Editor’s note: This book review was originally posted on the blog, A Life Overseas. It is reposted with permission from the author, Marilyn Gardner. Marilyn grew up in Pakistan and as an adult has lived in Pakistan, Egypt, the United States, and most recently Northern Iraq. She currently lives in Boston where she works with community health workers from immigrant and refugee communities. You can find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries. This review of the book Global Humility was written in 2018, just after she moved to Northern Iraq.

“Building bridges means moving beyond my enclave of cultural comfort, moving to a place of cultural humility and willingness to learn.” 

 Marilyn Gardner, Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging 

Five weeks ago we moved from an apartment in the multicultural city of Cambridge, Massachusetts to an apartment in a city nestled beneath the kewa rash (black mountains) of Kurdistan in Northern, Iraq. We are learning to live and love in a city and country that we have known just through visiting. With this move, our daily life has changed dramatically.

We arrived in Rania like new born babies, eyes wide open to everything around us. Like babies, we don’t have language to describe our feelings and we too want to cry when we are hungry, or sleepy, or thirsty. But we are not babies. We are adults and we have many years behind us that effect how we engage and interact in our new surroundings.

A Book

Global Humility

It is within this context that I completed reading Global Humility: Attitudes For Mission by Andy McCullough. In this book, he asserts that the number one factor affecting missions in our world is lack of humility. This is a powerful and troubling assertion. It’s also an important one. Those of us who are Christians engaged in cross-cultural work, whether we be missionaries or not, have the important task of communicating across many boundaries. To do that well, humility is essential.

“….I am persuaded that the aspect that needs training, more than any other, in cross-cultural workers, is humility. How dare you turn up with all the answers when you don’t even know what questions people are asking? Pride and mission are polar opposites. Pride pollutes mission. The mission of Christ is humble mission.”

Global Humility, loc 113 in the Kindle format.

McCullough divides the book into six sections:

  1. Moral Humility: Thinking about Sin
  2. Public Humility: Thinking about the World
  3. Semantic Humility: Thinking about Languages
  4. Intercultural Humility: Thinking about Differences
  5. Incarnational Humility: Thinking about Leadership
  6. Theological Humility: Thinking about Thinking

From the introduction: 

There are many dimensions to Global Humility. Moral Humility condemns the sins of attitude; ethnocentrism, arrogance and judgementalism, that are more with us than we realise. Public Humility transforms geography and history; every nation tells its own story of the world, but can we learn to see the world through other eyes? Semantic Humility motivates Christians to study language, and insists upon inculturation of the gospel. Intercultural Humility demands more than mere acceptance of the fact that different cultures think, relate, are motivated and feel differently, and proposes celebration of God’s wisdom and purpose in cultural diversity. Incarnational Humility interrogates the role of leadership in cross-cultural church planting. Finally, Theological Humility challenges the way we teach the Bible. If different cultural ‘lenses’ cause people to read the Bible differently, how are we as Evangelicals to understand this difference? Is our theology so brittle that it shatters when thrown up against another approach, or are we able to learn and adapt?

Global Humility, Loc. 113

Andy McCullough knows that of which he writes. Raised in Cyprus, he has worked cross-culturally across the globe in India, multi-cultural West London, and Istanbul. He writes with both authority and, I dare say, humility as he approaches and dissects the idea of global humility.

McCullough has also done his homework. While all may not agree with his conclusions, particularly in his section on theological humility, it will challenge readers to figure out what they do believe about apostolic and interpretive plurality in scripture.

A Challenge

From the beginning, I began reading with great interest. In my previous work as a public health nurse in the United States, one of my specialties was speaking on cultural competency and the importance of cultural humility within the broader subject. My audience was rarely Christian. Instead it was health care professionals (doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, health administrators, and more) who wanted to bring the best healthcare possible to their communities. I constantly stress and define cultural humility as a part of these trainings. But McCullough’s work and writing on Global Humility far surpasses anything I have previously studied or read from either Christian or non-Christians engaged in this work.

While I began reading Global Humility in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a job where I was a part of the dominant culture, I finished reading it in Kurdistan, an autonomous region in Northern Iraq. I am one of only seven foreigners in a city of 230,000. I wake up daily knowing that one of the most important things I can do is gird myself with an attitude of humility.

But to look at humility through McCullough’s lens brings a breadth and depth that I have not previously encountered. Take, for example, Moral Humility. What does it look like to confront my own “attitudinal sins of superiority, ethnocentrism, judgementalism, arrogance”?1 Loc. 175

Not while sitting reading this book, but only by crossing a border or crossing our cities and meeting new people, can these attitudinal sins be dealt with.

Global Humility, loc. 175.

A voice from the margins

In the first chapter “Tamar: Voice from the Margins”, McCullough has strong words about judging and the lack of humility, implicit and explicit, in the act of judging:

One of the great sins of those who cross cultures, particularly those who travel from the powerful to the powerless, is the sin of judging. The centre judges the margins. The strong judge the weak. The missionary judges the heathen. The Christian judges the non-Christian.  

Global Humility, loc. 203.

He gives an overview of the story in ways I have never thought about and says this:

God will do what he always does. He will raise up a voice from the margins to save the centre, to put the Holy Family back on track. That voice belongs to Tamar.

Global Humility, Loc. 203

Know that Christianity is always changing at the margins more profoundly than at the centre, and position yourself accordingly. Know that churches or movements with no input from the margins will die.

It is, in the end, the marriage of Judah and Tamar that brings forth Christ! When Judah was proud, he nearly burned Tamar and would have forfeited her contribution to the story. When Judah humbled himself, he was able to learn and be changed. Reform movements so often start at the margins and create a synthesis with the centre. But can the centre heed the margins? This demands humility.

Global Humility, Loc. 298.

Getting out of your story

Each section is equally compelling as the reader is invited into examples, stories, and definitions of the particular focus. The book is much like one of its quotes and becomes:

about getting out of your story (where you/your people/your values play the main character), and getting into someone else’s story where they are the main character, and you realise you are just a cameo, your culture a caricature. It is to move from the centre of your story to the periphery of someone else’s.

Global Humility, loc. 935.

In this case, the entire book took me out of my story and comfort zone, into a thought process that was painful, necessary, and eye-opening.

In the interest of space, and to keep this at a readable length, I must stop and just urge you to read this book! I believe that it is critical in today’s world. I am not a missionary. But as someone who is a Christian, and works cross-culturally, I have found this to be one of the most thought provoking, challenging, and important books that I have read in a long time.

A Prayer

In my workshops on cultural competency, I always end with a challenge and a word on being capable of complexity. So, in this context, it feels fitting to end with a prayer. To do so, I will use McCullough’s final sentence in the introduction, his own hope for the words and thoughts in his book. To me, it is a powerful prayer and benediction, an “invocation for divine help, blessing, and guidance”:

And most of all, I hope and pray that it envisions and equips you to pursue with your whole life the goal of Christian mission: indigenous expression of ancient truth.

Global Humility, Loc. 141.

Global Humility: Attitudes for Mission is available from Malcolm Down Publishing Ltd through Amazon. Purchase your copy here.