A simple cheddar cheese sandwich on white bread, purchased from a cart on the street near our hotel — this was my first meal in England circa 1984. Simple, yet wholesome, and perfect for a hungry college student just off her first international flight.
There was something so familiar about that sandwich—just cheese and bread. I knew those components, yet the combination tasted so different from any cheese sandwich I had ever eaten. The cheddar, for starters, wasn’t the orange color I was familiar with; instead, it was white—and flavorful. And the bread wasn’t the squishy, stick-to-the-top-of-your-mouth kind that I grew up with. Instead, its texture was firm and slightly crumbly, which I now know is because they use is less processed than our American version. Familiar, yet unfamiliar.
Same but different.
I encountered similarities and differences around every corner during my summer studying in England. Tea? Yes, but more full-bodied than the tea I drank at home. And served with cream and sugar. Cars? Of course, but smaller. And the people drove on the other side of the road. Music? Yes, but with a different tone and a different beat.
And the language? Oh, it’s technically the same, but so many of the words sound different to my ears and have entirely different meanings. And as I traveled north, the words began to sound almost foreign.
Same but different.
From the moment we landed and began exploring the city of London, I felt as if I had found my second home. Well over 30 years later, I still love England. It has transformed me in significant ways.
“Cultural awareness, sometimes called ‘cultural sensitivity’ or ‘cultural empathy,’ is recognizing that ‘cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning them a value—positive or negative, better or worse, right or wrong. It simply means that you are aware that people are not all the same and that you recognize that your culture is no better than any other culture.’
“Seems simple enough, right? But until we truly engage people of other cultures and try to understand them, we often aren’t aware of our personal biases. Discovering them can make us feel less than intelligent, awkward, confused or embarrassed. And that never feels good. The work of getting to know someone is not simple; often it’s difficult and messy. We have to admit our personal biases and put them aside.
“Intentionally helping our kids become culturally aware can feel a little uncomfortable, and it may feel a bit scary at times, but the work it takes will be worth it. Cultural awareness opens our kids to new experiences and new people, and it just might lead them to discover a new passion or purpose for their future.
“As we interact with people from other cultures, we begin to understand the compassion of God. God is the creator of all people, of all cultures, and, as 2 Peter 3:9 tells us, he does not want any to perish. None. Each one of his children is precious to him, and we begin to get a small glimpse of this when we get to know people who are different from us yet somehow the same.
“My children went to the elementary school just around the corner from our home, which we intentionally chose because of its diverse student body. Their classes were made up of children of various ethnic backgrounds, largely because the apartment complex down the street housed refugees from other countries. In any given year, our daughters had friends from as far away as Bosnia, Somalia or Myanmar, and they learned that, although we may eat different foods and wear different clothes, all children like to laugh, tease and play games on the playground. And I’ve never met a child who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies!
“Interacting with children from other cultures was a wonderful but challenging part of their education, and it taught our daughters many important life lessons. But here’s the most important lesson I hope my girls took away from their culturally diverse schools: the good news that Christ died for the sins of the whole world—people of every culture, every tongue, every tribe and every nation! We may be different in many ways from our classmates or the people down the street from us, but we all have a common need: to have our sins removed, to be redeemed by God and to be changed by the work that Jesus came to do.
“I want my children to hold on to that gospel vision, to believe that the sacrifice that has bought their salvation wasn’t just for them, but for everyone.
“What if an intentional awareness of other cultures sparked a passion for missions in your child? What if he or she became interested in sharing the gospel in a large city? What if our kids took the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19–20) seriously and began making disciples themselves? Could an increased awareness of the needs of the world spark a new passion in your child?
“Someday your children will leave your nest, and they will have a myriad of choices ahead of them about where they will live, whether they will continue their education, and what type of career they might pursue. No matter what they do or where they go, I want my kids to remember that we are here to shine the light of Jesus into every corner of this dark world.”
Excerpted from Shelly Wildman’s recently released book, First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship (Kregel). Used with permission.