Where I come from

Brad M. Griffin Image Brad M. Griffin | Mar 2, 2009

This curriculum sample is taken from Deep Justice Journeys: 50 Activities to Move from Mission Trips to Missional Living, co-authored by Kara Powell and Brad Griffin and released May 2009 through Youth Specialties. This activity is taken from the BEFORE section of the book, intended to be used with a group BEFORE your trip.

Big Idea: Before we attempt to serve in another cultural context, it’s important to “culturally locate” ourselves.

You’ll need:

  • Whiteboard or poster paper and markers
  • A blank piece of paper and a pen for each student
  • Copies of the Deep Justice Journeys Student Journal
  • Bibles
  • Maps or aerial pictures of your community. (You can print these out ahead of time, using one of the many online mapping systems. If you know exactly who will be coming, you can print an aerial picture of each student’s neighborhood. If not, simply print out multiple copies of whatever geographical boundaries will feel like “home” for your students.)

Welcome your students and have them turn to one person next to them and ask, “Where do you come from?” Give students time to ask and answer this question before continuing:

Q: When someone asks where you’re from, what do you say?

Q: Do some of you have a hard time answering that question? What makes it difficult for you? Likely there are students in your group who have moved a lot, or who were born in one place but have mostly grown up in a different state or country.

Q: Where do our ideas about ourselves come from? Who or what tells us “who we are” and “where we’re from”?

Q: What’s behind the question, “Where do you come from”? Give students time to share ideas, and then point out we often ask this question to help us culturally locate someone-whether that is because that person has a different accent than ours, looks different in some way, or we just want to understand them more fully by knowing where they grew up. Mention to students that when asking that question, we need to avoid making others, especially those of a different ethnicity from ours, feel uncomfortable or put on the spot.

Continue: Most of the time we ask about someone’s roots when we encounter some way their “different-ness” from us stands out. In what ways are the people we’ll be serving in our upcoming justice work most different from us? In what ways are they most similar? Write their answers on your whiteboard.

Note: In many ways, culture is like the social air we breathe: Most of the time we don’t notice it much and probably don’t think about it too hard, but it deeply shapes the ways we think about ourselves, others, God, and pretty much everything else!

Continue: As we prepare to interact with folks from a culture that may be different from ours, it’s a good idea to look at our own cultural location-the ways in which where we’re from shapes who we are.

Ask this question: If you were to draw a map of your life, what might it look like? Think about the geography of your family, your beliefs, the places you’ve lived, the events and people significant in shaping you so far.

Pass out copies of the Where I Come From handout for students to complete on their own. Then have students get in groups of three and share insights from their handouts. Get everyone back together to debrief that experience:

Q: How did it feel to think more about your cultural location? What new insights do you have on who you are and how that shapes the way you interact with others who are different?

Q: How might that affect the way you love and serve others?

Q: What are some important things we might want to learn about the cultural location of the people we will serve during our justice work? If some of the teenagers there filled out this same list of descriptors, how do you think their lists might be similar or different from ours? If it’s not already obvious from the sharing around the room, you’ll want to note that there is often quite a bit of diversity among people who live in the same location, even though an outsider might be tempted to lump everyone together based on a set of stereotypes. Just as we cannot assume we are all the same in our youth ministry, we can’t assume that getting to know one local person in our host community will mean we understand everyone.

Q: How can we honor those we visit without being spiritual tourists who “ooh” and “ahh” over their different culture and setting?

Q: If the people we serve are living in poverty and we are not, how can we move beyond simply thanking God that we’re not “like them”?

At this point, distribute maps or aerial photos of your area as a prompt for the closing prayer. Invite students to pray that the Lord will help them be mindful of their own cultures, and appreciate all they have to experience by interacting with a different culture.


  • Often our cultural location determines the power we have over others, or the power others have over us. It is helpful to have students think through ways their particular heritage and set of circumstances might put them in a role of power. You might ask questions like: In what ways do we (or might we) participate in the oppression of others because of who we are and where we’re from? What should we do about that? One example might be wearing clothes made in sweatshops, where labor environments are harsh, workers are underpaid, and in some cases people are forced to work as slaves. Youth ministries have begun to speak out against such injustices, and some have begun purchasing non-sweatshop clothing or even making some of their own clothes.
  • Have students create videos, PowerPoint presentations, posters, or culinary dishes that share about their cultural identity with the rest of the team. Give them one or two weeks to learn as much as they can about their ancestry, their family history, and their current “cultural location” and creatively share that with the rest of the group. Talk together about the ways our unique cultural heritages shape—but do not have to dictate—our interactions with others. Celebrate whatever diversity might exist among your students, and encourage one another as you continue to learn to relate to those who are different.

Learn more about the Deep Justice Journeys Curriculum and order a copy today!

Photo by Tyler Nix

Brad M. Griffin Image
Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content & Research for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based resources for youth ministry leaders & families. A speaker, writer, and volunteer pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over fifteen books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager & 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, Growing Young, and Sticky Faith. Brad and his wife, Missy, live in Southern California and share life with their three teenage and young adult kids.

More from this author

More From Us

Join the community

Sign up for our email today and choose from one of our popular free downloads sent straight to your inbox. Plus, you’ll be the first to know about our sales, offers, and new releases.

Join the community

Sign up for our email today and choose from one of our popular free downloads. Plus, you’ll be the first to know about our sales, offers, and new releases.