On April 11, 2015, I attended the Cannon River Conference held at Lands Lutheran Church in Zumbrota, a town in southeastern Minnesota. The Cannon River Conference is an annual event organized by churches of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
The meeting started at 9am and included reports, songs and a narrative of the history of the church in this area. I learned about Project Neighbor, a program of the Cannon River Conference of the ELCA which assists people in need of such essentials as food, shelter, and clothing, regardless of creed, sex or race, who cannot find such assistance elsewhere.
I learned about a non-profit called ABAN that works with girls and young mothers in Ghana, empowering them by helping them with skills training that lead to employment. They produce handmade products from recycled materials, which ABAN sells here in the USA. Some of the products were available, for conference participants to see and buy.
After these and other reports, I was introduced. In my talk, I highlighted the fact that as the world changes becoming a global village, every community will, sooner or later, find itself having to deal with people of different cultures.
This can be challenging, as exemplified by the experiences of the Minnesota cities of Faribault and Brooklyn Park, which have become in recent years increasingly diverse. Instead of trying to cling to our old, familiar ways and habits, the new world requires us to learn about our cultural differences and learn to accept the fact that no matter how different our cultures are, we share a common humanity.
Mindful that this was a gathering of Christians, I said that all this is a test of how true we are to our Christian faith. I invoked Jesus and his story of the Good Samaritan, which he told to an audience which saw the Samaritans as bad people. I said that if Jesus were here today, talking to Americans, he would look around and see the negative media images of Muslims, for example, and would not talk about the Good Samaritan, but most certainly the Good Muslim.
That was the orientation of my talk, but I also said that cultural differences represent and offer opportunities as well. In our colleges, for example, we try to help our students develop a global perspective through such programs as study abroad. Since foreigners are increasingly coming into the USA, students who want to study foreign cultures can gain much of that understanding through interacting with the immigrants.
Even business owners and entrepreneurs interested in expanding their operations abroad can benefit by connecting with immigrants in order to learn about foreign countries and cultures before taking their enterprises abroad. Some of these immigrants are well connected in the countries they come from, which could benefit the Americans.
I had more to say, but I did not want to spend more time than was allocated to me. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed, as I always do, having an audience. Since the issues require much more than a single talk, we had copies of my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, available for people who needed them with a view to gaining a fuller view of my perspective and hopefully continuing the conversation.
This was a memorable and useful event. I learned much and greatly enjoyed the opportunity to share my ideas and perspectives on the dilemma of cultural differences in our increasingly interconnected world.