Cultural Icebergs

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Recently, I have been reading a book about culture, authored by Ricardo Gonzalez, that defines culture as, “the DNA of a group, organization, or society. It’s the product and the expression of a people’s shared experience.” Shared experience has many facets, quite a few observable characteristics such as clothing, language, food, music etc., but many more hidden elements like core values, beliefs, attitudes, and expectations. The iceberg is a useful visual analogy for depicting culture, and is attributed to north American Anthropologist and researcher, Edward T. Hall in 1976.  Usually, we see only about 10% of the iceberg, the part that floats above the surface of the water, while the vast majority, 90%, is submerged, hidden below the surface and out of our view. Gonzalez goes on to share that we all live in multiple cultures at once. A culture at home, at work, in church, a national culture, bicultural families “straddle cultures… The deeper we dig, the more varied and beautiful our world becomes.”  It is also encouraging to know that God knows everything about us, from Psalm 139:

“Lord, you have examined me
    and know all about me.
You know when I sit down and when I get up.
    You know my thoughts before I think them.
You know where I go and where I lie down.
    You know everything I do.”


This iceberg comes to mind frequently this time of year, when around the world, eager, dutiful, and probably anxious students are preparing for their flight to RDU. For some, this will be a return trip overseas, perhaps even not the first time they have visited the U.S.A. For others, it may be their first flight, or first time living outside of their homeland. They are facing a challenge to all of the above, the surface, mind, and even their deep assumptions. We are privileged to greet, meet, and walk with many of these folks on their journeys.   

Last year, 2018-2019, the ESL classes of the International Ministry met people from 5 of the seven continents and twenty-three different countries. 

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We have multitudinous opportunities to interact with newcomers on SURFACE level, by offering welcome at information fairs at NC  State, picnics and cultural outreach events, smiling in the hallways, sharing spaces in sanctuaries, and celebrating music, art, and worship styles. Our ESL classes often take us to a deeper level of the MIND where we begin to dip our toes below the safe surface of the water. Teachers touch on cultural topics that invite discussion, contemplation, and sharing of ideas. All involved learn from different world views, perspectives, and cultures. ESL Bible classes dig a little deeper, as beliefs and traditions are explored, and some find the hope that we share in that

If I go up to the heavens, you are there.
    If I lie down in the grave, you are there.
If I rise with the sun in the east
    and settle in the west beyond the sea,
even there you would guide me.
    With your right hand you would hold me.

Offering a hand of hospitality leads to friendship and often lifelong relationships where DEEPER ASSUMPTIONS are navigated, shared, and even changed with the help and leading of God and His Word.

Forest Hills is a place where icebergs are welcome to drift in and find safe harbor. We certainly have our own blocks of ice, but by God’s grace, His Spirit allows us to navigate waters graciously, forgiving, understanding, listening, and loving with the Love Jesus has shown and given us freely. It is a miracle, and the work of God, but seldom do our icebergs collide, and thus the work of God is evidenced. For, “The LORD watches over the foreigner,” Psalm 146:9, and we, “Try to be at peace with everyone, and try to live a holy life, because no one will see the Lord without it.” Hebrews 12:14

As you live your life, perhaps bombarded by different cultures, take heart. As Gonzalez shares,
“don’t expect everything to be logical or consistent. Culture is rich and complex; it’s an intricate mosaic – that’s the beauty of culture. The more fluent we are with culture, the more comfortable we become.” Live so that others will see Jesus in you, and as the Word of God guides, recorded by Amos the Old Testament prophet, “seek the Lord, and live.” Amos 5:4

Expect that there will be more blog posts to come from the reading of Ricardo Gonzalez’s book on culture. Share your thoughts and comments below, and If you would like to experience this journey and share God’s love through floating beside many cultures, join us in the International Ministry at Forest Hills any time.

González, R. (2018). The Six Stages of Cultural Mastery: A Roadmap for Leaders in a Culturally Complex World. Suanee, GA: Leadercast Press.

Jason Payne, International Ministry Coordinator

Jason Payne, International Ministry Coordinator