Seminary View: Diversity in Christian Community
Seminary View: Diversity in Christian Community
Dr. Donna Dong [DMin Leadership 2012] has worked for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship for over 40 years, presently serving as the Director of Multiethnic/Multicultural Ministries. Donna’s job was created to meet a need that she saw in the Inter-Varsity community. Although Canada is an ethnically diverse country, Donna found that Inter-Varsity did not mirror that same diversity. She decided to change that by going back to school for a Doctor of Ministry (DMin).
One of the most remarkable concepts Donna took away from a class session on adaptive leadership for change in complex systems in Tyndale’s Doctor of Ministry program was the idea of the “Butterfly Effect.” The Butterfly Effect is the concept that a change in one variable will affect other variables over time, which, in turn, will come around and affect the original variable. “Small changes can lead to significant outcomes,” said her professor. Inspired, Donna hoped to create a similar effect within Inter-Varsity.
Her goal was to increase intercultural awareness and sensitivity among Inter- Varsity staff and students. To accomplish this, she set out to create a training model for staff involving Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) assessments, Bible studies, reports and training exercises. The training model is designed to raise one’s awareness of other cultures and how a person is individually shaped by culture.
The idea for the training model came from the challenges she saw in Canada. “Canada is full of potential for friendships and relationships across cultures, which often don’t happen,” she says. “How do we live out these restored and redemptive relationships?” Donna’s answer is simple: “Love our neighbours as ourselves.”
Her work also comes from a deep personal conviction that God did not intend human cultural diversity to divide human communities. “There are discussions about the difficulties and the trouble of difference,” Donna explains. “People look at the Tower of Babel and see the division of language as a punishment. But is that the fundamental Biblical picture of cultural difference?” Instead, she found a theology of unity and diversity in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. “God brings forth creation with a pattern of diversity; man and woman, night and day, heaven and earth. From Genesis onward, you have the multiplication of diversity that mirrors the creative imagination and potential that is in God Himself.
“People not only exist as individuals with all their quirks and characteristics, but also on a communal level as members of a collective or culture. Our cultural diversity enriches our community. The Apostle Paul expected that the early Christians, coming from their diverse Gentile and Jewish cultural backgrounds, needed one another and would function in mutually beneficial ways, just as a body, with its many parts or members, functions as a whole for its overall well-being.”
The theology of human difference is central to her work at Inter-Varsity and her DMin thesis. As a result, Donna has seen a shift in Inter-Varsity. Prior to her training, Inter-Varsity’s field report showed very few visible ethnic and Aboriginal students. After she began training the leaders, the numbers increased from 10 per cent to 27 per cent. Not only did the diversity increase among leaders and students, but the whole arena of culture was also talked about more. “There has been a Butterfly Effect in the awareness of the ministry organization,” Donna says. Inter-Varsity’s purpose statement – “the transformation of youth, students and graduates, in all their ethnic diversity, into fully committed followers of Jesus Christ” – now has a more prominent place in the ministry.
At Tyndale, Donna learned that accomplishing this purpose is a slow, developmental process. “I feel like my thesis really was an introduction to the world of cultural difference.” Although it is a gradual transformation, it is a worthwhile one.
With positive results from the intercultural training among campus staff, Donna plans to continue her training program in Inter-Varsity’s camping ministry. In the next 18 months, Donna will be an internal consultant, trainer and leader at Ontario Pioneer Camp, the largest of Inter- Varsity’s nine camps. She will focus on training staff how to do research on the different cultural communities the camp has not yet connected with in the hopes that she will see similar results. “Camping has a strong tradition in Canada,” Donna says. “It is a gift from Canadian culture.”
Donna has also been accepted as a delegate for the Lausanne Global Diaspora Forum (GDF) gathering in Manila, Philippines, in March 2015, which will discuss topics related to diaspora missiology. It is an exciting step for Donna. “My work, guided by the Tyndale DMin course, puts me in a good place for this,” she says.
Donna is excited about the challenges ahead. “How do you bring commonality and difference to this beautiful, creative place where it’s life giving? Let’s roll up our sleeves and see all that God wants to do through relationships and in relationships. That is a picture of His kingdom.”