The Table Podcast

Multiculturalism and Personal Identity

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Jenny McGill discuss multiculturalism, focusing on the effects of changing cultural contexts on identity formation.

Timecodes
00:15
Studying identity formation from a multicultural perspective
03:09
The value of experiencing different cultures
06:03
The concept of identity as one’s self-view
10:07
The relationship between cultural environment and identity formation
15:53
The experience of international students visiting the United States
22:18
Studying the identity formation of international students
28:30
Key issues facing international students in America
36:12
Key issues facing international students returning home from America
40:16
How to better engage with our global neighbors
Resources

McGill, Jenny. Religious Identity and Cultural Negotiation: Toward a Theology of Christian Identity in Migration.

Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table. We discuss issues of God and culture, and our topic today is a little bit of an unusual one. We’re going to be talking about identity, but we’re also going to talk about how changing cultural context impacts identity. People form their identity, and identity itself is a complex topic. But then when you have people shift space, it also impacts the way you see yourself.

And my guest is Jenny McGill, who is formerly at Dallas Seminary but now Regional Dean, in Northern Indiana and Illinois, for Indiana Wesleyan University. So welcome, Jenny. It’s good to have you.

Jenny McGill
Thank you.
Darrell Bock
And Jenny has written a book that is a summary of research that she did. It’s entitled, Religious Identity and Cultural Negotiation Toward a Theology of Christian Identity In Migration. And it really is a study. So, let’s talk about how does one even get to the point of studying something like this? Where does your interest in this topic come from?
Jenny McGill
Well, my undergrad was psychology, and my Master’s was in Intercultural Studies. So when it came to studying in the doctoral level, I wanted to find a program that would allow me to study the concepts of identity interdisciplinary. So, looking at it through different lenses of different fields of study. So, that’s where I started my previous social science background and then theology.
Darrell Bock
And then of course, you had experience with this, because when you were here at Dallas, you were working with the international students. Isn’t that right?
Jenny McGill
Yes. I was hired basically off the street. When I was a student, they saw that I was always with foreign students, and they called me in to interview. They thought I might be a good fit. And I started as a part-time secretary, and eventually went to direct the office, from 2004 to 2014.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So you were dealing with a myriad of international students that we have coming through. And I take it that their experience in getting adjusted to a new culture fueled your interest in thinking about this topic?
Jenny McGill
Certainly. Most of the ministry I had done was overseas. So that was my first exposure, probably during the summers in college.
Darrell Bock
So this had happened to you as well?
Jenny McGill
Not to the same level, but certainly on a short-term perspective. And then, working with the foreign students, I was beginning to see and experience with them what they were going through, and seeing patterns. And one of the other impetus to study was, sometimes I would get questions in my office, and we just didn’t have the data to answer.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. So where did you do your overseas? Where were you overseas?
Jenny McGill
I chose to become an international student. I had a sweet, little host family, and I studied at Kings College, London.
Darrell Bock
Well, England, that’s not too radical of a move. Of course, we were in Scotland, so I know what that’s like. Let’s talk a little bit first about the value of switching cultures. What did you learn from that experience that proved to be valuable and may even have helped you to think about how to do this study?
Jenny McGill
Sociologically, we’re prone to in-group bias. So anytime you can cross a barrier, or a boundary, or a border, you are getting exposure and awareness. And you’re not going to automatically think it up. So being able to see difference and observe difference then creates even new neural pathways of how you might go about doing something.
Darrell Bock
My wife and I, when we moved to Germany, and German society was structured very different than American society. There were certain things she could get away with doing, in American she couldn’t get away with doing in German society, and that kind of thing.

We talked about living by a different set of rules. You don’t get to make the rules, and you have to play by the rules. And you aren’t necessarily saying whether the rules are good or bad. But in some cases you discover – hey, this part of life works more efficiently this way than the way I was raised to live it, and that kind of thing.

And so it opens up possibilities for thinking about how to live and how to interact, and it’s different. It pulls you outside your own world, so you’re able to look at what you experience and what you grew up with, slightly differently. We found all of that to be pretty valuable.

Jenny McGill
Yes, agreed. Even in my own experience, we have what I call, compassionate imagining. That when you are challenged beyond what you’re comfortable thinking, then you begin to either identify with the other person, in whatever respect, but also challenged to evaluate, okay. What’s biblical? What’s cultural? What’s transnational?
Darrell Bock
And so it leads to a very interesting opportunity to learn, and think differently, and interact. And, as you said, it pulls you out of your own in-group. The word I use is, empathy. It produces a sense of empathy and identification with the way different people live, and sometimes why they do it, and that kind of thing.

And all of that ends up being very helpful in forming almost – global is exaggerated because you can’t live in all spheres simultaneously – a more global perspective about life and the way people live.

Jenny McGill
Even just more than one is helpful and is a good start. You would never anticipate some else’s need, the way you would know the needs in your own group. So any exposure, awareness, learning different things is valuable.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So that’s the background. We’re trying to think about what kind of experience this is to kind of shift space, and what that does to people, and how people think about their identity. So let’s do this in two steps. Let’s talk about identity first, which is already complex enough, and then think about what happens when a person who has an identity moves into a new space.

First, let’s talk about identity. What did you work on? And how should people think about identity, their own identity, as they think about saying, this is who I am?

Jenny McGill
Well, the concept of identity isn’t singular. So, I would say, you could even say, the concept of identities.
Darrell Bock
Yes. We see the same thing with cultures. Yes, exactly.
Jenny McGill
If we were to speak of it as a singular concept, I would say it’s one’s self view or one’s self understanding. And you have different identities. So part of research is, you almost have to categorize the subject or whatever you’re looking at, whether it’s religious identity, ethnic identity, sexual identity, gender identity. All of those are grouped, but you have more than one.

So part of identity is, in your given life and context, whether it’s like what one researcher has quantified as relationships, rituals, and restrictions that would define your identities, whether they are ascribed. Sometimes identities are given to you − you’re born a daughter. And sometimes they’re achieved – so you decide to become an astronaut.

So both of those could either – some identities are put on us as individuals. We certainly have identity in which groups we’re in − so all of that.

Darrell Bock
So what you were telling me is that, when you were born, they didn’t come out, Jenny McGill, scholar. [Laughs]
Jenny McGill
That I’ve earned, by God’s grace.
Darrell Bock
In that combination, that interaction forms our sense of how we see ourselves in the world. How we react to what goes on around us, and that kind of thing. What we assess. What we view our skills as being, and that kind of thing.
Jenny McGill
And identity can be studied through many lenses, as you know, and the ones I chose were identity negotiation theory, which I won’t go into the theorists, but that was one angle that hadn’t really been discussed. And then the other that I really got interested in was a narrative view of identity − actually how we create meaning is through the stories we tell, or what stories we feel a part of. And then suddenly, who we view ourselves to be as part of a narrative adventure.
Darrell Bock
So everybody’s identity life has a story that’s attached to which they attach significant events that kind of show who they are?
Jenny McGill
Sure. And from the story, of course, you have lots of interactions that create that. But I think, viewing it as a narrative format helped in how I wanted to study identity. So there’s such a thing called narrative identity of how you tell your story of life.
Darrell Bock
And, of course, Christians are very familiar with that because, obviously, the giving of a testimony is a prime example of that kind of an exercise.
Jenny McGill
Mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
When you talked about narrative identity, there was one other that I missed.
Jenny McGill
Identity negotiation.
Darrell Bock
Okay, now, what is that – without getting too involved?
Jenny McGill
There were two people that came up with it separately as a title, and they differ in their definitions somewhat. But, basically, they’re saying that identity is both fixed and fluid. It is stable and yet changes over time. So they were looking at how any individual or group would negotiate their identity over time.

Where you have this amoebic – it’s like, C.S. Lewis called it a curve in a waterfall. The physical atoms of our body are never body but they do cohere, so that you’re recognizable.

Darrell Bock
If people think about their lives, just the jobs they do or whatever, or they might have a company that they work for, but their expertise within the company might be shifting, as they are with the company longer and longer. That’s kind of an analogy for what we’re talking about?
Jenny McGill
Sure.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Let’s talk about the research a little bit. What is it exactly that you studied? Now we’re talking about beyond identity. We’re moving to the idea of identity in different spaces. How much does where I am impact how I see myself?
Jenny McGill
Well, that’s exactly what I wanted to study. So half of the book is more theoretical, where I’m going through different individuals who have discussed identity, and then I combine discussing the concept of identity of what your Christian identity might be, theologically. That’s the first half.

In the second half, then I pulled in the research I did internationally, thanks to all the international graduates who participated, to begin to see what they described happening to them. I had two sets of students – the ones that I interviewed, and those were only return migrants.

And I focused on two particular areas where they were Christian religious minorities in the world. So here you have a potential applicant who is a religious minority, in their local context, but a member of the ethnic majority. Then when they came to Dallas, that flipped, and they became a member of the religious majority, so to speak, in North Texas, but then suddenly a member of the ethnic minority.

When those Jenny McGills moved, then it flipped back. I wanted to study what their memory of, how they viewed themselves? What changed? Because I was able to have them from before, during, and then after. The survey then for all the graduates was much larger. And I didn’t get to access that information, but I still was able to relate it.

Darrell Bock
And so, were you studying the impact of the move on the self-definition of their identity? Was that the focus of the study? What were you after?
Jenny McGill
Ultimately, I wanted to pull from their experience to give a message to North American Christians. I can’t predict what that would be, but I just knew that they would have valuable things to say. So how they adjusted culturally? I asked open-ended questions and followed where they took it.

How their faith impacted the decisions they made? Where they decided to live? Did they migrate based on what? Based on which reasons?

Darrell Bock
Okay. So you did this. How large of a sample were you working with?
Jenny McGill
So I looked at the international graduates from 1983 to 2013 – 30 years. And of all the people I contacted, I received 405 surveys back.
Darrell Bock
So it’s a 30-year period. Did you do any slicing of the years within which this happened? Or did you treat it all as kind of one sample?
Jenny McGill
The quantitative sample was all at one point in time, where they were in the US, based on their experiences. So a lot of the questions were numerical, and some of the questions were – What are your concerns? Based on identity, how did they evaluate the religious and ethnic?

One simple thing is, I just wanted to see how they categorized their multiple identities? Which did they value – maybe one over another? How are they talking about it?

Darrell Bock
Okay. Let’s zero in on that, because that’s interesting. Obviously, they’ve got a nationality. They’ve got an ethnicity. They’ve got a religious orientation. Beyond those there, are there any others?
Jenny McGill
Those are the three I limited it to.
Darrell Bock
Okay. And so they’re processing that experience. You said they’re moving from minority to majority status, and then back to minority status, with regard to both ethnicity and religion and, of course obviously, their national place is changing because they’re moving.

You said you wanted this to be for North Americans. Were you trying to help create an understanding of what it is for a person to change their situation? Or were you trying to study what happens to people when they make that move? Was it a little of both? What’s going on there?

Jenny McGill
It was pretty open-ended. From my experience with foreign students, they had a powerful message of how to navigate life as a minority identity, in this case, a Christian. Of how do you stay nimble, and adapt, and adjust with all the parameters of the challenges, ethically, of how to live?

I think I mostly wanted to hear their opinion on how to live as a minority.

Darrell Bock
That raises an interesting question. Why in the world would you think about even going there? I mean in the sense of, was there something that you saw that you thought was important to appreciate that took you to that kind of a question? Because most Christians, at least in the United States, would sit here and say, well, we don’t see ourselves in cultural minority terms, or if we do, we’re shifting into that realm. Is there something like that going on?
Jenny McGill
Maybe because most of my ministry was overseas, I was in environments where Christians weren’t the majority. I don’t know if I sought experiences where I discovered what it was? I have an interracial marriage. So that was exposure. I think it was multiple things.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about the results. What did you begin to learn as a result of doing this study?
Jenny McGill
One theme that came through, both quantitatively and qualitatively, was this sense of calling, that whatever their identities were, and however they arranged their particular pattern of conceptual self-understanding, the reasons they did things were motivated by their faith, even the migration aspect – whether to say in the US? Leave? Come? Where to study?

So it was all very integrated. And I think learning from their stories how their identities migrated, but also they physically migrated, based on a sense of stewardship. So themes of stewardship, calling, a sense of obligation to bless others because God had blessed them – all those themes are in the Scripture, and I saw them playing out in these students as well.

Darrell Bock
Do you have some examples of this type of thing about what motivated? I can imagine that, obviously, if you’re dealing with students in the pool that come here to get their education and to better equip themselves for ministry back home, so you’ve got that dimension.

The other thing that’s in the back of my mind is the dissidence of doing that. In other words, coming into a different culture. Learning in an environment completely different from the one they’re eventually going to minister in, and then having to make that adjustment on the way back, which is certainly a significant thing to have to wrestle with?

So let’s do this in two parts. I’m thinking out loud. On the one hand, what’s motivating a student here is just the opportunity primarily to be educated, and to do it in a different kind of an environment, and see what’s going on in a different part of the global Christian scene?

Jenny McGill
Yes. Globally, sitting in the US is still a great advantage academically. These students, I believe, are coming to The Dallas Seminary for the theological training. They chose this school over another for that reason. But then, for those who returned that I interviewed, they were surprised at the resistance they ran into presumably going back to their home country.
Darrell Bock
Having come overseas?
Jenny McGill
Mm-hmm. Because they were perceived as Americanized. Some of their ideas were not really as accepted, and why were they different? Because they were in America. The ideas could be chalked up as, well you’re just bringing back America. We don’t want any of that.

So really looking at maybe what they combined of both that would be beneficial. And I think in some cases, it was threatening because they did have more knowledge and training, and it had been four years. And nobody – even the people who stay in the original country of origin – they haven’t stayed the same. They’ve changed in four years.

Another thing that came out in the research was, if you’re not maintaining that connection physically, proximus – either taking trips home, Skype, or some connection, then you lose that. In four years, nobody’s in the same place.

Darrell Bock
Interesting. You basically have two plates like continents that are moving simultaneously, at different rates, and so you don’t end up reconnecting in the way that you left the relationship.
Jenny McGill
Right. Even for those who had maintained the connection, or some sort of proximity, whether verbal of physical, those were maintained. Obviously. If you don’t spend time in a relationship, it changes either way. But certainly, that was a factor. So I think, part of the transition returning was a surprise.

And the students at the time had to constantly shift, being in a new environment. I give narratives in the book about what their experiences were that were unique and striking. All their stories were interesting, so I pulled that into the research.

Darrell Bock
Interesting. So really we have two parts here. We’ve got what happens to the person when they first make the move and come into a new environment. And then there’s the whole experience of what happens when they take all of that and everything that’s happened to them back, clearly not the same person that they were, and with a set of influences that, the community that they’re ministering to, may not have any real understanding of, at the same time? So it’s a double transition.
Jenny McGill
So they had to readapt what they’ve adapted to learn, to a new community, that was an old community. It’s interesting. And then through all of that identity formation, they had changes in perception. I tracked what they said changed the most behaviorally versus the practices, or their thought patterns – what changed for them?

And there were thematic units that were similar. And then ultimately, all of this identity information, the big theological point that I make at the end of the book is, their physical migration is a metaphor for our spiritual migration identity.

Darrell Bock
So we have someone coming from – I take it that the students that you interviewed were from a range of nations?
Jenny McGill
Sixty-four.
Darrell Bock
Okay, 64 nations. It’s 405 students? Is that what you’re saying?
Jenny McGill
Yes.
Darrell Bock
That’s a pretty good swathe of our world. And they landed in the United States. They may be struggling with the first language, in some cases. They’re certainly learning a completely new culture. What are they dealing what? What does that mean for identity?

What was your study showing in terms of what the experience was like?

Jenny McGill
Again, I assessed their religious identity, ethnic and national. And one of the difficulties they had in coming and studying in the US was, first of all, obviously, they weren’t the ethnic majority anymore. But even the way Americans viewed race and culture is different than maybe they would have in their home country.

So what was different was how Americans would translate the same material, so to speak, of a certain entity, whether it be, how do you interact at church? How do you treat a person of a different color? All of those things were upside-down, for the most part.

Darrell Bock
Interesting, by upside-down you mean?
Jenny McGill
Different. One student went into a store at the mall, and the way she was viewed because of her dress, she could tell she was being treated differentially, based on her outfit. And she wouldn’t have gotten that in her culture because they all wear the same outfit, for the most part.

And they actually were negative. They treated her negatively based on her outfit. It wasn’t even the color of her skin. It was the perception of her dress.

Darrell Bock
And, of course, this happens in multiple ways, at multiple levels, so it’s reinforced, and makes the experience of transition difficult. So it really is different. It’s the difference between being at home and really recognizing, I am a stranger in a strange land.
Jenny McGill
Yeah. And even though you might know English functionally, you use different words and they mean different things. So the word soon or friend – those are going to have different definitions, based on which culture you are from. Or even the word, colored, if you want to talk about race and ethnic identity.

The word, colored, in the US is used for certain people. Whereas, the word, colored, in South Africa, connotes a different type of person. The way you define the same word changes.

Darrell Bock
So you’ve got the same language in some ways, but it’s not the same language. So there are all of these adjustments to make. So how do people make the adjustments? It seems to me they’ve got about a couple of ways to do it. They can try to forge it on their own, or they can find someone who can kind of help them negotiate the culture.
Jenny McGill
A lot of times, the students that came already knew about the US culture more than the reverse. So the difficulty they would have is that Americans didn’t understand their culture. But because of Hollywood being globalized, they knew more about our culture.
Darrell Bock
At least Hollywood, America. [Laughs]
Jenny McGill
So I think that was a challenge. They were surprised at how little the US culture might know about the rest of the world.
Darrell Bock
About their world. Yeah. I actually think that’s a generic cross-cultural experience, in some ways, that you go to a foreign place and, inevitably, you’re adjusting because you’re learning what they’re all about. And then, depending on how much exposure they’ve had to the culture you came out of, they may know next to nothing about where you’re coming from.
Jenny McGill
Mm-hmm.
Darrell Bock
We found that when we went overseas, we were fortunate, we were able to, in both locations – because we spent a significant amount of time in Germany and a significant amount of in Scotland – two very different experiences. Because with one, it was a somewhat shared language.

I’ll say it that way of the Queen’s English. In another case, you’re dealing with a second language. But we had people who lived in that culture, who we befriended very early on, to whom and through whom we could ask our countercultural questions.

We knew the rules were different. We just didn’t understand what the rules were. And so, this isn’t working the way it works in The States. So how is this supposed to work? That kind of thing. And helping us to adjust to life that was being lived differently. And again, not in the sense of better or worse, just different. Which means, you had to figure out how to negotiate it.

Jenny McGill
Right. Having a cultural translator helps. And a lot of the students would go to ethnic churches where they could find those agents, so to speak. And some wanted to experience and had more capacity to experience/the difference. So they would go to maybe a mainstream, typical American, Caucasian church – whatever that looks like. And then they would stretch themselves a little bit more.
Darrell Bock
That’s a fascinating example. You actually see that with missionaries who go overseas. There are two types. I basically said there are two types of missionaries. The missionaries who cluster themselves in a primarily western environment, even though, they’re in a nonwestern setting. And most of their life is lived in that westernness, and they minister out of that.

And then other people who really just try and live contextually and culturally, very much in the world in which they have moved into. Two very different experiences, by the way. So making also for a different kind of teaching capability, I would say, in that context as well.

Jenny McGill
And from Scripture, I can see that we’re prone to settle, and sometimes God had to kind of move his people against their will. And that’s what fascinated me about these students is, they were willing to study transatlantically, learn, adapt, be flexible.

Some of them stayed. Some of them returned. There were a host of variables that determined what those were, which I also studied – what impacts their choice? But they were willing to migrate.

Darrell Bock
Did you figure out what worked and what didn’t? Did you make an effort to study anything like that? Or was it just a raw assessment of – this is kind of the assimilation process people have to go through and wrestle with?
Jenny McGill
I most of all wanted to find out what helped them to culturally adjust, so that I could share that with other institutions who host foreign students.
Darrell Bock
Okay, now, this is the payoff. [Laughs] So what did you find?
Jenny McGill
For these religious students who are studying theology, the biggest factor to help them were their local, ethnic church. What they rated helped them the most? It wasn’t the professors. It wasn’t even my office. It wasn’t necessarily friends. All those were ranked much lower.

The greater factor was the local ethnic church. It didn’t even have to be their own ethnicity of church, but their local church was the greatest impact. So I would say, whether you’re sitting in a religious institution or not, how to help these students to connect to the local networks valuable to them, definitely ethnic networks, so that they can even find the ingredients so that they can cook the food they’re used to.

There are only certain markets that sell certain things, and finding where that is.

Darrell Bock
Yeah. We knew where those were in Scotland, for sure. We knew where the American store was.
Jenny McGill
I think the greatest one was helping connect students to their local networks in the context they’re living that are foreign and hard to find.
Darrell Bock
So even though they had moved, there still was kind of a hand in the place where they understood how life worked, if I can say it that way?
Jenny McGill
And I think it’s identity. You do want to remember who you were. You can’t just be unstable completely. You can have a lot of shifting, but there still has to be a base of coherence. And having that memory and remembrance you’re used to is valuable.
Darrell Bock
So the local environment was important. What else helped them to assimilate?
Jenny McGill
Their faith. If I’m making this a secular project, I just wanted to assess what they found was helpful. And over and over again, as would be expected, the way they articulated how their faith steadied them through this process was huge. That was probably the largest factor. No matter what happened financially, academically, they were bolstered by their sense of identity they were getting from God to pursue.
Darrell Bock
Did you get a sense of what made this experience difficult for people as well?
Jenny McGill
I think so. The lack of community. Everything was a challenge. Everything took longer to do, where they’re going to the grocery store. Not having a car. The words not meaning the same thing. It’s exhausting.
Darrell Bock
That’s interesting because we inevitably think when we go overseas, yeah. Everything takes longer to do but that’s because their world is less efficient than ours, but in fact, here are some people coming to the states, and everything’s taking longer to do.

And part of it is − if I can say it this way, I think my guess would be – not knowing the rules of the game and trying to figure that out.

Jenny McGill
Yes. Just contextual clues. Like Dutch treat. I had so many students – not offended – but they fear they offended the party because someone would ask them out to eat, and in their culture, that person pays. And he didn’t come prepared. So that’s treat.

Some of that I covered at orientation, the big things that would happen over and over again – how you respond to how are you, and not to fault America for being geographically isolated because we are separated by oceans. We have the forces interact like they have…

Darrell Bock
There are all kinds. It’s this long and interesting. How did many people write their experience? I’m sure you asked them in the end, did they think it was a positive or a negative experience? How did they sort that out?
Jenny McGill
Everyone spoke well of The Dallas Seminary. Their struggles I think were with how limited Americans’ knowledge of the world is, if I can say it that way.
Darrell Bock
No. We deserve the criticism sometimes.
Jenny McGill
And, again, if you are a member of an in-group, majority power, there’s no motivation unless you’re intentional, like me, think it’s super interesting and then seek it out. Unless you’re intentional to cross boundaries in any way – it doesn’t mean leaving your city – there are plenty of places you could go and have an intercultural experience or an interracial experience.
Darrell Bock
It’s always interesting to, in fact, it fascinates me – I do a lot of travel, obviously, I’m in The States and overseas. And when I’m in The States, just go to the television – I was just in Chicago last week – and I turned on the television. The only two foreign language stations that you will see, and this has been recent – there is a French station.

La Monde has a channel. And then there is a Japanese station that was it. When you go in Europe, you can roam the continent, in the original language. There’ll be an Italian channel. There’ll be a German channel. There’ll be a French channel, an English channel. There’ll be a Croatian channel and a Russian channel.

You literally get the whole, full monochrome. And you watch a news report. In the United States, if you get a foreign story, it’s usually because there are American troops in a particular land or something like that, maybe a little fascination with Britain every now and then and the Royal Family. But most people have no idea what’s going on in Parliament.

But if you watch a British broadcast almost anywhere in the world, you will get a world tour every day. You will almost visit every continent every day in the news report. It’s just a different way of orienting. And, actually, that’s somewhat identity driven too, because we’re very much our own country and our own people.

The British tended to have a commonwealth identity and connect, and we’re interconnected in that kind of a network, and it’s reflected in the way they view the world. So you’re right. Often times, Americans have no clue about how someone from another country lives?

What their values are? What drives them? What their news stories are and that kind of thing? We live a very isolated existence in a lot of ways.

Jenny McGill
Some of my African students would get asked if they lived in a tree? No. I don’t. One of my Liberian students was a little cheeky, and he said, I live right next to the Monrovian Embassy in a building. So things like that. I think the students gave the best benefit of the doubt to the host country nationals that no one’s trying to be offensive. It’s just obvious that we don’t know as much about them like they know about us.
Darrell Bock
Because our experience doesn’t pull us in that direction at all.
Jenny McGill
We don’t have to. As students, we’re subdued by a larger, bigger, whatever power then we’d be learning. Like Babylonian to Israel. They had to learn how to adapt.
Darrell Bock
So we’ve talked about the experience here. Let’s talk about the experience going back? What was that like? And for the students? I can get the idea of the community that they came out of, when they come back going – you’ve been Americanized.
Jenny McGill
Mm-hmm. Anywhere in the world, there’s always going to be an in group. And so that group’s bias would then be, well you’ve left. You’re different. And anything that’s unknown − I think something about the unknown, the first response is what? Fear.

So the walls are up. And then they go over, and they have to tear down walls abroad, and they come back, and now there’s new walls.

Darrell Bock
Yeah. And walls from people they didn’t used to have the walls with, which can be a shock.
Jenny McGill
One big thing is, if they left an organization and didn’t keep that communicative connection, sometimes the leaderships change. So in any church, when leadership changed, the vision changed. The direction changed. The history changes. So I think, organizationally, that was another difficulty, not just maybe in their local community, but organizationally.

They might come back to a place organizationally that’s moved, literally – not out of the city, but internally moved. And they just don’t fit anymore. Some of my first graduates went and they saw it as a ministry opportunity to minister in their nation but not the same local town.

I had southern, because South India is more Christianized, so they went to North India to spread the message so that it would be readily accessible. So then they had their own intercultural move within their country.

Darrell Bock
Yeah. Those of us from the south are familiar with that when we go to the northeast. [Laughter]
Jenny McGill
[Laughs] So it’s little different.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right.
Jenny McGill
I’ll tell you one, if I may?
Darrell Bock
Sure.
Jenny McGill
Organizationally, there were changes. Ministerally, there was potentially some perceived threat – who are you now? And part of it was just communicating again to get back on the same page. Locally, the family hadn’t changed. There wasn’t any tension within the family unit, per se, but what they got a lot of was that, and they were surprised – they got questioned why they came back?

Even their family’s expectation would be, you had the opportunity to stay in America, why wouldn’t you? And so, culturally, it was actually a point of connection to share the gospel because the locals were like, why are you here? Why did you come back?

So one of my Indian students, she had a doctor’s appointment and the physician was a Hindu. And they just couldn’t believe she had returned, and for what reason? So then they could use it. They had actually come back because of the faith motivation and purpose, so she was able to share that, albeit incognito, because you have to be careful of how you’re saying what.

Darrell Bock
Do the students recognize that when they come back, they have changed, and that there’s something to this perception that’s coming from their whole community?
Jenny McGill
Oh, absolutely. Well at least, at this point when I interviewed them, they could name how they had changed. So punctuality had changed. Organizational skills had changed. Less rigid thinking. They had moved from black and white legalistic thinking maybe to how to think more nuanced, and more critically. So they named the ways they had changed.
Darrell Bock
So they had become a foreigner to their home land, and the understood that they were a little bit of a foreigner to their homeland.
Jenny McGill
And then it would just take extra effort to explain, I’m not that different, even though, I’m different.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Let’s begin to wrap all of this up and kind of put it into what kind of a package. What do you feel like you learned from doing the study? And what should we glean from what you learned?
Jenny McGill
In one sentence, I think that all of us should be more intentional about moving within who we think we are to reach out toward anyone else, so that internally – the Christian identity is transformative, so we should be changing in many ways.

But I think this metaphor for migration in respect to identity, forming a faithful Christian identity requires a migration within ourselves towards other people.

Darrell Bock
God is moving us and so we should be appreciative that we’re on the move, and appreciate what being on the move means.
Jenny McGill
And to live in a way that we can move. That would go from everything physical to spiritual. Are you living in such a way that, if God asked you to do something, you could? Because we’re so burdened down with positions, or possessions, or whatever. We’d be so strapped, we couldn’t be nimble.
Darrell Bock
There’s another thing, I think, is important in what your study represents, and that is the ability to move. I’m saying it metaphorically, but I almost mean it literally. To move into another space. To come to understand, with some sense of empathy – go back to that word – a different space than the one you’re used to.

I take it that, that is a very important skill to be able to develop.

Jenny McGill
And I think it’s biblical. And it’s not natural.
Darrell Bock
So when you think of it, when you say this is biblical, do you have any specific passages in mind to take us there or anything like that?
Jenny McGill
Sure. Philippians is a great one. Looking at the migration of God in Christ. You can start there.
Darrell Bock
By Philippians, do you mean the example of Christ in Philippians 2. That He emptied himself and took on the incarnation and come to engage and interact with that, and come to a form of presence that didn’t previously exist.
Jenny McGill
And I think in Hebrews, it’s talking about how Christ is able to identify with our weaknesses. Why? Because he inhabited our space internally, externally, physically. All of the above. If you don’t extend yourself, even to the point of risk, and possibly losing. In extending yourself, you’re risking on differentiation.

So it’s a careful balance, and it’s trial and error. You don’t want to become the other person, blending into them so much that you don’t have any differentiation, but it’s that. There is a risk in trying to extend yourself that you might lose your sense of who you are, but that’s why you’re doing community together.

Darrell Bock
Yeah. Interesting. I’m so fascinated, I’m not sure which way to go now.
Jenny McGill
Dr. Bock is speechless.
Darrell Bock
[Laughs] Yeah. I do think this is fascinating, and I think it’s very, very hard for people to move outside of who they are, and develop a sense of empathy, which I actually think is important in developing community. I don’t think you get community without it.

So moving into that kind of space, particularly with someone who is significantly different, from a significantly different background than you are, is not an easy move to make. And I do think it is very Christian. Jesus taught us to be open to people who come from a different background.

The whole parable of the Good Samaritan is based on the premise that the example comes from a place and position that people weren’t anticipating. So all this is a very, very important exchange, in thinking about who we are, and who we extend ourselves towards.

Jenny, I thank you for coming in and talking with us about this. This is an interesting topic. I hope your research continues to do well. I’m sure it’s paid off for you well on your job at the Indiana Wesleyan, and we just thank you for taking the time to be with us today on The Table.

Jenny McGill
My pleasure.
Darrell Bock
And we thank you for being a part of The Table, and we hope you’ll be back with us soon to examine issues where God and culture come together.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
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