those He created, even if those people are different. But this love is only an idea if Christians don’t put action to it.
LISTENING AS AN ACT OF LOVE
Regaining the art of listening is one major step toward loving those from different cultural backgrounds. Listening humanizes others. When people listen to others’ stories, they shine a light on the things they have in common and minimize their differences. No matter their homeland, they talk about family and friends, things they love, homes, holidays, the news. They recognize there are problems with this world and strive for ways to make this life better.
Listening also communicates that the other person matters. Cross-cultural communication is difficult and takes time and energy. By developing the art of listening, Christians demonstrate the love they have for their neighbors.
How do Christians lovingly listen across cultures? First, take a step toward someone different from you. Recognize that the presence of fear does not relieve you from the commands to love your neighbor and take the gospel to the nations. Go to people from different cultures. Learn their names. Listen to their stories. Ask lots of questions.
Second, do not assume understanding. Introductory communication classes often teach about a feedback loop, which can be vital to communicating. It starts when a speaker sends an encoded message through a medium that is received and decoded by a receiver. Many people stop here and assume communication has happened, but this is where the other side of the feedback loop is needed. The loop is completed when the people involved ask questions to verify the intended meaning matches the received one. ₁ Don’t be afraid of giving or asking for feedback to make sure what you think was said is what the speaker intended.
Third, be willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Countless cross-cultural conflicts come from misunderstandings. Both people in a conversation listen through a cultural lens. One person says something harmless, but the other hears something offensive. When listening across cultures, do not assume offense. Instead, seek understanding. Ask questions and respond with grace.
James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” To love your international neighbor, to press in toward those who are different, follow similar advice. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. And be amazed at how the simple act of truly listening can bridge multiple cultural barriers.
1 Many authors have contributed to the formation of this communication model. For an in-depth presentation of its development, see David J. Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 40-53.
Reprinted from the September, 2020 issue of Missions Mosaic, Woman’s Missionary Union, Birmingham, Alabama. Used by permission. To receive this issue, or subscribe to Missions Mosaic, call 1-800-968-7301.