Navigating Intercultural Landscapes

The beginning of my intercultural journey took place in the context of growing up in an Indian family in the West Indian melting pot of the Caribbean in the 1960s and early 1970s. These formative years on a small island in post-colonial times laid the foundation for the years to come. This landscape was dominated by a love and respect for nature; deep family relationships; respect for traditions, elders and ancestors, storytelling; fear of the spirit world; and an acceptance of God’s existence. The only world that I knew at that time was the world of my small village.

Our family moved to the large metropolitan city of Toronto in the early 1970s. Over the next 15 years, I had to learn to navigate this new cultural Canadian landscape. I became aware of what it means to be an “outsider”, as this was the beginning of massive immigration from outside of the Western world. Schooling no longer took place mainly in relationship to nature, traditions, and family members, but via books and other socializing processes with those outside of the family. Canadian politeness, a positive approach to life, multiculturalism, and individualism carved themselves deeply into my young spirit as a teenager and young adult. I loved the relational side of the French-Canadian culture so much that I married a French Canadian. This has been another intercultural journey that continues to this day.

It was time to move again in the 1990s in response to God’s call to serve him in France. This journey has lasted for over 30 years. It has allowed me to discover new cultural values from an outsider’s perspective: the importance of aesthetics, a rich philosophical heritage, the art of criticism, a hermeneutic of doubt, and a strong cultural pride.

This rich intercultural baggage has served me well, especially in teaching missional theology in French-Speaking Africa, Québec, Madagascar, and Europe. God has helped me to develop flexibility in my teaching approaches in these various contexts. When confronted with more relational approaches to learning, in Africa for example, I am thankful that I can draw on my childhood experiences, but also on more Western academic approaches. When confronted with a more pessimistic understanding of reality, I am thankful for the Canadian and the West Indian in me that allows me to see things a bit more positively. When individualism tries to cut me off from my connectedness to others and nature, I am thankful I can draw on my Indian roots. When sharing the Gospel with those from other perspectives, I try to do as the apostle Paul: become all things to all people.

But there is another side to this vast and rich intercultural heritage. Some days, I feel as though I don’t fit anywhere. This question of belongingness is important for those who are multicultural. When those days (of feeling like an odd ball) come, I am so thankful for belonging to Christ. Like Father Abraham, I try to keep my eyes on that City designed and built by God for His children (Hebrews 11:10).

— McTair Wall teaches emerging missional leaders in the French-speaking world