Cross-cultural illustrations

I lead a team of six people. I am the only European amongst them. From west to east we cover 15 time zones, five countries, four continents and have at least three different first languages (though we work together in English which helps me a lot). We do not all see the world in the same way.

Graphic artist Yang Liu has a sharp eye for cultural comparison, honed by personal experience. In 1990, at the age of 13, she moved from Beijing, to Berlin. After exactly 13 years there, she started an illustrated project to document her dual experiences in China and Germany.

Originally created as 47 simple blue and red posters, Yang Liu’s nonjudgmental series playfully captures the difference between cultures: from workplace hierarchy to restaurant etiquette. It has since been shown at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Germany, and was published in 2007 by art book authority Taschen with the title East Meets West.
See the full post on Quartz
It’s not just about my team though. More and more aspects of society are made up of people from different nations and while these illustrations could be generalising (not everything applies to everyone regardless of where they are from) it’s always worth remembering that culture impacts the way people see the world. These illustrations are a good reminder of that.

What’s truly important

I was recently involved in a meeting where we had to deal with some difficult concepts. To help our thinking we began with worship and those things that brought us unity.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.



Scripture engagement in the UK

For the meeting that I’m at this week, we have been reading T. Wayne Dye’s article on The Eight Conditions of Scripture Engagement (International Journal of Frontier Missiology 26:2 Summer 2009, 89-98). He gives a list of factors that are needed for people to successfully engage with translations of the Bible.

  1. Appropriate language, dialect and orthography
  2. Appropriate translation
  3. Accessible forms of Scripture
  4. Background knowledge of the hearer
  5. Availability
  6. Spiritual hunger of community members
  7. Freedom to commit to Christian faith
  8. Partnership between translators and other stakeholders

Of course, in a Wycliffe setting, we discuss these things in connection with minority language groups but I think these factors can direct our thinking when it comes to helping western church communities engage with the Bible.

  • Do we encourage people to use good, natural sounding, translations of the Bible or the church’s ‘official’ pew Bible?
  • Do we assume too much prior knowledge? Are we equipping our congregations with the skills and understanding to know that there are different types of literature in the Bible? That there are different audiences in mind for the different books? Can we share more background to make engaging with the Bible easier?
  • Is there spiritual hunger in our church community?
  • Do people feel free to be able to make a commitment to following Jesus or are there outside pressures that constrain them?
  • Are we working well with other churches in the area to reach our local community?

There are probably other questions too but I think this is worth thinking through.

On a slightly different note, I was struck by reading this Eugene Peterson quote today.

Romantic, crusader, and consumer representations of the church get in the way of recognizing the church for what it actually is. If we permit – or worse, promote – dreamy or deceptive distortions of the Holy Spirit creation, we interfere with the participation in the real thing. The church we want becomes the enemy of the church we have. It is significant that there is not a single instance in the biblical revelation of a congregation of God’s people given to us in romantic, crusader, or consumer terms. There are no “successful” congregations in Scripture or in the history of the church.

– Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in the Church

‘There are no “successful” congregations in Scripture’ – that’s worth thinking about.

The death of truth

Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.

What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means, as this year has made very clear, that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.

Read the full article here

This is an important article from the Guardian newspaper. It puts words to the discomfort I feel about the state of journalism today. It’s so important to have good investigative reporting rather than a media driven by what’s popular.

In the garden in Germany

Asking good questions

A colleague of mine has just pointed me to this video on the importance of asking good questions. It only takes 15 minutes to watch and I think it’s worth investing the time.

As part of this talk, James Ryan, Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, suggests five essential questions to ask:

  • Wait, what?
  • I wonder why, or if?
  • Couldn’t we at least?
  • How can I help?
  • What truly matters?

What do you think? Are there any other questions you would add to this list?



I didn’t have much of a cross-cultural upbringing. With the exception of a trip to Wales when I was 10 years old and a day trip to Amsterdam at 17 I didn’t leave England until I was 21. This is my excuse for going through school without any interest in learning another language. I dropped studying French at 14 and have never really gone back.

One of the assumptions I carried for years was that it was completely possible to substitute a word in one language for an equivalent in English. Of course, if I’d paid any attention in French class I would have quickly realised this wasn’t the case.

How do you say hello in English? = Hello

How do you way hello in French? = Bonjour (Though, it’s probably more polite to say, Bonjour madame or monsieur – depending on who you are speaking to. Or you could say ‘Salut’, but that’s more like saying ‘hi’).

Of course, bonjour isn’t hello, rather it’s (bon = good and jour = day) good day – which in English sounds ever so polite.

But things can get even more complicated. In some parts of the world, the same word can exist in two languages but have completely different meanings.

My friend Sue works as a Bible translation consultant. She is currently in Madagascar checking a translation of the gospel of Matthew, from where she writes,

When people read the Bible in Official Malagasy, what they understand may differ depending on which language group they are from. For example mino means ‘believe’ in Official Malagasy, but in the Bara language it is the normal word for ‘drink’.

Read Sue’s full blog post here

So, not only is it unreasonable to expect there to be a direct translation of one word from one language to another, it’s completely possible that a word that sounds the same in two languages can have two completely different meanings!


Communications meetings (day 3)

Working at KarimuYesterday was the final day of our time meeting together as a communications team. Three of us travel home today and the others will begin their trips over the weekend.

Training and Equipping

Our final day began with us considering the skills we each need to develop to best serve the teams and areas we work in. There’s a positive attitude to training in the team, which is good, as we want to make sure we are always giving the best we can to the Alliance; but, as training can be a costly business, we want to make sure we are getting value for money.

Over the next few months we will keep thinking about the ways in which demands on our roles are taking us in new directions and we will make sure we are as well equipped to serve in these areas as we can be.


One of the foundational principles of the Alliance is reflective practice. As a practice it’s broader than simply applying it to our work, it involves observing cultural trends, the global environment and society as a whole and reflecting on what God may have to say into these situations. The introduction to reflective practice on wycliffe.net is an excellent starting point in this area.

We took the opportunity to spend some time on our final afternoon together to reflect and considering what God may have to say to us as a team.

It was interesting hearing what people had to say. Our work is not in a vacuum, we each bring an outsider perspective to our roles and what is happening in the rest of our lives has an impact on how we think. Maybe, therefore, it was no surprise that our main reflections were on our individual and collective relationship with God. Our focus, as a team, is to serve Alliance organisations, but we do that best when we have God at the centre of what we do.

Maybe some more reflections to come next week.

Right now I’m at Frankfurt airport and they’ve just called my flight. Time to go home.

Holzhausen, Germany

Communications meetings (day 2)

Communications team at workThis was a long day where topics ranged from budgets and travel insurance to the production schedule of stories.

Talking about our roles

Once again we started the day hearing from each other. This time sharing about our various roles and the opportunities and challenges we each face working in our various environments. There was time to listen and pray for each other which makes a real difference.

Talking specifics

This afternoon we got into some of the specifics of what we are involved in. We discussed our changing responsibilities as we look to serve the many different organisations that make up the Alliance, our plans for meetings next year and who should be on the invite list, and talked through some of the material we will try to publish next year.

We only managed to cover half of this afternoon’s topics so tomorrow is going to be a little more packed than I had intended. That’s OK though, this is a good group and we work well together.

In the garden in Germany

Communications meetings (day 1)

Ka'rimu ReceptionSo here I am, hanging out with my team at the Karimu conference centre in Holzhausen, Germany. We try to get together a couple of times each year to talk and make plans. Having only joined the team full-time in April this is the first meeting that I’ve had overall responsibility for the agenda. Despite the jet lag some are suffering from there was little downtime and we got straight into work.

Catching up and praying for each other

We are a team distributed around the world so it’s important that when we are together we do things that enable us to build deeper and more meaningful relationships. So, on our first morning, we spent time sharing with each other the things that are going on in our lives. Family updates, moving house (and continent), the challenges of children and parents and all the things that come along at different stages of life.

It was wonderful for me to be able to share with these guys the things that are important, talk about the challenges we are facing as a family and be prayed for. A group like this is especially important as, though our individual experiences may differ, they all know something of the unique challenges that serving in full-time mission can throw up.

Mission, vision and values

Like many organisations, Wycliffe Global Alliance has a mission, vision and values statement. This informs the core of our work. The values are,

  • The glory of God among the nations
  • Christlikeness in life and work
  • The Church as central in God’s mission
  • The word translated
  • Dependence on God
  • Partnership and service

In other organisations it may be possible to only apply the values to what is done by employees. But with the values of the Alliance, personnel need to embody the values so that they resonate through all that they do.

We spent the afternoon trying to think through how each of these values applies to each one of us in our work. It wasn’t always easy – how can one person embody ‘the Church as central in God’s mission’?

It was a challenging process but good to do.

That was yesterday. We are now into day two.


The best father son relationship

Last week I was listening to a podcast from The Miller Tells Her Tale (show 591) in which I heard the Michael McDermott song, Shadow in the Window for the first time. It’s a beautiful image of the imperfect father-son relationship where neither party seems prepared to ask questions or share feelings – instead, there’s silence where there should be a conversation.

In the song McDermott writes of his relationship with his father,

I always wondered what he was thinking
Was he waiting for me to crash
Or maybe he just wanted to come with me
I never thought to ask

I wondered what he was doing
Watching me every time I drove away
I wonder what he did that for
Maybe he just wanted me to stay

So often in songs relationships are made out to be wonderful or terrible, there appear to be very few songs about ordinary relationships. This song seems to fly against this trend as the picture is painted of a very normal father-son relationship that could be so much closer should a few words be used.

I was thinking of using this song to introduce communion on Sunday but decided against it as it could have the same impact on the congregation that showing the first few minutes of the film Go did – turned everyone into a blubbering mess. But I like the contrast between a very human father-son relationship that seems to leave each party slightly unfulfilled with what the Bible tells us about God. That the God who created the universe and everything in it wants to have a relationship with us, his creation. That even though we continue to ignore him in the choices we make every day, he doesn’t become more distant – he’s not watching us from the window – he’s sat right next to us wanting to be part of the journey you and I are about to embark on.

Plus, it’s a great song!