Alma Thompson

Alma Thompson

Director of ICCM

Alma Thompson is the director of ICCM, which partners with the global Free Methodist Church for the spiritual, educational, physical and social development of children through sponsorships, scholarships and creative initiatives. She is an ordained elder who previously served as a superintendent of the Ohio and New South conferences and as a pastor in New York. The yard of her Columbus, Ohio, home has become a safe and welcoming place for children and teens from nearby apartments.
by Alma Thompson

A bridge — painted “international orange” — crosses the mile-wide Golden Gate, the strait connecting the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The Golden Gate Bridge is suspended by two 3-foot-diameter cables that are engineered to bear a 36-million-pound load. This astonishing phenomenon is the product of collaboration — 27,572 parallel wires (enough to circle the earth three times) bound together.

My hope is to summarize my ponderings about The Free Methodist Way value of cross-cultural collaboration (which I am seeing, hearing, and attempting to live and lead) by articulating 25 strands of thought. When wound together, these thoughts are intended to bear, hold and carry the whole of humanity spanning across all of time. Perhaps you will have notes to add as well. Please join in via the “Leave a reply” area below this article. Together, these cords will become more than the sum of our parts.

  1. Jesus’ prayer for His disciples (John 17) is “make them one.”

Why? All for glory (v.10, 22, 24), and by glory, He did not mean “let them all shine like light bulbs!” Yes, light is a product of the glory, and the glory is a product of God’s presence — like the light of Genesis 1 before there was sun. Like the light of Revelation 21, the sun is no longer needed because (I paraphrase) “when someone sees these people who are following Me, and how they love each other, let the observer marvel and wonder, ‘How is this happening? How is this oneness possible?’ To God, the Three-in-One, be the glory, for great things are done!”

  1. “Theres something going on here. Well be back.”

Jerome — husband of Camila, father of Sofia, uncle of 10-year-old Malik — sits with me for the first time, on the porch, in the shade of a massive sugar maple. He says simply, “There’s something going on here. We’ll be back.” Children, teens and adults — from every tribe, tongue and nation — play, sharing snacks and a cup of cold water, in my yard.

  1. “Lord Jesus, help me do the impossible.”

What Jerome had not heard was Jabez calling Aamira an “ugly pig-dog.” He overlooked the little group actively avoiding Dreysha and Binam because they “smell so bad” (i.e. the aroma of garlic, curry and cardamom from their grandma and mom cooking fresh food in a tiny apartment kitchen). He missed Jamal and Mohammad brawling with their recruited forces. Jerome was not aware of the hours of projects, chores and conversations insisting that we use words rather than fists. He did not see the apologies, rewordings, expressed fears, feelings and simple prayers of children, “Lord Jesus, help me do the impossible.”

  1. Hey, Google, what does culture mean?

Google takes me to this definition: “A culture is a way of life of a group of people — the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. Culture is symbolic communication.”

  1. In one sense, cross-cultural collaboration begins by cracking nuts.

It’s a game within a game. We sit around a holiday bowl of mixed nuts in the shell, playing Rook, Catan and Scrabble with nutcrackers and picks in hand. The real competition is: “Who can remove the meat [of a Brazil nut, pecan or walnut] whole from its deep, smooth, pointed, wrinkled, chocolate-colored shell?” This is all done while making bids, trading grain for bricks, and spelling EQUALIZES on a triple-word score for 81 points!

Let’s use the analogy of finding a peanut. (Credit goes to my brother Wayne, a missionary to the Philippines.)

The shell — traditions and dogmas that serve to preserve and protect the truth but have no real food value —  can be tossed on the steakhouse floor.

The paper skin —  personal preferences that you can take or leave —  may have had an initial function, but it serves no ongoing purpose. Choose to toss it or eat it, because it doesn’t matter either way.

The meat (the nutrient, the substance, the irreducible minimum) is the foundational truth that applies in every time and place for every human soul.

Unless a single peanut falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit (see a similar analogy in John 12:24).

  1. I must be cracked.

My work of cross-cultural collaboration begins with me. “The other,” the one who stands before me, is not the work. But proximity with “the other,” like a mirror or a light on a dashboard, may help me see what is lovely and what is not yet. The work begins with Spirit-guided and Spirit-powered self-examination — cracking, breaking, tossing, losing and seeing continually.

By all means (unlike the children’s song) if the peanut is rotten, don’t eat it anyway!

  1. Every human interaction is simply two nuts trying to relate.
  1. “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

One beloved community is our preferred future. Make them one. As Rich Johnson says on “The Elusive Dream Podcast,” “We don’t settle for anything less. This is what we’re called to.”

  1. Revelation 7

John saw it with his own eyes. He was hearing it with his own ears: the great multitude.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’” (Revelation 7:9–12).

As Pat Barrett and Harolddd sing in “Lightning,” “One day all things will be the way it should be.”

  1. The different was seen.

Different tribes, nations and tongues were visible. They were specifically noticed and noted. They were seen, heard, celebrated and celebrating together. Oh, glory!

  1. No hierarchy — the imago Dei (image of God) is completed.

This is the beauty of humanity, imaged and created in Genesis 1 and 2. There is no dominant culture. We are equal at the table.

  1. Do you not know that y’all are the temple?

Don’t leave the culture at the door. Christ poured into each body and the whole body — filling each and all.

  1. Collaboration is proximity plus.

Collaboration is co-labor-ation. Co means together, mutually, jointly, equally or to the same degree. Labor means to work, toil, exert one’s powers of body or mind, or strive toward a goal.

  1. It’s about authority.

It’s about decision-making. Who decides? How do you decide?

  1. In Genesis 1 and 2, equality exists at the table.

This paradise, pre-curse, ideal of egalitarian marriage to which we hold is a supernatural phenomenon (see ¶3311 “The Christian and Marriage” in the 2019 Book of Discipline). The marriage isn’t really about marriage. It’s about heaven and earth. It’s about two-are-one. It’s about Christ and the church. It is a cross-cultural, living-sacrifice witness to the power of God.

In the early ’90s, the popular book “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” purported that a male-female relationship is a cross-cultural relationship of interplanetary proportion.

God’s design and desire is for men and women to be equal with equal standing before Him, equal standing before each other, and equal standing next to each other.

  1. The ground is level.

The ground is level in the glory of Creation, in the glory song of the great multitude, and at the foot of the cross.

  1. Jesus was cracked, broken, tossed aside.

This is cross-cultural. This is the culture of the cross. Jesus invites me to take up my cross daily — beginning in my own home.

  1. This is kingdom culture.

At a hotel in Chiang Mia, Thailand, I have lunch with key leaders from two creative access countries. They share their stories, strategies and hearts with me. They listen to my heart and request wisdom from me. Leaders actively seek, train and empower pastors — men and women. They seek merely to find and release the fullest potential of kingdom resources. I am struck like lightning through my shell, my skin, my meat — deeply to the very soul of me (a mi alma).

I recognize: This is kingdom culture! All of our individual cracked-nut meat is simply the beautiful imago Dei vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7) through which the light, the glory, the witness of the germ culture/kingdom culture/culture of the cross is delighting to shine. Oh glory!

  1. God is in charge.

Cross-cultural collaboration culminates in this intercultural partnership that is operating from a deeper, shared, commonly held, irreducible minimum, germ. This is the culture of every person and place where God is in charge, i.e. the kingdom.

Collaborating on behalf of Christ includes saving the children for of such is the kingdom (Matthew 19:14, Luke 18:16). We save them from starvation, disease, isolation, ignorance and trafficking. Together, we dream (and move in the direction) of a world where every child is safe, loved and fulfilling their God-given potential.

  1. But something went terribly wrong.
  1. Supremacies come from the Fall.

“All variations and distortions, and all forms and mutations of human supremacies, have their origin in Genesis 3.” – Inés Velásquez-McBryde

  1. Supernatural intervention is needed.

“For the Supernatural, entering a human soul, opens to it new possibilities both of good and evil. From that point the road branches: one way to sanctity, love, humility, the other to spiritual pride, self-righteousness, persecuting zeal. And no way back to the mere humdrum virtues and vices of the unawakened soul.” – C.S. Lewis, “Reflections on the Psalms”

  1. Homophily is the tendency for people to want to be with people who are similar.

People like to be with people like them. Professor and theologian Donald McGavran promoted the “homogeneous unit principle” strategy of church planting that people “like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers.”

“I do not praise you, because when you meet together it does more harm than good! For, in the first place, I hear that when you gather together as a congregation you divide up into cliques” (1 Corinthians 11:17–18 CJB).

In 2 Corinthians 5:16–6:2, Paul goes on to say katallassó — Christ has exchanged places with you. Therefore, you now are empowered to exchange places with each other (as discussed in “Radical Reconciliation” by Allan Aubrey Boesak and Curtis Paul DeYoung).

Is it possible unity is of no great witness if it is not both visibly diverse and actively equal? This kind of unity requires little supernatural empowerment and, as such, gives very little or no glory to God. It simply isn’t all that impressive. It’s homogeny. Even the animals on this fallen earth can do homogeny. As the cow says in the movie “Babe,” “The way things are is the way things are.” It’s simply natural. Birds of a feather flock together.

  1. Their heart is as my heart!

My first trip as ICCM director was to the foothills of the Himalayas. The ICCM leaders talked of reaching the tribal people, the children and families who, by hierarchical order of the native religion, had been identified as the lowest caste — a status allegedly due to bad choices in a previous life.

They sang worship songs in three different languages. English was the fourth. Though I did not understand the lyrics, the same Holy Spirit stirred us both and I felt my soul filling, as if it would burst. Like lightning, I was struck by the realization, “These people! Their heart is as my heart!”

Cheryl J. Sanders writes of “costly justice” that “is a sacrificial struggle on the part of empowered individuals who maintain creative partnerships with the oppressed and who identify, unambiguously, with the best interest of the oppressed group.”

We are a whole bowl of cracked nuts who are working together in the very life and power of the germ. The great divide has been crossed.

“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14 NASB).

  1. We are bound in one body to God through the cross.

If we are one body, then practicing cross-cultural collaboration is essentially developing our hand-eye coordination.

“Bind us together, Lord. Bind us together with cords that cannot be broken. … There is only one God. There is only one King. There is only one body. That is why we sing.” – Bob Gillman 


Alma Thompson

Alma Thompson

Director of ICCM

Alma Thompson is the director of ICCM, which partners with the global Free Methodist Church for the spiritual, educational, physical and social development of children through sponsorships, scholarships and creative initiatives. She is an ordained elder who previously served as a superintendent of the Ohio and New South conferences and as a pastor in New York. The yard of her Columbus, Ohio, home has become a safe and welcoming place for children and teens from nearby apartments.