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Review: Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping out and fitting in around the world

Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping out and fitting in around the world. Downers Grove: IVP, 2002.

Review by Gordon Cheng, writer/editor at CMS Australia

This 2002 book remains on the current reading list in missions courses around Australia as an excellent, easy introduction to major issues in cross-cultural work.

Cross-cultural specialist Duane Elmer of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School introduces his overview by telling of the monkey who decides to help the fish. The fish seems so uncomfortable in its underwater environment, swimming against the river current in raging waters. So the monkey, at considerable difficulty and risk, pulls the fish out of the torrent and carefully lays it on the ground. The monkey observes that the fish is very excited at its release, but ultimately stops thrashing about and lies calm and still, at peace and no longer needing to struggle against the stream. The monkey congratulates himself on understanding the fish’s needs and rescuing it from its terrible plight.

This, says Elmer, is not dissimilar to how missionaries can fail when they encounter a new culture and seek to tell the gospel to needy individuals. He helps readers—including those training for mission—become more aware of how the cultural differences they observe are not always simple matters of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. He deals with a range of important mission matters: identifying expectations, building trust, basic categories for understanding culture such as ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’, ‘individualism’ and ‘collectivism’; and much more.

Some might complain on seeing the subtitle, ‘…fitting in around the world’ that ‘fitting in’ is the last thing Christians are called to do. But the author is really challenging readers to consider, carefully and prayerfully, how to prevent cultural barriers from becoming a stumbling block for those who want to know Jesus.

Available in e-book and paperback.