Discipleship In All Ways: Gifts That Living In Another Culture Have Given Me

January 27, 2021

Early in my ministry as a Spiritual Director, while working in Kenya, I was asked by a young man if he could come and talk. He arrived along with another young man, so I welcomed them both into the house. After greeting one another and some small chit-chat, I asked if he wanted to move into another room so that we could talk privately. When he said: “No, he can stay, he’s my friend, and I don’t have anything to say that he can’t hear,” I thought: “Now this should be interesting!”   And it was.  He shared simply and honestly about an area of sinfulness in his life, eager to find some insight and support to help him move toward greater freedom. The other man was just present- perhaps as moral support.   Now, that’s a true friend! The session went just fine, and I was the only one who found the arrangement in any way uncomfortable!   

First gift: be ready to accept different ways. 

While that particular experience was unique, operating in another culture has also shaped me in my following of Jesus in other important ways.   

Many times, working in another language, I had to ask people what they meant by something they said, and I had to really pay attention to both their words and their body language- no nodding off and catching up!   More importantly, because of my inability to “get” every nuance of the language, I had to trust myself and my own interior movements more.  And, when I did notice some movement in me, a God-moment in the other that somehow echoed in me, I felt compelled to explore that area with the person, convinced that God’s movement was leading the way. My companioning thus became an ongoing dialogue with God as I listened, an attentiveness to what was happening in me, and a conscious sense of yielding to what God wanted me to notice!  

 

Second gift: accepting some “uncomfortable” might just be the way to let God lead.  

Those times when I feel less than ‘able’ might be the very times when I am being formed to let God act in my life more; times when I learn to yield to God’s word moving from within, times when I lean on and into God more are thus gifts- if I am willing to receive them.

My uncertainty with working in another language yielded yet another gift.  In responding to people, I had to get straight to the point- saying only what I could say about God’s movement as I perceived it.   No extra frills or advice was really possible.  In a way, I was “forced” into having to let “the Creator deal directly with the creature” long before I knew I should!  Certainly, a grace—in retrospect!    

 

Third gift:  God can, and will, fill in the details.  If I can but trust and yield, God will take the next step!

Of course, accepting new ways of doing things, learning to trust myself and God’s movements within, and saying what I am given to say by God’s spirit – are all important regardless of culture and in many other times than in spiritual direction.  In fact, any time I meet another, I am invited to enter into another “culture.” And the best way to move into another culture is with great respect.   I believe discipleship requires of all of us that we be on a path of learning to meet, listen and speak as God has done in Jesus.  

I recognize this way of “respect” because this is the tender way God and Jesus deal with me.  Fully entering into my experience without judgment, sometimes gently asking me questions that help me 

understand my own experience more fully.  I can trust that when God responds- which I recognize by God’s familiar “feel” in me- this response comes from God’s own deep innerness that only speaks love.

Living in another culture has a way of stripping away the non-essentials, physical, emotional, and spiritual.  Having to lean on and into God in such times has been a source of many gifts for me, and, I hope, for others.

 

Go Deeper:

  • What causes you to “have to” lean into God more?   
  • When have you tasted the sweet grace of knowing God’s innerness speaking to your need?
  • What experiences have you had of God “filling  in the details” when you have been unsure if what you did was “enough?”


Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash

 

Sr. Janelle Sevier is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, an international congregation of religious women who live and serve in 17 countries and on five continents. A native of Baton Rouge, and currently working there as a Pastoral Associate, she has also ministered in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Haiti, and in the United States: in the Archdiocese of Boston as well as Baton Rouge. Janelle has been involved in many areas of ministry: formal and informal teaching as well as faith formation and spirituality with a great variety of groups. Giving retreats and offering spiritual direction has been part of her ministry throughout. She has a passion for working with others to help deepen the experience of God within individuals and in our communities of faith, and especially with groups often overlooked by society.

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