Have you ever noticed how someone from a completely different culture can walk into your life and impact you in a positive way? Has someone ever came into your workplace or your church from another country and their joyful personality lit up the room?
Recently, while taking language classes, I was introduced to a Brazilian lady named “Aline.” She regularly comes with food, chocolates, and other gifts to give to us, her classmates. We have 7 cultures in our class: American, Romanian, Ethiopian, Turkish, Ukrainian, Chinese, and Brazilian. These cultures represent 5 continents. I noticed that every person would light up when they received a gift from Aline. Her gift giving has actually started a chain of giving. Now, I get all kinds of chocolates in class. 🙂
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” – Theodore Roosevelt
Recently, a missionary came to minister in Romania. Even though he had never been to Romania before, God used him in a mighty way. The people accepted him and loved him.
Here is another example; do you know a person from the exact same culture as you, but you just did not get along with them? They could live in the same town as you, eat the same food as you, go to the same school as you, like the same music as you, but still, even though you both are from the same “culture,” you and they just do not click. Maybe they have ignored you or maybe you had once offended them and did not know.
These recent observations have challenged me to look at the subject of culture. Is understanding a culture crucial to missions work? Is knowing someone’s culture, or rather does conforming yourself to someone’s culture make it easier to reach them?
The answer to the above question is simply “yes.” Learning a culture and understanding the ins and outs of a culture are important. The examples I gave above are short-term examples. For long-term success in a particular missions field, the necessity to know a culture increases even more. You absolutely must know the culture. It would be counter-productive for me if I, having lived in Romania for over 10 years, do not know that most Romanians have two birthdays (actual birthday and their “name” day).
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
The core principle of my article, though, is this: Having positive personal qualities are more important than knowing a specific culture perfectly.
Like the example I shared earlier, everyone likes a gift no matter where they are from. In my language class, whether they were from Europe, North America, South America, Africa, or Asia, everyone liked receiving a gift from Aline. Also, we all felt the need to give something back. There seems to be a universal culture that the world has. We are all created by God.
Learning positive personal qualities at home will help you very much on the mission field. You do not have to know the culture perfectly to be effective (especially in the short-term) you just have to exercise positive qualities. Every child likes to have someone pay attention them. Every grieving mother needs someone to listen to them. Every man needs a leader in his life. Every person needs someone to pray for them.
“If you don’t have compassion in your heart for lost people, you have the worst kind of heart problem.” – E. Limones
It is a fact that people have the same basic human needs everywhere! People want to be accepted, respected, and loved; this is the same in every culture.
A culture will emphasize different ways of showing those positive qualities. Be mindful of the cultural emphasis. Study the cultural norms. Look for ways to be a better communicator in that culture. However, in all your learning, “…put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:14 NIV