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.

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