We are sometimes asked why Spring Arbor University (SAU) requires cross culture experiential education for graduation. A simple answer will not adequately deal with this important question. Rather, a more comprehensive response includes a Biblical mandate and mode, the needs of a complex contemporary world, and the SAU mission.
Christ’s timeless example
First, Jesus Christ himself offers both the motivation and model for cross cultural experiences. Christ’s incarnation on earth was probably the greatest cross cultural experience of all time, moving from the perfect presence of God to fellowship among Adam’s fallen race. Christ was an “Asian-born baby. . . who became an African political refugee”1 before he was two years old. He moved freely among various ethnic and cultural groups (Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans) as well as different social classes. Christ Himself modeled numerous cross cultural interactions throughout His ministry on earth. A classic example can be found in John 4, where Christ presents both the mandate and the model for a successful cross cultural experience. He did not wait to have the Samaritan woman come to Him. Rather, He approached her on her own turf and intelligently interacted, displaying knowledge of her culture and background.
Besides Christ’s example, the entire Bible gives accounts of God’s people interacting cross culturally throughout history. In the Old Testament, Abraham, Moses and the entire nation of Israel found themselves in foreign cultures, sometimes willingly (but more often unwillingly) being used to help accomplish His purposes. Both Ruth and Esther grew to be culturally sensitive. The two women could discern both positive and negative elements within the distinctive cultures into which they were born and later thrust, thus displaying bi-cultural abilities. Continuing the pattern set before the New Covenant was established, the New Testament also offers insights into cross cultural encounters. In Acts 10:12, Peter came to realize that avoiding interaction with those different than he was no longer an option. God clearly showed him that his prejudices had to be broken by interacting with the Gentiles. In Acts 17, the apostle Paul used a bridge to the Greek culture by first knowing and understanding that culture and then using “the altar to the unknown God” to share the gospel. Beginning in Acts 8, the believers were scattered about the then known world and found themselves relating the gospel to groups of people different than themselves.
Beyond the clear example set forth in the Bible, Christian leaders of today call for interaction with other cultures. Dr. John Bernbaum, Vice-President of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (of which SAU is a member), states, “Cross cultural learning environments. . . should be a priority for Christ-centered higher education.”2 In a recent publication (F.Y.I.) Dr. Raymond Bakke said, “Students from council colleges need to address the realities of our world: urbanization, Asianization, racial changes, and linguistic shifts. The students. . . .must understand and internalize their minority status, not ignore it.”3
There is a growing concern in the U.S. about our educated population’s knowledge and understanding of the international scene and how the global village is interrelated. “Until recently it did not really matter to most people of the world if understanding stopped at national boundaries.”4 “Now, when nations are only minutes apart and it no longer takes eighty days to circle the earth, it is hazardous to base actions solely on one’s own viewpoint.”5 Government, service organizations, military, and the business world are crying for workers with cross cultural understanding, awareness, and sensitivity. At the inception of the Cross Cultural Studies (CCS) requirement, Wayne Shabaz, a Christian and a businessman (founder and president of W. Shabaz Associates), stated in a chapel address to the SAU student body on September 18, 1989, “In a world that is rapidly shrinking, whatever you do when you leave this place. . . .you will be impacted by the internationalization within this country. It will happen. It is inevitable. No question.”6 Shabaz indicated that Christians need to be in the forefront of international interaction. He commended SAU’s cross cultural program, stating, “It’s not by coincidence that this university has adopted the policy that everyone will do a cross cultural [experience]. . . .That’s foresight on the part of your school. And it’s up to you, whether you’re interested in cross cultural issues, or not, you don’t have a choice. Your school is doing you a big favor because I’m telling you that, when you get out of this school, you won’t have a choice.”7
Seymour Fersh, Director of International Services for the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges from 1978 to 1981, and the author of several books, states, “The greatest value of cultural studies can be in helping students transcend their own cultural conditioning.”8
“Through encounters with culturally different ways of thinking, students are reminded that their viewpoints are cultural rather than natural and that their potential beliefs are not limited to their cultural inheritances. This kind of awareness can help students realize and be reassured that other people are much like they are – concerned with the perennial human questions of survival and fulfillment – and it can help increase their confidence and encourage their ability to shape, share, create, and adapt to changing conditions.”9
“This kind of learning can help them develop the skill of empathy and the styles of humility. The learner’s introduction to other value systems need not result in a minimized view of his or her own culture, but it will surely result in changing his or her view of both others and self.”10
SAU’s mission and vision
Ultimately, what connects all the aforementioned rationale to this University is the SAU mission as expressed in the Concept, which is the philosophical base for the entire curriculum. The Concept calls for, “A community of learners distinguished by our lifelong involvement in the study and application of the liberal arts, total commitment to Jesus Christ as our perspective for learning, and critical participation in the contemporary world.” A basis of intelligently participating in the affairs of the contemporary world is to realize that we are no longer an isolated people, but part of a global community intimately linked to the rest of humanity and the world. This vague notion only becomes reality when there is actual interaction with those different than ourselves.
The SAU CCS requirement attempts “in today’s world of growing interdependence among nations and peoples,”11 to bring theory and experience together in an embodiment of the Concept for each graduate.
1 Raymond J. Bakke, F.Y.I., (Washington, D.C.: Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Summer, 1989), p. 5.
2 John A. Bernbaum in Raymond J. Bakke, F.Y.I., (Washington, D.C.: Council for Christian Colleges and University, Summer, 1989), p. 1.
3 Bakke, p. 5.
4 Seymour Fersh, “Cultural Studies: Becoming Our Own Teachers,” New Directions for Community Colleges, 26 (1979), p. 31.
5 Fersh, p. 36.
6 Wayne Shabaz, Chapel Address. Spring Arbor University, September 18, 1989, sound cassette.
8 Fersh, p. 33.
9 Fersh, p. 34.
11 Fersh, p. 32.