CROSS-CULTURAL RELATIONSHIPS

MTS

CROSS-CULTURAL RELATIONSHIPS
How to overcome our own national pride

 

When a person becomes a missionary, suddenly they are “forced into” the arena of complex cross-cultural relationships. If you work in an international mission, you have to learn to adjust to relating on two different levels at once: with your fellow-missionaries from a mixture of cultures, and with the nationals.

Which of these causes the most culture stress?  For most missionaries in an international mission, it is the relationships with their own fellow-missionaries from different national backgrounds to our own. (Sometimes also with their own people they have some problems too!)

As these relationships develop, not infrequently we discover that we have all sorts of hidden national pride. cf. Mark 7:20-23. We find that we can feel easily offended and hurt towards our fellow-workers who seem to be insensitive to us and also quite nationalistic or “proud”.

One result is that we react negatively when people don’t know very much about our country — which is the most important country in the world of course! We easily label such people as “ignorant”. (Which means that we put ourselves above them as the intelligent ones.) Or when they talk so much about their own country — as if it’s the greatest country on earth. They really do believe it!  And we know all the time that they’re dead wrong.

We develop negative attitudes towards such people and find it difficult to feel at ease with them.  We feel a hidden barrier rising us between us and them. We develop a “set” in our hearts towards or against them.  We don’t enjoy being around them. We avoid them, choosing to spend most of our time with our own people, i.e. the “normal” ones or with people that make us feel comfortable.  And when we have to be with them or work with them, we have to force ourselves to be sociable.

Another negative though reaction is to talk about those the strange behaviour of “those funny people” with others who are like us. We get a strange sense of feeling “good” by talking with our friends about how “stupid” or “strange” other people are in the way they think, talk and act. Of course, it destroys unity and love — which means that such comes NOT from God but from the evil one. Such issues are the essence of SPIRITUAL WARFARE.

They are one of many evidences of what is commonly called “ethnocentricity” (cf. egocentricity).   And all of us are infected by this disease.  It is foolish to deny it.  We are all to a certain degree proud of our nation.  What we need to do is to learn to proud in a positive way (e.g. talking about some of the beauties of God’s creation in our country) and NOT proud in a negative way (e.g. boasting even in jest as if our people, culture, language etc. are superior to all other nations’).  Also it is good for us to humbly acknowledge just how the people of our nation are rebellious against God and His ways.

Is it a “problem” or just something we have to live with?  That we have to put up with and there’s nothing we can do about it?

Learning to cope with any nationalistic feelings and our ethnocentricity is a vital part of our becoming godly missionaries.  To becoming a truly humble servant of Christ.

What can we do to prepare ourselves for this experience?  What are we to do when we find ourselves reacting in a hostile or hurt manner to other nationalities?

Firstly, keep checking our thinking about other races & nationalities — are we thinking Christianly or biblically?
Secondly, keep repenting of pride as it comes to the surface as it will always cause us trouble and create a barrier in relationships with other people.  We are always BLIND to pride — as the very nature of pride is to blind us.  Hence it is helpful when we watch for clear “signals” from the responses of other people, e.g. people are not laughing at the jokes we made about national differences, or we find ourselves a little isolated from other people as if they don’t seem to enjoy being with us. 

Thirdly, put off a first love for your own country and its heritage and put on a new first love for the country where God has placed you to serve Him.  Do everything you can to feel really ONE with the people and at home with them.  Make it your goal to enjoy living in their country, and slow down how much you make reference to things “back home”.  That will be a good sign that you are acculturating well.

Fourthly, take a sincere and obvious interest in other people including that which is very precious to them — their country, its history, its geography and customs.  Enjoy finding out lots of interesting things about their backgrounds. Everyone likes talking about their homelands and what they love from back home. The more you listen to them, the more you will know and understand them — and the more you know and understand them, the more you will be drawn to them and love them and be able to work harmoniously with them (both missionary and national).

Graham Roberts

Director
Missionary Training School, Czech Republic
1991-2000

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