Sunday, March 25, 2007

How do you look at culture?

I’ve been reading this book, Ministering Cross Culturally, by Lingenfelter and Mayers. I already wrote about it in the post Direction, where he insists that a missionary must become a 150% person, loosing some habits and gaining new ones, never again being completely from one culture but 75% each of the home culture and the foreign one. In the next chapter he has you take a personality test to find your own cultural habits before reading the evaluations and guides. To summarize my personal culture, I tested as more oriented towards events rather than time, achievement rather than status, the big picture rather than the details, non-crisis rather than crisis, and the person rather than the task, and I easily reveal my vulnerability (obviously…haha).

Lingenfelter explains some cultural conflicts through his experiences with missionaries in Yap, a small island in Micronesia. Even missionaries who tested like me found the people of Yap to be even more to the extreme of event/non-crisis/person etc. orientation, causing anger and misunderstandings between people. Before reading this book, I wasn’t thinking about the differences in cultures this way, I only felt the conflicts. I noticed the obvious details about greetings and other various habits when I did something that appeared to be a mistake in their culture, but I wasn’t looking at the personality of their culture.

I think that in America we feel like we are very time and crisis oriented, meaning that we like for things to happen on time and carefully plan ahead of schedule to prevent a crisis. I have a calendar that is almost completely full, all of the time. Yet as much as I plan, I’m pretty flexible about time, as long as things follow the schedule somehow.
When we travel as missionaries, I think we always expect what we experience in Mexico and Africa and Micronesia. We expect the other culture to be more “easygoing” and have a slower pace. However, the Czechs were highly influenced by the Germans, and therefore are incredibly fastidious about things happening on time and going smoothly. In fact, when I have an event, I have to be prepared 10-15 minutes early sometimes, because people will already be there. The crisis factor affects me even more. When something doesn’t go smoothly or when a crisis appears, people get all upset and are ready to throw blame. They feel like someone must be blamed, because someone didn’t plan for this problem.
This book encourages the missionary to see the expectations of the society and work with them. If I’m supposed to participate in this culture, I must become more time, detail, and crisis oriented. Part of me gets upset when I say this, because I don’t feel like I should have to change who I am. I like that I put people before tasks and easily reveal my vulnerability. On the other hand, if I want their respect and I want to have more effective classes, I need to think more about the way they see things. If I really want to be 75% Czech, I have to be flexible and work in a way that makes sense to them. I must follow Paul’s plan from his first letter to the Corinthians 10:33, “I try to please everyone in everything I do. I don't just do what I like or what is best for me, but what is best for them so they may be saved.” I’ll let you know how it works.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Oh, wow! We had a great game night last week, and I've been bursting to share it with you, but I have been waiting to load the pictures. This was our second game night, and I planned ahead, asking many people to help. On Thursday, I was nervous that we might have more helpers than kids, and I wasn't quite sure what I would do to keep them all busy. Then on friday I had set up this simulation game for the youth group in the sanctuary. It turned out that we didn't have enough youth to play the game(thank goodness I had a back up plan), but everything was already prepared. Then Tomáš, in the photo on my back, came to me and was all excited because he thought the game was set up for the game night. So I said,", yeah, that's a great idea! Let's do it!" So we started with board games and ended with a very active game where some people were travelers and others were the transporation in a large city in India. It was perfect and couldn't have been done at any other time. We needed lots of people, lots of helpers, and lots of energy, and we had all of that. The game is described under the pictures, so I'll let you read about the details there, but it's just another one of those "little birdie" inspirations where I feel like someone is helping me with my planning.
My photos (policka)

Thursday, March 01, 2007


This week I played a popular group building game called Minefield in all but my two youngest classes. We played it in youth group at church in the beginning of the year, so I had been saving it for the right moment to play it in English. In this game one person is blindfolded and the other must direct them across so that they don't step on a "mine." It worked very well in every class. It really made them speak English and work together. I was a little hesitant to try it with my fourth and fifth graders, but they were fantastic!
I really feel like I've had a lot of inspiration lately. Maybe it's been just a good month, but I think that I'm finally figuring out how to be me, here in the Czech Republic. It may be difficult to describe, but I will try. If you know me, you know that I'm a very friendly person, and although I love the Czech people, it's not part of their nature to be "friendly." At first I was trying to fit in by wiping the smile off my face as I walk through town. Then I realized that it's an okay reason to stick out. I like being friendly, and I like smiling at people as I meet them on the sidewalk. So, I started being friendly again, and it makes me feel happier as more and more people smile back. Another thing that changed when I came here was my teaching. It has taken me a while to figure out how to apply what I know from my music teaching to teaching English. It seems like I spent a lot of time in the beginning looking so hard for inspiration for my lessons. Now that I'm understanding how they learn language, I'm coming up with ideas of my own that more effectively combine teaching English with building friendships. I also realized that, until recently, there wasn't a lot of music in my life. I don't usually listen to music while I'm at my computer or during the classes, and I don't watch a lot of TV. So I only experienced music in Church or in the movies I occasionally watch. Then we started having more church choir rehearsals, I started playing my flute a little more, and I started listening to music on my computer. Now I seem to have more music in my head, and I feel happier because of it.
But most of all, I think the most difficult thing for me, was learning how to worship in a foreign church. Number one: They don't use bulletins. The hymn numbers are displayed in the front of the sanctuary on the wall, and everyone just knows the rest. So with weekly variations to the worship, which felt irregular at the time, it took me a full six months to realize the order of the service. Number two: They stand for the bible reading and sit to sing hymns. I like standing for the word of the Lord, but I'm still getting used to sitting during the songs. It makes the most sense in the winter, because the church is really cold and the heaters are by your feet. Number three: Everything is in Czech. I thought that bringing my bible would help, but if I don't ask for the scripture readings ahead of time, I almost always miss the book or the chapter. So for many months I felt like I wasn't really worshiping at all. I was doing special music, but that was two minutes of worship a week. Usually an hour isn't long enough for me, and only two minutes was really making it difficult for me. Finally this last Sunday, I felt like I was worshiping for the whole service. Pastor Jan pointed out about a month or two ago that the first scripture reading is always from Psalms and the Hymn that follows it, comes from that psalm with the number of that psalm! So I can now start in the right place if I have my English Bible. My Czech is improving everyday, so while I'm still not understanding most of the service, there are certain moments where I'm following the ideas in the Children's sermon or something else. For instance, last Sunday, I finally understood the words in preparation for the Lord's Supper, and every Sunday, I get closer and closer to being able to say the Lord's Prayer in Czech. Plus, we've had more music in the services, lately.
In a book that I'm reading about Cross-cultural ministries it says that while living in a new culture you have to become a "150 percent person," 75% of your native culture and 75% of the foreign culture. Maybe the difficulties and awkwardness that I've been experiencing have been a part of this transformation. Sometimes I feel like I'm not really American anymore, but I'm not Czech either. I'm not quite the person I was before, but what parts do I need to bring back and what parts do I need to leave behind? His words were a good reminder that I will always be close to, but not quite, both. The emptiness I feel, left from the absence of one culture, is being filled with the abundance of another.