A Misunderstanding: Conflict and Confusion
Against impossible outcomes, the only thing that seemed certain was defeat. Resistance to the French seemed unfathomable, and yet in the city of Puebla, Mexico, not only did those Mexican soldiers resist, but they drove back the French in triumph. It was this great battle of Puebla that was the precursor to the celebration of Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May). The date has become an important one for Mexican nationals, so much so that celebration has migrated into the United States. Yet, it has become a point of both confusion and conflict.
The confusion lies in the fact that the holiday is misunderstood. Often thought to be the day of independence, we in the United States do not understand its significance. It is, in fact, an observance of dependence, not independence. A source of pride and honor for nationals, it was a time when they stood united, dependent upon one another. Yet it is precisely because of that confusion that conflict also exists. In the States it has become a day of division. What was once a day of unity for one group has become a day of disunity for another.
Overcoming Misunderstanding: Connections
Amidst the conflict and confusion, missed opportunity has occurred. As a missionary, perhaps my view is a little different. Within the festivities there is presented a moment for us to live out the Gospel through our connections with others across cultures. Paul reminds us that there is but one Lord, and He is Lord over all and no longer are there distinctions between Jews or Greeks (Romans 10:12; cf Galatians 3:28). The cross of Christ bridged the gap between any ethnic divisions.
Let’s be honest with ourselves though. Crossing cultures is difficult for us. During a time in Malawi, I was with a team of individuals serving. This was their first opportunity outside the United States, having never been placed in a situation where they were the outsiders. Quite literally, we were placed in a circumstance that required us to cross a bridge. To this date, it remains the most unstable bridge I have ever experienced. Yet, there was an important lesson here: to function in ministry, we had to cross that bridge into another culture. While Christ is the “bridge” between cultures, He is a “bridge” that is little used. He is stable, yet most are more content not crossing it.
On Cinco de Mayo there exists an opportunity to transgress those bridges. I am first to admit, it is uncomfortable.To immerse yourself into a new culture is like becoming a child again. It means observing, asking questions, and learning all over again. Sometimes we look foolish through our lack of understanding. Yet, for those willing to take the risk, the reward is eternal–the building up of the body of Christ. The connection in Christ makes for connections between people.
Misunderstanding to Understanding: Conversion
Here an opportunity exists of conversion, where misunderstanding is transformed into understanding. Cinco de Mayo is an opportunity for relationships to be built. It is an opportunity not without cost, for relationships always come at a human cost. They cost us time. They cost us patience. They cost us pride. They are opportunities that require self-consciousness and self-righteousness be set aside. Here is an opportunity presented to you for learning, not just about a celebration but about a culture and a people. It is a time to relate to others through their own cultural experiences, knowing that in your culture there are similar circumstances.
Still, I am sure many of us are asking why? Why does it matter whether I learn about Cinco de Mayo or any other cultural ‘event’? For the sake of God’s glory. Christ crossed cultural barriers so that we too would do the same. Descended from one man, Adam, the ethnic divides are man-created and man-centered. But here is an opportunity to glorify God through a unified demonstration of love for one another. It was Christ who said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
On a day so misunderstood, mired in confusion, conflict, and controversy, we have before us the opportunity to share the love of Christ with others. Yet, as we learn from Christ’s teaching in John 13, allowing the love of Christ to prevail in our relationships, it points back to God in a proclamation of the Gospel. God has called me to serve Him in another culture. It is a privilege for which I am thankful. It is my ministry and my vocation from Him. But working cross-culturally is not reserved just for those who work in foreign fields. It is a call for everyone.
Not only is our misunderstanding converted to understanding, but the ultimate focus is seeing others converted from misunderstanding to understanding of a different kind . . . that of a life transformed from one without Christ, to one with Him. Don’t overlook the opportunity that God has given you today. Use it to build relationships with others in order that they may seek a relationship with God. In what way today, can you allow yourself to be used by God in this specific manner (feel free to leave a comment below and encourage others in specific ways to reach across cultures)?