Entering a new culture is…well…different. For years, we learned, replicated, and lived out the culture into which we were born. Now, we’re not just learning a new language, we are learning a new culture. To do this takes work.
As new missionaries, we are studying Spanish and learning to adapt to our new Guatemalan culture, but we find dangers and roadblocks in abundance. In our effort to study the language we can spend more time with our books and lessons than we do with the very people we want to interact with. We must study, yes, and we must interact as well.
I recently was reading in a book given to me by a long-time missionary. It’s called Ministering Cross-Culturally by Lingenfelter/Mayers. They write:
“We must love the people to whom we minister so much that we are willing to enter their culture as children, to learn how 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.” (Pg. 25)
This is exactly what Christ did. He “studied” the language, culture, and life of the Jewish people as he grew up. He did not seclude himself with the Scriptures and hide in a cave until he had mastered them. He learned and lived them out in the presence of his neighbors, peers and eventually his disciples.
The book learning and practice of language and culture is important and not to be shunned, nor is the practical application and interaction–no matter how faulty it may be at first–to be replaced by book learning. We must get out there and use what we have learned as we learn more language and culture on the go.
We are finding that we must make a great effort to step out and interact with others. We have to find new friends in the neighborhoods where we live, in the tiendas we visit to purchase water jugs and in the people we pass in the street. It’s easy to just say, “Hola, buenos dias!” and move along. Even with just a little language ability, now is the time to interact.
Jesus set the example and we need to work hard to learn the language and culture and to interact within it. The more missionaries are secluded in study or in their missionary community, the less effective they will be. The more missionaries build positive interactions, the more they will build relationships and have opportunities to be an example of Christ and to explain how He left His home culture and learned ours so we could know His message and life of relationship with the Father.