05 August 2014

Cultural Differences #2: Entering a new and different culture as if you were a child

Ministering Cross-Culturally; an Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships  by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers

This post contains selected excerpts from the book:

People called to minister in a foreign setting must be acutely aware of the cultural differences they will encounter.

Conflict arises from the fact that people often attribute moral force to their priorities for personal behavior and judge those who differ from them as flawed, rebellious, or immoral.

Definitions of culture:
·       The distinctive characteristics of a people’s way of life
·       A collection of shared ideas and values
·       The ways in which people order their lives, interpret their experiences, and evaluate the behavior of others
·       A set of conceptual tools and social arrangements that people use to adapt to their environment and to order their lives in the pursuit of food, shelter, and family and community relationships

Cultural blindness makes us ineffective communicators in alien contexts and leads us to assume that the problem lies with others rather than with ourselves… We become certain that our way of doing things is the proper way, and we are blinded to the possibilities of doing things differently or of engaging in new behaviors that might be beneficial.

We must begin as a child and grow in the midst of the people we wish to serve. We must be learners and let them teach us as if we were helpless infants.

Missionaries, by the nature of their task, must become personally immersed with people who are different. To follow the example of Christ, that of incarnation, means undergoing drastic personal reorientation. They must be socialized all over again into a new cultural context. Moreover, they must do this in the spirit of Christ without sin.

Discarding or setting aside something of one’s American-ness is almost sacrilege to many people. Our way of life is often equated with godliness and we defend vigorously its apparent rightness. As such, this way of life has become our prison. 

We must love the people to whom we minister so much that we are willing to enter their culture as children, to learn to speak as they speak, play as they play, eat what they eat, sleep where they sleep, study what they study, and thus earn their respect and admiration. 

An individual who is not ready to give up being an American for a time and to begin learning as a child is not ready for the challenge of cross-cultural ministry.

Jesus said, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself.’ ~Matthew 16:24

We must enter a new community of strangers, often without many – if not most – of the comforts and symbols of home, and begin as children, learning at the feet of those we have gone to serve. We must become world Christians.

Two keys for successful personal relationships in ministry are:
·         Obedience to the commands of Scripture
·         Accepting that others have a viewpoint that is as worthy of consideration as our own

Ministering cross-culturally places demands on us. To paraphrase Paul, we must become all things to all people so that by all possible means we might win some (I Corinthians 9:22). As we live and interact with people of another culture, we must adapt to their ways.

It is probably humanly impossible to become 100% incarnate in another culture. As finite human beings, we are constrained by the limitations of our minds, our life histories, and our personal abilities. Few of us have the emotional strength to endure the changes that full incarnation in another culture would require. We are weak people, yet God has made it clear that he loves the weak and uses them to accomplish his purposes. 

The goal of becoming partially incarnate in the culture of those to whom we minister is, by God’s grace, within our grasp.

We must accept the host culture as a valid, albeit imperfect, way of life. We must suspend our commitment to the context in which we have lived all our lives, enter into a cultural context that is strange to us, and see that new context as the framework for our life and ministry.

One of my old alien cards

In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter speaks of this as being aliens - or strangers - in the culture to which God sends us.

This significant change in our thinking will allow us to enter into relationships with people whose values and lifestyle are fundamentally different from our own.

If we desire to be obedient to Jesus' command, to carry the good news of his resurrection to the world:
  • We must accept the value priorities of others. 
  • We must learn the definitions and rules of the context in which they live. 
  • We must adopt their patterns and procedures for working, playing, and worshiping. 
  • We must become incarnate in their culture and make them our family and friends. 
  • We must do all this empowered through faith and freedom in Jesus Christ and living in the Spirit and not in the flesh.

The challenges will shape us; the changes will trouble us. Our bodies will get sick, our minds will suffer fatigue, our emotions will sweep us from ecstasy to depression. Yet the love of Christ will sustain us.


Anonymous said...

Awesome blog, Deb. Cross cultural ministry is so challenging. It takes enormous amounts of work and energy to do it right.

Anonymous said...

Or, at very least, to do it the best we can. Thank you for serving The Lord in Kenya. :) and for this series of blog posts. -ry

deb said...

You are one that personally knows the challenge it is and the work and energy required to live in a foreign culture, Ryan.