Crossing Cultures

Giraffe was held in Singapore in December as a joint venture of the LCA and Lutheran Church in Singapore. It was a cross-cultural community of 21: eight Singaporeans, eight Australians and five Malaysians.

We gathered as a very diverse bunch! We came from different cultures and countries and with different heart languages (various Chinese dialects or varieties of English). Some of us had broad cross-cultural experience; for others this was their first overseas trip.

But not one of us knew quite what to expect.

Mary Ann Tan is from Cheras (near Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia. ‘The first day I went to Giraffe I felt unsafe and the people there were totally unfamiliar to me. I was worried about how the people will look at me. I keep on asking myself: Do I need to act not as myself or can I just be real to them? What is a community really like?

But as I get closer to the others, the words ‘unsafe’ and ‘unfamiliar’ are not in my mind at all. The community between each one of us is getting better and better at the personal growth session. We started opening our heart to share our feelings and past. In this session I felt God’s love through this community. I always think that I’m the smallest and youngest person in Giraffe, I think I’m useless, maybe my opinion for them is useless and can’t help them. But God takes away this thought from my mind. He tells me he loves me…and the others also love me for who I am; I don’t feel useless. I feel appreciated and encouraged.’

We were in community together for 17 days, staying at Anglican House, the student accommodation of the Anglican High School in Bedok. At the beginning, Terry Kee, pastor of Queenstown Lutheran Church in Singapore, discussed cross-cultural communication with us. Ober the next four days Esther Jenyns, a Brisbane-based Christian counsellor, taught and facilitated personal growth sessions. There was tension, confusion, the feeling of being lost, and frustration, but also love, acceptance, inclusion and the sense of being found.

Billy Tso is from the east side of Singapore. ‘We were reminded of God’s love for us and how all of us are beautiful in his eyes. We must learn to accept ourselves; then we can truly love other people. I realised I was looking too much for affirmation from other people. I learnt that I am over-critical of myself a lot of times. I need to learn to love myself before I can truly love other people unconditionally, not love other people to yearn for their love back.’

We encountered a lot of questions during Giraffe. Some of us came to Giraffe with questions we were already aware of. For others the space and time at Giraffe, apart from the busyness of everyday life, allowed questions we had buried to surface. The speakers shared with amazing insight about God and the world, about us and about following Jesus – and a whole heap more questions were raised!

Matt Higgins is from Alice Springs, Australia. ‘I went to Giraffe seeking answers to questions such as ‘Who am I?’, ‘Where’s my place in the world?’ and ‘What should I be doing with my life?’ After Giraffe, not only had none of these questions been answered but I came out with even more questions! I’ve come to realise that nobody can answer questions like these for me, but rather it is the process of wrestling with these questions that gives me confidence to be the man God created me to be.’

Sessions and experiences that were part of Giraffe Singapore included Spiritual Gifting, Spiritual Timeline, Discipleship, Vocations, Bible Overview and Christian Ethics. We had a whole day of solitude, we learnt clowning and we helped with medical/food outreach to migrant workers in Little India. During ‘siesta’ we played basketball, soccer or Aussie Rules. We talked about church life in our home countries, about the wonders and evils of Vegemite and durian (that potently smelly Asian ‘king’ of fruits), about simple living and being a missional church. All of these elements contributed to our journey of becoming community.

Ivy Ang is from the north of Singapore. ‘Through the personal development section I got to be more aware of who I am and to accept others as who they are, too. During Bible study sessions I became more aware of God’s love and got to know God better. Pastor Samuel showed me the way to serve God humbly. And the whole community showed me the love that is within the body of Christ.’

A recurring theme throughout Giraffe Singapore was love. We are loved. We are to love others and love God. We can’t love others unless we love ourselves. By loving others we love God. These are some of the things we take from Giraffe, in the context of having freedom to be who God made us to be.

Josiah Lee is from Kajang (near Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia. ‘Giraffe has blessed me a lot and I hope to share this with people around me: the church community, my personal friends, and people whom I’ll meet in the future. I’m reminded that God is still working within me, and Giraffe is part of his working in me, helping me to see the larger picture that he has. And the journey goes on…to God be the glory.’

We go out from Giraffe, back into our home communities and forward into whatever the future will be. We go with lots of questions and uncertainty. We go with love – free to follow, free to serve, free to love. It is difficult.

Unconditional love is very big. We are small. We don’t know exactly what everything means or exactly where we are going. But we do know that God, who is the ultimate certainty, is with us all the way. We know we are loved, we know everyone else in the world is loved. And so we go.

As you go, as you love and breathe, please pray for us. As we find our way, may our way be God’s.

Reprinted with kind permission of The Lutheran. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.

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