DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Helping When Lost In Space

Written by: on October 8, 2015

Social Geographies enhance our potential as experts in Leadership and Global Perspectives. We are being led to understand and work in the global community and within the context of our most immediate communities; hence an understanding of the many spaces within which we live and work informs how we study and explore leadership. As Gill Valentine’s book, Social Geographies presents, social geographies do not exist by themselves. Each one intersects and interacts with other spaces around them.

Social Geographies were very real to us during our time in Hong Kong. For example, as Americans the body as a space prefers a behavior protocol that provides a buffer zone between itself and the body-as-space of the person standing next to us. Our experience in the social geography of streets, trains, and subways indicated that the Chinese culture has a different understanding and comfort level as to what violates personal space. HongKong2015. 0332 HongKong2015. 0077In that geography we needed to adjust our expectations or find a different mode of transportation.

I can relate to the home as a social geography. I live in a 2500 sq ft house on six tenths of an acre, with 150 sq feet dedicated as my private study.

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I did not enter anyone’s home/apartment in Hong Kong, but based on reports of those who live there, my home would be unimaginable for the vast majority of the people in that densely populated city.HongKong2015. 1071 HongKong2015. 1072

Sadly, the size of our home-as-space allows the development of isolationism within our own family relationships: it’s easy to find places to be alone. During my childhood, the dinner table at home was far more than a place for the consumption of food. It was family check-in time. The dinner table created social structure of close interaction. When my family built a new home in 2001 we did seek to use our home as a way to organize our family. Besides a formal living room and dining room, the “great room” contains family room (television), kitchen, and eating table. We chose to use space so that we could be in the place together through the cooking/eating/cleaning-up phases of the evening.

The point at which I engaged the most with Social Geographies is found in the statement: “Discourses can also be more invisibly imposed across space, influencing what assumptions, expectations and social behaviours are expected or deemed appropriate for particular spaces.” [1]

I connect to the idea of what social behaviors are expected in particular spaces because of two experiences I’ve had when/where I wasn’t sure of the appropriate behaviors and protocols in particular social geographies.

The first experience came some years ago when I had occasion to visit the Muslim Mosque in our town in order to meet the Imam. As I drove up to the building, parked and began to walk to the building my anxiety increased because it occurred to me that I had no idea what would be appropriate behavior on my part in the Muslims’ sacred spaces. Would it be alright for me to walk into the building? If I did enter, should I immediately take off my shoes? Could I speak? How would I know who the Imam was?

For the first time in my life I had an inkling of what a brand new visitor to the church might feel. Having grown up in the church from infancy, the place/space had been familiar from before I could think or walk.

The second experience occurred in Latvia in the winter of 2007. My daughter and I were with a group on a mission trip, and during our time in the Eastern part of the country my daughter became violently ill and needed to go to the hospital. I was a stranger in a strange land and had no idea where the appropriate medical space/place was, if they had an Emergency Room, how to find the right door, nor even how to ask for help.

The saving grace of the day was a British friend in our group who knew both the location of the hospital and the language. In that particular space, she knew the correct social interactions needed to get help. Perhaps now I could identify with a stranger to our town, perhaps a student, or even possibly someone who was in the country illegally. How frightening would such a medical emergency be for them?

This applies to my research because I am focusing my attentions on international students in the social geography of Corvallis, OR. It is reasonable to assume that they would have experiences of unfamiliarity similar to the two I have addressed in my own experience. I want to find out how they feel navigating unfamiliar social geographies.

I find practical application from this because one way to minister to international students and to build friendships with them is to be available to walk them through such times of high anxiety in the spaces we who live here take for granted.

[1] Valentine, Gill. Social Geographies. Harlow, England: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2001, p. 5

About the Author

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Marc Andresen

I have a B. A. in Music from San Diego State University and received an M. Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1977. July 1 2015 I retired after 38 years in pastoral ministry. The passion and calling that developed in the last 20 years is leadership training in cross-cultural contexts, as my wife and I have had many opportunities to teach in Eastern Europe and Africa. I have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and a beautiful granddaughter. My hobbies are photography and British sports cars.

12 responses to “Helping When Lost In Space”

  1. Mark,

    I think your application is spot on with the illustrations that you have given. Do you think culture plays a part and role in this issue? Are some of the things such as how to approach the house of worship or the hospital? Are those cultural? Can the geography be the same but the culture be different? Say from a city hospital to a rural one? Or does it have to move across national lines to be a different geography. Thanks for sharing.

    Kevin

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Kevin,

      With no data at my finger tips I would respond:

      1. Culture has everything to do with the issue; especially in places of worship. For instance, it could be that every sacred space, dedicated to worship, can have its own culture even within the same city. Having grown up in the Roman Catholic Church I recall that when we entered that worship space we were quiet. When arriving at a pew, one first knelt, prayed, and then took a seat. It was clear in the culture of that geography what was expected. Every protestant church I have attended in recent memory demonstrates a culture that values personal interaction more than prayer, preceding the worship time. This was actually a point of tension in the church I pastored for 25 years because some came from more of a high church background that valued silence in the Sanctuary, but others preferred the human warmth of animated conversations.

      2. I would have less to say about the culture of hospitals, although I can imagine there is far less formal protocol in rural hospitals than in a big-city teaching hospital. My anxious experiences in Latvia may have been as much logistical (where is the hospital?) as cultural.

  2. Claire Appiah says:

    Marc,
    Thanks for replying to my blog. I am grateful for your interest in wanting to help me out by supplying me with new information for research.
    In your blog, you made an interesting observation that learning about social geographies in this program will not only equip us with perspectives for leadership in the global community, but will also enable us to have a greater understanding of the spaces in our own communities. I also had a similar encounter to yours in a social geography I virtually knew nothing about, in my general neighborhood. As a school project, I attended a church service at an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church. In my total ignorance of the protocols or anything about the tenets of the church, I was really concerned about crossing cultural and religious boundaries. Obviously I stood out as a stranger and was fortunately assisted by various people on protocols. Since the service was conducted in two different Ethiopian dialects, I was feeling like I was the person in a foreign land.

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Claire – your point affected my church from the other side of the equation. Our former youth pastor said he had a hard time getting high school kids to attend worship because the language and protocols of our community were foreign to today’s unchurched teenager.

      We never satisfactorily solved the problem. Sadly the culture of our social geography seems to increasingly be foreign to the community of adolescents.

  3. Great observation, Marc!

    Religion is culture. It’s distinct in tradition, social behaviors and moral expectation. I have a friend who is a strict Muslim from Egypt. Her ethnic culture intermingles with her religious beliefs. It’s interesting to see a trichotomy of background, expectation and personal conviction grapple with the Koran and birth an adapted religious expression. It differs from her parents in Egypt and it differs from her religious contemporaries who are Pakistani. Who she uniquely reveals a universal faith personally. Valentine explores an Asian Muslim Community in Britain and explains, “While they were all identified as Muslims, the region varied in its meaning and significance to them” (Valentine, 125). It’s interesting how the influence of culture, religion and other contributors color our perception and paint our expression of our beliefs and traditions. I’m dying to hear how your experience was with the Imam! Did you experience a vast difference in social traditions or expectations?

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      My occasion for meeting the Imam was at a time when the Olympic torch was scheduled to pass through Corvallis. Someone organized an event which included a number of very different religious leaders being on the platform together making the statement that we believe different things and practice religion differently but we think we can still get along and be friends.
      The Imam was quite willing to be a part of that, so it was a positive experience.

      Interesting time for this: after visiting a church for worship this morning my wife and I were invited to lunch with two couples. One of the women is doing a D Min at Multnomah Seminary in Global Evangelism. She spoke of some folks she met in Morocco who were Muslim but had become Jesus-followers. I would be intriguing to talk to those folks and find out how they’re processing all of this, regarding culture and space and religious practice.

  4. Hi Marc. Loved pal-ing around with you in HK. Great blog. I like how you noticed we all had to adjust our expectations in HK. I also appreciate your experience at the mosque and how you relate that to how a visitor must feel at your church. This is something that concerns me as well. It is my desire to make guests feel welcome when they come to the Hub. I think sometimes we professional christians forget how amazingly difficult it is to visit a church. Thanks!

  5. mm Marc Andresen says:

    I think human warmth overcomes a lot. This morning visiting a church my wife and I were invited to lunch with folks. Many people at the church spoke to us. This really helps.

    Years ago I participated one Saturday a.m. in a bicycle club ride. No one spoke to me, and I never went back.

    At our church we have done this well and poorly. I love it when a new visitor is one of the last people out of the building because so many people have spoken with them after worship.

  6. Pablo Morales says:

    Marc,
    Nice pics! They illustrated well the point of cultural differences of social geographies that you wrote about. I’m glad that the reading was relevant for your topic. Based on your intercultural experiences you are more aware and also more equipped to minister to the international students. I look forward to learning from your research topic!

  7. Anthony Watkins says:

    Hello there Roomie, I like your view. I also believe that being made aware of cultural differences is essential to becoming a valuable leader.

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