In all we do we are guided by our values. However, individuals and cultures differ on what they value as most important. Moreover, as Christians, we also listen to the Word of God.
In order to understand cultural differences, we need to distinguish between the different types of values we hold:
Personal Values—These are values that reflect our personal preferences and include such things as cleanliness, security, health, and job satisfaction.
Cultural Values—This category includes values that are top priorities in our dominant (home) culture. Individualism, material success, and independence are examples of top cultural values in the western world. Many non-western cultures place more value on community, cultural heritage, and dependence.
Biblical (Eternal) Values—Obviously, this is the most important area of values we live by. It includes mercy, justice, and love.
As you move to another culture you will discover that the most difficult adjustments will be when your values clash with your host culture’s values.
If you are unaware of the meaning of cultural expectations, you will find yourself quickly frustrated. Learn to be sensitive to cultural clues.
Be a Learner
So how can you avoid cultural blunders and embarrassments to your hosts? Here are a few tips to help you not judge prematurely from your own cultural perspective as you are becoming a bicultural person.
Become a learner with a servant’s heart—It is impossible to become a bicultural person without going through a period of learning.
If you want to come close to people, you must approach the new culture as a learner and servant, not as a teacher who judges others ways before having learned to understand and appreciate them.
Plunge right in—The key to learning a new culture is the attitude we bring to the new situation. Experienced missionaries and anthropologists recommend that we plunge into culture learning right from the start.
Venturing into the unknown can be frightening. But soon we see that the risk pays off. People respond with eagerness to help us in our often simple efforts to learn their ways.
Don’t assume you know—Be aware of the difference between a passive and active understanding of culture. Many mistakenly consider themselves competent in communicating with “foreigners.”
They may have studied some of the literature, history, or art of the host culture, met foreign representatives at school or professional meetings, or traveled to foreign countries.
But this feeling is deceptive because it is based on the passive understanding of another culture, which does not guarantee that a person will be able to interact effectively with persons of other cultures on their own home ground.
To become an effective missionary, you need to develop an active understanding of culture.
Real Learning—Active understanding of a culture involves not only intellectual and rational, but also emotional, aspects. We may accept something rationally but reject it on an emotional level.
Active understanding often comes as we see the limitations of our own cultural background.
The goal of becoming a bicultural person is to enable you to identify with your hosts and truly appreciate their culture on three levels.
Reasoning and Rational Thinking (Cognitive Level)—Remember, each culture has found its own way of approaching life and its problems. Learn to acknowledge different perceptions of reality and different ways of doing something.
There are other ways to build a house than the typical western air-conditioned two-story structure. How disease is caused may be explained differently than by using the germ theory.
Some of these explanations may be rooted in folk sciences and religious beliefs. Some may be more adequate than others.
But remember that you are not only dealing with a behavior, a way of doing things, or a single belief but with a whole worldview.
Feelings and Tastes (Affective Level)—The fact is that many things are a matter of preference and taste, rather than right or wrong, for ex-ample, how you like certain kinds and combinations of food.
Judging and Decision-Making (Evaluative Level)—When you deal with another culture’s norms and values, be cautious not to condemn what you cannot understand as an outsider.
When evaluating aspects of culture or counseling fellow believers, differentiate between-
- Good and worthwhile aspects to be encouraged
- Neutral aspects to be retained
- Bad or evil aspects and practices which must be dealt with and changed
In most cultures the good and neutral aspects by far outnumber the evil aspects. Thus cultures reflect God’s great gift of creativity to humanity.
What are the rewards of being a bicultural person? Here are three important considerations to keep in mind when you work through the process of becoming a bicultural person.
- Identification—As you strive to learn from other cultures, you will be challenged to overcome your natural tendency towards ethnocentrism and become more effective in ministry to the people as you identify with them.
- Enrichment—Becoming aware of other creative approaches to life that are as valid as your own cultural ways will be enriching.
- Perspective—You will better understand your own worldview because you have a unique chance to compare and contrast it with others.
Most missionaries will confirm that becoming a bicultural person may not be easy, but it is worth it.
What about you?
How do your personal or cultural values reflect biblical values?
Share your thoughts in the comments below