There are some things we expect to just happen naturally, without much deliberate effort. You just need to bring the appropriate elements together, and let things happen. If we bring kids to a playground, we don’t expect it will take much effort to generate fun, you just bring the kids and the equipment in the same space and mostly let things happen. We tend to think about cross-cultural relationships in the same way. All we need to do is to bring enough people of different cultural backgrounds into the same space and cross-cultural friendships will naturally happen, right?
Part of the ideal of recruiting foreign students to American campuses is that the friendships formed across international lines will leave those from many countries (including the United States) with new perspectives and personal connections in many nations. For many foreign students in the United States, that’s just not happening, according to a new study.
The research — which appears today in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication — finds that nearly 40 percent of international students report having no close American friends and say that they wish they had more meaningful interaction with those born in the United States.
So if it’s hard for people who are immersed in a culture that is not their own to make friends with people of that culture, then what does it mean for us who aren’t immersed? What does this mean for those of us who value cross-cultural relationships, partnerships and ministry?
In part, it means that we can’t take relationships for granted. It’s human nature to tend toward the safe and easy, while avoiding the strange and difficult and that impulse carries through to our ministry. But if we believe the picture in Revelation of different language groups, people groups and nationalities worshiping together in God’s Kingdom, and we truly wish for God’s Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, then we must come to grips with the fact that in general we don’t just fall into multiculturalism. It takes, and is worth, a deliberate leap.