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The Importance of Cultural Competency in Serving Others

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Cultural competency. These two words are heard often in today’s society. For some, these word illicit a negative response; others have a more  positive response.

Fr. Justin recently sent me to a presentation given by one of the social workers at Reconciliation Services-FOCUS Kansas City at their staff meeting. The presentation was on cultural competency.

Part of cultural competency is to know about a culture’s history, traditions, values, family system, and artistic expression. Why is this important and what does this have to do with serving others? You cannot serve someone to the fullest if you don’t understand who he/she is and what his/her background is.

Understanding is one of the key components of FOCUS NA. In fact, it is the “U” in our acronym. We are trying to embody Christ’s ministry on the earth and we exist with the poor, not for the poor. To do that, we must not have a mentality of separating “us” from “them.” Understanding is crucial for this to be achieved. However, one must not just understand where another is coming from. One must understand his/her own personal and cultural values and beliefs. Sometimes, this is the hardest thing to do for this takes deep soul searching and can sometimes be quite sobering and painful.

One of the most interesting parts of the presentation was learning that cultural competency is an ongoing lifelong process and is never fully completed. This may sound disconcerting. However, it makes me think of our spiritual journey as a Christian. We are to constantly be active in the spiritual growth process, but we will never be fully perfected until we are united with the Lord.But it is the journey that matters, what we learn and do along the way. So it is with cultural competency. With each step, we will grow in understanding and be able to serve others in ways we would have never thought possible, knowing that Jesus Christ is the only perfect bridge between cultures.

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