Wheaton College (along with just about every other school on the continent) is taking serious steps towards enhancing the diversity of the student body. President Ryken considers it one of his top "strategic priorities." A new Office for Multicultural Development is open in the heart of the campus. Programs that send students overseas for 6 months of learning in their Senior year are expanding. This year's roster of chapel speakers includes women and men from a whole range of cultural backgrounds.
Cross-cultural engagement is hard work, with a lot of potential for offenses given and received. Hurtful comments and (more often) well-intentioned but ignorant remarks make community living awkward. So why bother?
The answer is simple, really. When we only hang out with people who are just like us we fail to realize how limited we are by our own narrow perspective and experience. Those of us who are white remain oblivious to the way our race grants us privileges that others must work much harder to achieve—privileges like trust, understanding, and "fitting in." Global engagement is important because it broadens our horizons, enriches our appreciation for others, and forces us to think more deeply about how to approach the world's most vexing problems.
In the wisdom of Disney's Pocahantas, "when you follow in the footsteps of a stranger, you'll learn things you never knew you never knew." We're blind to our own ignorance until we take the time to view the world from someone else's vantage point.
Even more importantly, global engagement matters because the kingdom of God transcends geographic, political, and ethnic boundaries. We have the honor of partnering together with our sisters and brothers around the world to bear God's Name among the nations. Working together offers a more complete picture of what Christ accomplished for us on the cross. Having torn down "the dividing wall of hostility" between Jews and Gentiles, Jesus invited his followers to bring this good news of reconciliation to the ends of the earth.
The trend in missions is for missionaries from anywhere to go to anywhere, often under non-Western leadership (glory!). The trend in higher education is to "encourage women and minorities to apply" for jobs and to actively recruit students from a wide range of backgrounds. The trend in our own interpersonal relationships is often woefully behind these organizational trends. Are you ready to learn things you never knew you never knew?