How you first engage a new culture matters

by Omar Reyes

Konrad Lorenz the Nobel Prize winning psychologist discovered a concept called bonding or imprinting. Most of us remember the picture of the duckling following him around at that critical time, just after hatching. Lorenz and the duckling were alone together and from that point forward the duckling responded to him as if he were the parent. The imprinted duckling experienced a sense of belonging to the man. Recent studies support the concept and significance of bonding between a mother and her baby. If mother and infant are together at that critical time right after birth a close bond occurs, but if mother and infant are separated immediately after birth, the infant can become attached to a surrogate or substitute mother. Apparently right after birth divinely designed psychological and physiological factors impact a newborn’s ability to bond with his parents. Birth is essentially the entrance into a new culture and environment with new sights, sounds and smells. It has been proven that during this moment of entrance, a child is especially equipped with the extraordinary ability to respond to these new and unusual circumstances. There is an important parallel between the infant entrance into his new culture and people who engage into a new foreign culture.

The first days and weeks of engaging a culture are critical. In this situation the person entering a new culture is bombarded with new sensations, sights, and smells but is able to respond to the new environment and experiences, while his adrenaline is flowing and his excitement is at a peak. Upon arrival he is in a unique state of readiness, both physiologically and emotionally, to establish a bond with the local people in his new environment. But instead many times he is taken away to bond with people of his own culture first, losing this unique opportunity. New missionaries tend to create this bond with other expatriates rather than with the people of the new society.  I grew up in Belize and was greatly influenced by Canadian missionaries and witnessed the effect of these two types of entrances. When the missionaries did not quickly immerse themselves in the local culture they were primarily perceived as outsiders and found it very difficult to develop a sense of feeling at home in that local culture, therefore seldom pursued, as way of life, significant relationships in the community. This was often reflected in their language and attitude towards the locals. You would often hear statements like “Oh, these people! Why do they always do things this way?” or “Someone ought to teach them how to live.” or “Won’t these people ever learn?”

During those first days or weeks, immerse yourself in the local culture. Try to live with a local family for a few weeks before you engage others like yourself. It’s better to dive right in and experience life from the “insider’s” perspective. Live with the local people, go shopping with them and use their public transportation. From the very first day it is important to develop meaningful relationships with the local people.  It will leave a lasting imprint. God came to us and entered our culture and made His home among us and became a belonger with mankind in order to draw people into a belonging relationship with God.


by Bob Roberts Jr.

Last week was a truly incredible week as NorthWood Church hosted top diplomatic leaders from Vietnam.  Universities, business leaders, civic leaders – all were shocked when I as a Pastor showed up with our delegation. I had set the meetings up in advance but it’s still hard for some to fathom a relationship between a pastor, a church, and a Vietnamese Communist.  Jesus likes it.  2015 will be twenty years of normalization between Vietnam and the US, and they want to celebrate it and move the ball forward in their relationship with the US.  I’ve been asked as a pastor to bring pastors from the US and there will be, in addition, a conference on faith and society with the government.  Vietnam taught NorthWood Church in ways nothing else ever could.  I had studied “missions” but knew little of globalization, domains, city management, public works, or anything else people in the public square have to deal with on a daily basis.  My view of the world was seen only through tribal religious eyes, prior to this, and not global, comprehensive, relational, geopolitical eyes.  It should not have been like that.  The Kingdom is much bigger than “religious” work.  When we get the Kingdom of God, all work is for the love and glory of God and the love of humanity.  Read more


by Bob Roberts Jr.

I had so much fun last week speaking and participating at the SENTRALIZED CONFERENCE put on by Lance Ford and Brad Briscoe.  As usual Alan Hirsch is brilliant and listening to Ori Brafman was a treat.  I always learn something from Neil Cole.  Brad and Lance we’re really good.  Caesar Kalinowski really did excellent teaching on the Holy Spirit.  Michael Frost brought such a great word on grace . . . I could go on and on.  One of the things I like about this conference is the freshness of questioning everything – even themselves!  That’s transparency and real thinking in my book.  So as we began the session Saturday morning they talked about the whole “missional movement” and where it is heading, where it is running out of steam, why that is, if it is, and what needs to happen?  The answers were simple, Brad talked about loving people, Caesar talked about being filled with the Holy Spirit, and Michael talked about living in grace.  I’ve heard some mega-church pastors have the same conversation about the “mega-church movement”.  Read more


by Bob Roberts Jr

Preachers talk a lot about preaching the “gospel”.  They also make sure when at churches and other conferences they talk a lot about “the gospel” and they preach “the gospel” at their churches and at conferences.  This is good, but God had more in mind than just that, especially when you read Acts and look at the ministry of Paul and the early church.

This is heavy on my mind and heart, because this past year I’ve been to so many places that are not “Christian” nations, or worship centers or areas.  It’s because of global humanitarian work and global interfaith (I like multifaith) events I’ve been invited to speak. I’ve always done this, but this was an exceptional year that allowed me to see patterns and put things in perspective, outside of just moving in a flow I hadn’t thought a huge amount about.  Yet, in those places I’ve been asked to explain what a Christian is, often an evangelical Christian.  It gives me an opportunity with leaders that are not Christians, and opens the door for other forms of media with interviews in print, radio, and television, to talk about Jesus.  Christians are often shocked when they hear I was in country X and there’s a newspaper article, or internet story, or something else where I’m literally explaining the birth, life, death, resurrection of Jesus and what he’s done for me and why I believe it, and why I want to bless all of humanity in the name of Jesus whether they follow him or not.  I’ve actually been invited to teach “Christianity” by non-Christians in nations that are not “Christian” nations in the least, some of which have Christians in jail.  It’s unusual to our Western religious culture, but not to Acts.  Read more

Blog: God’s Promises Every Church Planter Should Know

By Bob Roberts Jr.

SO YOU’RE GOING TO START A CHURCH!!! HALLELUJAH!! CONGRATULATIONS!!! No doubt, you’re reading books, heading to some great conferences, in a cohort, talking to former church planters and pastors, gathering all the information you can to plant a church that glorifies God, extends the kingdom, and reaches your city and the world. There are some things that are very important to understand, to the degree that if you don’t – you could “lose” you’re soul in all the stress, challenges, and learning you’re about to do.

First, stay obsessed with Jesus! Read more

Blog: 10 Marks I Look for in Exceptional Church Planters – Part 2

By Bob Roberts Jr.

6. An exceptional church planter knows their context. Len Sweet says, it’s “knowing your zip code”. Who lives there, education, background, history, culture, values, traditions, nuances . . . all of these things are critical. There is always a growing church somewhere because someone doesn’t just love Jesus, they understand the people and have the ability to think deeply and design communication in light of who is present. It isn’t enough to know what is, but what’s coming. What’s coming, in terms of demographic shifts, psychographic shifts, economic shifts, racial shifts, etc? Another key issue is, what are the questions that the broader culture is asking? Thirty or twenty years ago, those questions were easy to ignore if you wanted to. Read more


By Bob Roberts Jr.

There are some things that simply will not develop in our lives until we are faced with crisis, danger, or hardships. Most people live lives trying to avoid pain and hardships- it’s normal, who wants to suffer? When a situation comes uninvited, we see what we are made of. In our heart we desire to answer the challenge with faith and courage – sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. No one gets off free, but this is where character and integrity are developed. In the past few weeks I have watched people get bad doctors diagnosis, lose their jobs, struggle through a divorce they did not want, get a bad report on a child they love with all their heart. Generally, everyone has tried to “do the right thing” even though that can be confusing at times. Read more


by Bob Roberts Jr

The Global Faith Forum was profound for all who came.  The emails, tweets, cards, notes have all been encouraging as people reach out to the other side of different faiths to build relationships with each other.  Some of the speakers wound up staying over Sunday and coming to our worship service.  You can listen to that service at go to media and click the November 17 date to hear the sermon.  Some of you might be interested how I preach when there are people of other religions present – it’s not that much different.  I do explain things a little more.

Ayatollah Irivani asked me a thousand questions after the conference on Saturday about the verses about Jesus being the only way to God and why I believed that.  It was an incredible day.  I told him I had 1000 questions for him as well, next time we’ll do those.  
We had a time of commissioning and prayer for church planters and others on that Sunday at Northwood – I had Ayatollah Irivani come and told him if he wanted we would pray for him as well.  So he came, I asked him a couple of questions.  I then called up the youth and we began to pray for him.  I was incredible moved on two fronts.  First was how all the youth crowded around him and laid hands on him, and began to pray out loud for him.  Second, as red, yellow, black and white youth crowded around him, a young Vietnamese boy who is an exchange student laid his hands on his head and began to pray for him with passion.  I don’t know the spiritual state of this young man, other than he was willing to pray.     Read more

Blog: For Global Faith Forum – My Dream For My Tribe

by Bob Roberts, Jr.

I have this dream deep in my soul that I cannot let go.  It’s a dream that sees men, women, boys and girls, sweating side by side.


It’s a dream where followers of Jesus hold tightly to their faith but don’t fear or ignore the Muslim, the Jew, the Hindu, the Buddhist, or the atheist.  They are secure in their faith and are neither intimidated nor quickly confused, because they are tied to the Author of life.  They can discuss their faith openly and without hesitation, and they can live it out in the presence of other faiths because their own faith is secure.


It’s a dream where followers of Jesus are known more for hope, love and service than for fear, doomsday pronouncements, and isolation from the rest of the world.


It’s a dream where not only individuals live, but also entire communities begin to undergo transformation because followers of Jesus are serving without expecting anything in return.  Read more

Blog: Global Faith Forum is Almost Here! Tips for Coming to the Conference.

By Bob Roberts Jr

Because of everything involved in the Global Faith Forum, I’ve not been able to blog a lot and probably won’t as much as I’d like the next ten days.  For the next few days life will be fun, exciting, challenging, and probably exhausting.  I’ll be hosting the forum, Thursday through Saturday.  Sunday I preach then off to Vienna where I’ll be at the King Abdullah Interfaith Center, then to Toronto at the Church Planting Congress – then home!

It’s not too late to register. We have a few hundred that have pre-registered and are getting lots of calls from people from various places of worship, diplomats and American Congressman that are inquiring and some are coming.  Read more