One of the things that I’ve taught missionary students and provided supervision for graduate students’ practicums is the practice of ethnography. Simply put, it’s learning & articulating about other cultures, and for missionaries ethnography is a discipline in order to learn to communicate the gospel across cultures in a way that makes sense to them and can take root within that culture. Seth Bouchelle and I talk a little bit more about ethnographic practices and about a couple of different ways to understand contextualization in Mosaic: A Ministry Handbook for a Globalizing World.
A key practice of ethnographic learning is making friends with cultural informants. Those are cultural insiders that become our teachers when we step into cross-cultural settings. If left on my own, I may have completely missed the authentic flavors offered by Yummy Chicken. That is, if I hadn’t have gone with a cultural insider. It was hidden in plain sight. When I lived in New York City, it was not hard to find cultural spots that authentically represented a home-away-from-home because of the large number of ethnic neighborhoods or enclaves in a city like New York. However in many cities in North America, such as Tampa, where there is real global diversity but few enclaves, a lot of opportunities to connect with other cultures might be hidden in plain sight. Gaining friendships with cultural informants can open up new insights into your city.
Who, from another culture, are you making friendships with in your community that can help you see what might be hidden in plain sight?