I was asked to prepare a presentation on conflict resolution for Christian counselor and pastoral care training seminars. The task seemed daunting; however, I found preparing the talk to be a formative process. I learned about conflict resolution in China, in the West, and around the world. It took me some time to identify culture as the angle that I would take in my presentation. To develop the lecture, I read about Chinese history and philosophy, and learned about how these might relate to conflict resolution in China. During the presentation, a number of things stood out. I gave participants a chance to tell their own conflict stories, and to share the stories that contained life lessons about conflict that they told their children. They readily participated, and seemed to thrive. I was struck by how much the group appreciated the research that I had done about their culture. Through my work, I was able to validate their culture and bring to the foreground something that had been only minimally visible to them. One response in particular stood out. A participant indicated that a common understanding among Chinese Christians was that there was only one way to do conflict resolution, and that’s the Christian way. Through this presentation, they learned just how much their own culture actually influenced their conflict resolution assumptions and practices, just as culture does in different ways in different countries.
I am glad that I was able to go to another country and experience the culture, people, history, food, and language in the context of a safe community. It was a significant journey for me since I grew up in India and wanted to learn how one can take Western understandings, insights, and skills into another culture with wisdom, patience, and passion. I was impressed by the growing churches in China, as well as the basic theology of love that gave thrust to the “social” aspect of their ministry. Visits to three seminaries were powerful—when doing small groups, one could sense both the excitement and the fear the students had. In the seminaries, I learned the power of contextualizing the material according to the understanding of the person in another culture. This
was an important lesson for me to learn as a future educator in India. The students challenged me to think about how we deal with cultural diversity when working with our clients, since we can become pretty comfortable with the generalizations that we have acquired from our own
training and experiences. The mental health professional gathering at the Puan church was moving. It was amazing to see university professors talking about
the need for the study of religion and psychology at the university level. They all had insights and strong convictions about how both are essential to understand the past and shape the future of Chinese society.
The cultural exchanges I had as a guest in China have been some of the most intriguing and challenging of my life. I have traveled to many different countries, but I have never been to a country where I didn’t have at least a basic understanding of the language. Chinese culture is probably the most complicated and “foreign” culture I have ever encountered. Abstract or generalized conceptions of collectivism and individualism do not capture the intricacies of how it is actually expressed relationally. I learned so much in a very short time. I will treasure the lunch I shared with some members of a church on our way to Han Wang. I sat on a thin bench in a small room as women quietly filled the table with different dishes. The women eagerly refilled my bowl and it was easy to communicate with them using gestures and smiles. We laughed often. It was the kind of cultural exchange that affirms a shared and basic human spirit and is truly a gift from God. All of the women at the table knew people who had died in the earthquake, and others who had suffered, but their faith was very strong, very pragmatic. I was so touched by their eagerness to serve strangers, their generosity, and their quiet strength. I walked away feeling blessed to have met those church members. I think American churches and American Christians have much to learn from China. We have much to learn about humility and living life in community.
This article was published in Theology, News & Notes, Fall 2011, “Where In the World Are We? Reflections on Fuller’s Expanding Global Reach.”