My first cross-cultural teaching experience
Written by Wesley Kyaw Thura
In Asian Access, we believe that God is empowering our leaders to take larger roles in the movement. This includes developing more leaders within Asia who can teach Asian Access in their own countries. But beyond that, we are dreaming that A2 leaders can teach in one another’s countries throughout the movement.
That dream became a reality for me. In February, I was invited by my good friend and colleague Meng Aun Hour (National Director for Cambodia) and his Working Team to help to teach for the A2 Cambodia session. I joined Rev. Paul Ariga from Japan and Dr. Steven Taylor in teaching the leaders in the current Cambodian class.
The first day, I shared on the subject What Does it Mean to be a Servant of God?, focusing on the concept of servant leadership. The second day, they allowed me to share my ministry journey. This journey has taken some surprising twists in the last few years, as God has led my wife Alma and me to leave a secure ministry career and launch, on faith, a ministry to the poor, hardcore-Buddhist day laborers of Myanmar, a ministry called New Life in Christ.
When I arrived in Phnom Penh, I was warmly welcomed and received into their midst. The participants are all top pastors and leaders in Cambodia, but they radiated a loving, humble spirit that I very much appreciated.
The first couple of days, I listened as Rev. Ariga and Dr. Steven taught their sessions. I tried to listen to both what they were sharing and how they shared it, seeking to find bridges upon which I could build when my time came.
As I listened, I noticed some differences between A2/Cambodia and A2/Myanmar. Unlike Myanmar, where our teaching and learning styles can be intense, the atmosphere in Cambodia was quite relaxed. At the same time, my Cambodian friends stayed on their timing schedule to the minute. In Myanmar, “8:00am” can mean more like 8:10 or 8:15; in Cambodia, 8:00am meant—well, 8:00am.
When it was my turn to teach, I realized some of the challenges involved in teaching cross-culturally. When I speak English, I am used to doing so to native English speakers; this influence the words and phrases that I use. In this case, I was speaking English to leaders whose native language is Khmer. I quickly learned that I needed to exercise care to be as clear and concise as possible in my use of language.
I also learned quickly that humor does not always translate across language. A joke I made regarding a popular American soft drink was immediately recognized by Dr. Steven, but was a puzzlement to the rest of the group.
What most impressed me about the Cambodian leaders was their responsiveness. They came to the sessions with a genuine learning spirit. When given questions for group discussion, they jumped into those discussions. The discussions were deep and serious, and the feedback afterward with the larger group was meaningful.
It was an amazing privilege for me to be able to be part of the session in Cambodia. It was also a powerful learning experience for me. To be honest, I was a little scared going into my first-ever cross-cultural teaching experience. While God graciously allowed me to have the experience with a warm, caring group, He also taught me some lessons:
- Prayer is crucial. Because of my nervousness, I asked a group of brothers and sisters in Myanmar to pray for me during my time in Cambodia. I very much felt the power and comfort of their prayers.
- Serious preparation—spiritual, mental, and physical—is vital if one is to be effective in a cross-cultural teaching experience.
- I must be willing to meet, mingle with, and listen to my new friends. It is important that I get a sense of who they are if I am to be able to connect with them in a teaching environment.
- In partnering with veterans like Rev. Ariga and Dr. Steven—leaders with previous experience in cross-cultural teaching situations--it was important that I both listen carefully to their teachings and ask them for advice.
I am so grateful to Meng Aun Hour and the A2 Cambodia Working Team for their invitation, graciousness, and warm hospitality to me. It was an energizing first experience in the area of cross-cultural teaching, and I am looking forward to more opportunities in the future. And I am very excited that in September, we will welcome Chinzorig Jigjidsuren, Asian Access Mongolia National Director, to teach at our session in Myanmar.
Wesley Kyaw Thura
National Director, A2/Myanmar