My childhood was one of fun and adventure played out in the heart of East Africa. It was before the “Croc Hunter,” the Discovery and National Geographic Channels, a time when the Serengeti was a distant place full of mystery and adventure. It was the era of Joy and George Adamson and their lioness Elsa of whom the film “Born Free” was based and where mysterious men like “the crocodile man” roamed the shores of Lake Victoria. Looking back, the assorted exploits into and around the Serengeti plan of Tanzania are almost surreal. However, as I sit down to write this article, I would like to start by giving you two pictures that are still vivid in my mind. The pictures are that of a charging rhinoceros and a bumbling tourist. Let’s start with the rhinoceros.

The story begins on a common multi-family hunting and camping expedition. A common highlight of these trips was a ride on the luggage carrier of the vehicle as we went out in search of game. This particular morning we clung to the rack of Uncle Rusty Baker’s Land Rover 88 as he chased after a large grey rhinoceros. After a short run, she turned, snorted and scuffled her feet, making it clear that she was done with her part of the adventure. We wisely headed back to camp for lunch and a break from the hot equatorial sun.

Later that afternoon, my father Jim Orner, my older brother Doug and I set out on foot to hunt small game. The only rifle my father brought along was his trusty old World War II vintage Springfield 30.06. We trudged up a small hill covered with tall yellow grass smattered with flat-topped Acacia Trees. As we crested the top of the hill we heard what sounded like an old steam engine - which were still in use at that time in East Africa - however there were clearly no railroad tracks. We quickly realized that the supposed train was the same rhino we had tormented earlier that morning and she was headed straight for us at full throttle!

This presented a serious problem. For not only was she much larger than we were and had a large sharp horn that was lowered and aimed, but my father’s rifle was not of a large enough caliber for such a beast. Therefore, if he had to shoot, he would have one chance, because the only thing worse than an angry rhino is a wounded angry rhino! A bullet in the spine would paralyze her and stop the rampage. However, this was nearly impossible as her lowered horn blocked a clear shot. My brother Doug deserted us and scrambled up a tree. I, on the other hand, bravely ducked behind my father who held his rifle steady, waiting for the ideal shot.

Much to our amazement, the wind changed directions and the angry rhino lost our scent. Because rhinos have poor vision, she could no longer distinguish us from the trees. For what seemed like an eternity, she stomped and snorted, desperately trying to locate us. Then as quick as she came towards us, she stomped again, turned and ran down the opposite side of the hill. It was only then that my brother realized that he had climbed a dreadfully thorny Acacia tree making his decent much slower and more painful than his accent!

The charging rhinoceros is the first picture. Keep that in mind as I give you a second, this is of another creature I took great effort to avoid. Unlike the rhinoceros, this creature walked on two legs and was not indigenous to East Africa. Rather they came with the goal of experiencing all that Africa had to offer. Most often they were dressed in clothing that was clearly not African. This attire included a variation of a recently purchased stiff kaki safari outfit accompanied on occasion by a ten gallon cowboy hat, and cowboy boots. Another distinguishing feature was an overabundance of camera equipment, binoculars generally all hanging from around the neck. When not visible, this creature could be easily identified by a boisterous voice that either butchered a select set of mispronounced words, or simply neglected to realize that speaking louder and more slowly was not an effective means of communication. Yes, the second picture is that of a stereo typical North American tourist.

The rhinoceros and the tourist represent two realities. The charging rhinoceros represents the rapid ethnic and cultural change that North America now faces. The tourist on the other hand represents the church. Let’s first look at the charging rhinoceros.

North America is the midst of period of massive ethnic and cultural change, a change that is charging down on us at an astounding pace. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center, released in February 2008 projects the U.S. population will climb to 438 million by 2050 and the Hispanic population will triple. These projections are different than the US government estimates and paint a dramatically dissimilar picture of North America than we know today. The study assumes that that rate of immigration will remain steady and if immigration is limited, Hispanics' share of the population will increase because they have higher birth rates than the overall population. That's largely because Hispanic immigrants are younger than the nation's aging baby boom population.

In a February 11, 2008 New York Times article entitled, Proportion of Immigrants in US Rises, Sam Roberts writes that the projections show that by 2050:

  • Nearly one in five Americans will have been born outside the USA vs. one in eight in 2005. Sometime between 2020 and 2025, the percentage of foreign-born will surpass the historic peak reached a century ago during the last big immigration wave. New immigrants and their children and grandchildren born in the USA will account for 82% of the population increase from 2005 to 2050.
  • Whites who are not Hispanic, now two-thirds of the population, will become a minority when their share drops to 47%. They made up 85% of the population in 1960.
  • Hispanics, already the largest minority group, will more than double their share of the population to 29%.
  • Blacks will remain 13% of the population. Asians will go to 9% from 5%.

At present, the US Census Bureau reports that in Hawaii, New Mexico, California, and Texas the non-Hispanic white population is no longer the majority. Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York, and Arizona all have a minority population of greater than 39 percent.

In addition, much of the new Hispanic population is not in the large urban areas as has been in the past. Rather the Census Bureau points out that the new Hispanic growth is in the same locals as the non-Hispanic White growth. These include parts of the country that up until now has not experienced this. Hispanic immigration is following the jobs and that follows the new growth areas. In other words, every corner of North America is changing ethnically and culturally.

Though North America has long been perceived as an ethnic and cultural melting pot, this internationalization of North America represents a drastic shift away from Western European immigration and therefore a waning in the prominence of Western thought. As this change takes place, the Church finds it difficult to have voice in world she lives in.

Presbyterian churches have historically been comprised of people of Western European ancestry. Because the majority early migration in the eastern regions of the North American was heavily from Western Europe, the church prospered. In fact within the non-Hispanic white majority, the PCA continues to grow at a steady pace as each year new churches are planted, and significant numbers of new members added.
If we simply look at the non-Hispanic white numbers and the Korean numbers it appears that progress is being made. In fact, the PCA has a large and growing Korean membership and this is both exciting and positive. However if we compare our numbers of new churches and members added from all other ethnic and cultural groups to the overall population growth we find that our impact is at best marginal and we face a serious challenge as the population ratio continues to change. Remember the two groups whose population ratio will decrease are the non-Hispanic whites and Asians.

I am not concerned about the effects the rhinoceros of ethnic and cultural change will have on the broader American culture. In fact I welcome the cultural and ethnic mix we see occurring around us. I happen to be a non-Hispanic white who grew up as a minority and thoroughly enjoy all the new international America has to offer. My concern rather, lies in how our church will approach this change. Though we recognize and are addressing aspects of the changing culture, we are ignoring both the present and future reality. Those aware of the charging rhinoceros are often praying for a change in the wind with a hope that she will stop her charge and move elsewhere. Others are trusting in the political process.

Unfortunately, we are rapidly losing our ability to communicate to those around us and my fear is that we appear as bumbling tourists losing both our voice in culture and our Gospel witness. If not addressed we will take on the persona of the stereotypical American tourist as we scream louder and louder to a people who neither see nor understand us.

The complexity of this issue is immense and cannot begin solved in n article of this scope. A more thorough study including the history of immigration in North America, the churches place in it and careful Biblical and Theological application is essential to develop a long term strategy (I am in process of revising my doctoral thesis entitled A Strategy to Enhance the Gospel Ministry of the PCA to those outside the non-Hispanic White Majority in North America as a tool to offer further study on this topic.) Nevertheless, here are some ideas on how you and your church can begin to embrace and rejoice in this rhinoceros sized opportunity.

Let me first address the charging rhinoceros. Here is an essential principle; a charging rhinoceros is only dangerous if you get in its way or try to stop it. Likewise the rhinoceros of change is harmless and in fact beautiful, unless you are committed to stopping it. Attempting to stop it will not work, and will be deadly to Gospel witness.

Throughout U.S. History each group of immigrants that came to our shores faced strong resistance. Even my ancestors, early German immigrants were labeled as atheists, and “solid beer drinkers, heavy of girth and dull of mind.” Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin asked in his Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751) in regards to the Germans, “Why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements and, by herding together, establish their language and manners to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of us Anglifying them?”

Our history is marked with those who tried to stop ethnic and cultural diversity and none have succeeded. Our obligation then is to embrace what God is doing and learn how to be better equipped to have a Gospel impact. If we want to be faithful to what God has called us to do, then we need take an honest look at our methodology. This then moves us to the second picture, the bumbling American tourist.

The problem with the stereotypical American tourist is that they are insular. Brooks Peterson in his book Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures defines insular this way, “having a narrow provincial attitude about anything unfamiliar or different” (p. 1750). However most of us would be slow to admit, “Wow – I am really closed-minded, and don’t know how to talk to people outside my culture. Truth is I am highly suspicious of almost everyone outside my hometown.” Nevertheless, though hard to acknowledge, most of us are quite insular. Unfortunately, if we struggle with insularity, we will struggle with Gospel impact.

To overcome insularity we must develop “Cultural Intelligence” (CQ). The idea of CQ is new to North America; however European businesses have recognized its significance of operating in a global market. Though there is no one correct definition for CQ it can be defined as “the ability to engage in a set of behaviors that uses skills and qualities that are tuned appropriately to the culture-based values and attitudes of the people with whom one interacts” (Peterson, p. 89). In this definition, “skills” refer to normal language or interpersonal skills, while “qualities” are tolerance of ambiguity or flexibility. Developing CQ should be a priority to every Believer. In order to get started in CQ development there are three important ingredients: Knowledge, Awareness and Skills. Like three legs of a tripod, all three must be in place for your CQ to develop.

Knowledge of culture begins with careful study of behaviors. Behaviors are the observable activities of that culture. They include language and accent, food, music, clothing, art and literature, pace of life, emotional display, gestures, eye contact, sports, etc. However, observable behavior is only the starting point as it is important to know and understand ideas and feelings. This deeper knowledge gives understanding on opinions, viewpoints, attitudes, philosophies, and convictions. To identify with the values of a culture takes time and great effort, and must be done in relationship. However it is the foundation of behaviors, as it is the “why” we do what we do.

The second leg of the CQ tripod is awareness: the first step is an awareness of self. This is not easy and requires a sober and realistic examination of yourself and your culture. Unfortunately, most people view themselves as cultureless, while in fact we have all been culturally groomed to think and behave in certain ways since birth. Awareness of who you truly are, not how you perceive yourself is crucial.

The second half of awareness is the ability to be in tune with the cultural differences present in any given setting.. The stereotypical tourist is clueless to the vast cultural divide he is encountering and therefore blunders on. Cultural awareness identifies the differences and with sensitivity and a nonjudgmental attitude seeks to communicate across them.

The third leg of the tripod is the practical application of Knowledge and Awareness. Skills are the behaviors that emerge from the knowledge we have learned and our cultural awareness. Skills will only come about as you take what you have learned about a culture, and mix that with an increasing self awareness. The best way to develop your CQ skills is with the help of someone outside your culture who will be brave and honest enough to speak the truth in love. Note well, that some cultures will find this very difficult and will tell you what they think you want to hear.

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