Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cultural Preparedness... One of the Keys to Successful Mission

Few things make mission more work than a lack of cultural preparation.

That is even truer in short-term mission where you do not have the benefit of time to repair the damage that you may do by being culturally unaware.

Oftentimes what we as visitors see as a harmless activity can be seen by locals as offensive. Let me give you an example.

Years ago I was serving in the small village of Santa Rosa, just north of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.

Our project during the visit was to get the first coat of stucco on a church that we had finished a few weeks earlier.

Our group worked hard to get the paper and then the wire all nailed, stapled, and ready for the mezcla. Soon students were busy putting the cement on the walls to make sure this church was going to be safe from the elements.

Now one of the things you have to know is that you always need at least two coats of stucco. And after each coat, you need to make sure that you “scratch” it so that the next coat can adhere better.

Normally, you will use a special tool like the one pictured here and afterwards your building will look something like this one is starting to look like between coats.

When we got done, the entire building was ready for the next coat but it was also completely covered with verses from the bible in both Spanish and English. Sometimes that happens when you are working with a group of 20 high school students.

It took the locals almost two years to tell me that we had made a big mistake during that trip. Our drawings and verses, which we had thought were just innocent fun, had been seen as mocking not only to the people of Santa Rosa, but also to God and His house!

If I had been a little more culturally prepared beforehand, we probably would not have made that error.

So with that in mind, I’d like to share a few resources that I believe will help you, your team, and your church be better prepared when you serve cross culturally, whether that is overseas, or even right in your own neighborhood in our increasingly multicultural and diverse country.

“From Foreign to Familiar” by Sarah Lanier – This little book will be a God send. Ever wondered why some cultures do things differently than you? Read this book and learn why. Often times, just knowing why things are the way they are, is half the battle!

“Culture Shock” – I have the Mexico edition, [pictured above] but this book exists for almost every country. If you want to understand the cultural clues and know why people where you are headed refuse to shake your hand, or do not cross their legs in meetings, this book is indispensable.

“Short-Term Mission Workbook” by Tim Dearborn – I have used this book for years and if you have served with me, you have been the recipient of some of the lessons it contains. The “Eight Great Questions” for effective debriefing come from this book.

“Serving With Eyes Wide Open” by Dr. David Livermore – Livermore is tough on the STM crowd with this book, but fair and his examples ring true. This is one of the most important books I have ever read on STM.

Finally, let me recommend one other resource to make sure is in your bag when you go… a Culture Gram. These little five page missives give an incredibly concise picture of where ever you are headed. At a cost of only $4.00, anyone serving without having read one of these is almost guilty of malpractice.

So there you have it. Five great resources that will help you avoid some of the cultural gaffes that are possible when you serve overseas, or in other cultures!


ChocoflanChild said...

Thanks for the resources and recommendations! (I know you've rec. them over and over during the years and the only one I picked up is the SERVING WITH EYES WIDE OPEN, but now I have a physical list of books that I can refer to!)

Lista said...

Hi Dave,
Forgive me, for I haven't been by in a Really Long Time.

What you are saying is so Very True and maybe what I'm Thinking about now is a little Off Subject, yet I even Wonder whether or not the Church is Responding Adequately to the Culture in America. Too Often we Preach the Gospel in Very Simple Terms and yet are not Prepared to Deal with the Questions that are Asked by those in our Very Diverse Culture, or by Intellectuals.

How many of those who sit in the Pews Understand about the Different Religions that are all around us, or the Questions that are Asked by Atheists. How do we Respond to Evolutionism, Post-Modernism, etc.? There are a lot of Times in which I wish that I was Learning more in Church than I am.

Dave Miller said...

Hey Lista... good to hear from you...

I would tend to agree that by and large the church does not respond to those issues.

I think it has to do with some level of arrogance.

We believe we are right, and so we choose not to engage those that are "wrong" on those difficult issues.

The problem is that, sadly, we end up isolating ourselves from the very people Jesus calls us to serve.


Lista said...

Actually, it also has to do with the Way People Interpret Certain Scriptures, such as...

"Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies. You know that they breed quarrels." (2 Timothy 2:23, NRSV)

People Interpret this to Mean that we shouldn't Express Our Point of View in the Form of a Debate or that we should Avoid Talking about Religion or Politics, yet how can we share the Gospel, if we can't Talk About Religion?

The American Church has it's Own Culture that at Times Stifles Communication and the Honest Sharing of Ideas. That which Appeals to the Intellectual is Taboo because of the Potential Controversy. Because of this, the Questions of Intellectuals Often get Over Looked and "You Need to have Faith" and "Because the Bible Says so" is all that we are allowed to say.

Dave Miller said...

Insightful comments Lista... as for "Because the bible say so" it all depends on who is doing the interpreting, doesn't it?