The Art of Crossing Cultures, A Review

April 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Storti, Craig. The Art of Crossing Cultures. Boston, Massachusetts: Intercultural Press, 2007. 153 pp. $14.49.

Craig Storti’s The Art of Crossing Cultures was definitely helpful in both preparation for and reflection of missions experiences. The central theme of Storti’s work is that of culture shock and how to avoid and overcome the “cultural incidents”—as he calls them—that one inevitably encounters on the field.

The book begins with a central truth that all expatriates must understand: you must interact successfully with the local people to be effective among them, no matter what type of job you are there to do. The reader is given a multitude of scenarios which are used in opening one’s eyes to all of the possible cultural incidents that might occur. Storti utilizes these scenarios in explaining various situations, actions and reactions to local peoples and instances; his attempt is clearly that of allowing the reader to understand the many implications of crossing cultures and then to aid the reader in effectively living through these situations and overcoming cultural barriers so as to be successful. The various reactions of the expatriate are listed while the correct and most effective reactions are highlighted as those which lead to effective communication and explaining what is wrong with some of the other possible reactions and how to avoid them. In this way, the book is very practical and user-friendly.

A very helpful aspect of Storti’s book is his continual restatement of the elements involved in crossing cultures and what happens for the expatriate and for the foreigner receiving the expatriate. This proved helpful as the author pictographically added each successive, new link to this chain of events, respectively, as he discussed each element. It helps the reader to place things in proper perspective and to remember more easily by both repetition and pictographic presentations. In essence this gave the book cohesiveness and each scenario a sense of completeness and wholeness. Adding to this comprehensiveness was Storti’s treatment of both the expat and the receiving culture’s people. This leaves the reader satisfied with a sense of understanding and somewhat what to expect even before arriving on the field.

Highlighting issues such as misinterpretation of gestures, attitudes, concepts and speech, Storti hits on some of the frustrating points of living overseas that are sometimes glossed over as just “things you deal with” and figure out as you go. Yes, it is true that you deal with the punches as they are thrown, so to speak. However, it is good for people to understand before hand that there will be much frustration over things that we give no thought to living in our own culture and language. Although this frustration cannot be understood until experienced it still helps to know before hand that frustration is part of the package deal and you are not strange or crazy for the emotions that you are and will be feeling both personally and toward and in relation to nationals and other expatriates.

One thing that I believe Storti could have emphasized more is that of the relationships between expatriates. He did speak to that, but it is important to realize many of the implications that are built into a relationship between expatriates surrounded by a culture and language that is not their own. These are grounds upon which very intimate friendships may be built; however, there are many factors that come into play that one may not expect. Indicated but oftentimes not verbalized in these relationships with other expatriates is the fact that they play many roles in your life and you in theirs: family, friend, co-worker, sometimes house-mate and others. It is difficult to live and work with your co-workers and to realize that they are the only ones with whom you can develop a more-than-surface relationship. They become your family and this can be an amazing and gratifying thing. But, have you ever tried to work with your family? It is not an easy task to say the least. In short, Storti’s work would be enhanced with a discussion of the implications and issues with the various roles expatriates play in each others’ lives overseas.

Very helpful and practical is the model of intercultural interaction that unfolds throughout the book. Storti steps the reader through the various stages of interaction and underscores both the incidents that occur and our reactions to such incidents. This could be a helpful tool for expatriates to utilize in evaluating their cultural acclimation and effectiveness in the host culture. Evaluating ourselves and keeping check with the way we are relating to the local people is a good way to be accountable to someone else to. As missionaries, it is important to remember who we are representing—Jesus Christ! This model could also prove helpful in counseling other expatriates through the process of crossing cultures. It might serve as a good exercise for supervising missionaries and new apprentice missionaries to help the new family to adjust more effectively.

As a seminary student whose coursework reading materials are almost 100% Christian-authored, it was nice to see a secular work that spoke not specifically of expatriate missionaries, but of expatriates in general and still held true in its generalizations. It was also just a good read and would be a good book to refer others to when serving overseas or prior to going overseas. This book could then serve as a link between you—Christian missionary expatriates—and other expatriates in your assigned country. They could see that you are no different than them in many respects. This could then lead to an opportunity to celebrate your similarities and open up an avenue for cordially discussing your differences—i.e. leading to ministry and witnessing opportunities!

In summation, Storti lends the following choice words:

“Becoming culturally effective does not mean becoming a local; it means trying to see the world the way the locals do and trying to imagine how they see you. If you can do that, you will have done all that’s necessary to function overseas. You will still encounter cultural incidents, though far fewer than someone who has not made this effort, but you will have earned the right to be offended…(Storti, p95)”

These are helpful last words for us to consider. They are encouraging inasmuch as they allow us to see that we can effectively cross cultures. We can understand and be understood. There are times when this may seem impossible and so far out of reach, but in addition to Storti’s comments, we also have the hope of Christ in us that spurs us on even more!

Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, A Review

April 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hiebert, Paul. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985. 315 pp. $22.99.

Introduction

Have you ever found yourself in a foreign world, and, in the same glance notice a high-rise building, a cow pasture, a McDonald’s restaurant and a man pulling an ox cart? Although this image may sound a bit strange, this is merely one snapshot of a myriad of situations with which expatriates are faced when encountering—and especially when living in—foreign lands. Paul Hiebert in his work Anthropological Insights for Missionaries seeks to open the eyes of new missionaries who are involved in ministry overseas. An anthropologist, Hiebert is also the son of missionaries and he and his wife served in India as missionaries themselves. Thus, his background allows an authorial view that is to much avail as the main subject matter of Hiebert’s work involves understanding other cultures and one’s own culture through the use of various tools of anthropology. For the average person who knows little about the discipline of anthropology1 Hiebert brings to light many key tools that anthropology offers while not getting bogged down in the semantics and theory of the discipline. Emphasis is placed on both the gospel and on anthropology; the wedding of these two creates a unique work that is eye-opening and provides the missionary with valuable resources for ministry.

Summary

The thesis of Hiebert’s work here is this: missionaries need both a solid understanding of the Scriptures and a deep knowledge of the people they serve in order to be most effective in their ministries. While Bible colleges, seminaries and personal study may prepare us in the scriptural sense, anthropology (especially cultural anthropology) helps equip us for the latter of these two necessary elements.

Thus, Hiebert utilizes his book Anthropological Insights for Missionaries as a platform for surveying many of the various aspects of missions and of being a missionary, focusing on how anthropology aids in each scenario. Hiebert’s overarching aspiration is to enable the missionary to understand himself while seeking to understand the target culture and how God and theology are thus worked out in such a culture that is not one’s own. The volume is very well written and does not seek to enlighten without practical points of application, which, by default is comforting and useful. He details what it is like to go overseas, including many of the experiences that accompany such a venture and looks at how cross-cultural ministry changes us. He also is careful to point out many helpful anthropological insights that allow us to better understand both ourselves and the people to whom we are ministering—while discussing specifically various realities involved in international missions and precautions to bear in mind when engaging in such ministry. Hiebert emphasizes the function of anthropology for missionaries; he does so very well, as many times the discipline of anthropology is viewed in stark opposition to anything that is as myopic as is Christianity. Anthropology is after all a discipline that does indeed have many eye-opening realities to offer in lieu of cross-cultural ministry; and what’s more, it helps us to evaluate our own personal cultures in light of a greater human paradigmatic framework. Hiebert sets forth many principles that have missiological implications and can accordingly be applied. First of all he sets out to explain the “messenger” (i.e. the missionary) and then discusses the “message” (i.e. the gospel). This he follows by looking at the effect that these two entities have on the hearers, considering how it would be expressed in real-life situations. He sets forth the following principle for the messenger: make no assumptions and understand your own limitations. Other principles set forth by Hiebert to be concurrently employed are the following: go to your host culture as a learner, contextualize the gospel message, and identify with your host culture and people as strongly as possible without ‘going native’.

In the section entitled “The Gospel in Culture”, Hiebert stresses the following principle: “All authentic communication of the gospel in missions should be patterned on biblical communication and seek to make the Good News understandable to people within their own cultures.” (55) The first portion of the book is entirely focused on the above assertion and the use of anthropology to understand and unearth both the implicit and explicit meanings and forms of the receiving culture in order to effectively do just what this quote urges: speak the Truth in a fashion that your hearers will receive it. The natural flow of events in sharing any information—for our purposes, the gospel—goes from communication to understanding to a response. We as missionaries are seeking a response; for this reason, we must couch the information to be communicated in culturally relative terminology.

After intense focus on the messenger and the message and various anthropological insights that aid us in our understanding of these elements, Hiebert focuses on issues such as our incarnational witness, contextualization, self-theologizing and other issues which we face as missionaries, getting into our ministry and church planting on the field. This segment of the book is very practical and thus very helpful. Directly related to this segment is discourse of the latter portion of the book, devoted to our role as missionaries and how we are to allow the church to truly be autonomous, and realize our place in the grand scheme of things.

Critical Evaluation

In this work, Paul Hiebert has set forth to open the eyes of new missionaries, equipping them with some key anthropological guides and methods in order to better minister cross-culturally. His firm belief is that anthropology is a discipline that has much to offer us as missionaries. His goal has been accomplished with unwavering merit. Hiebert first stated his purpose clearly and then supported this thesis with numerous examples and life experiences that give tangibility to his work; naturally, this concreteness makes the book one that can be used practically by the average person who may know much about theology but little about anthropology.

In purposing to equip new missionaries, Hiebert affirmed time and again what an invaluable source that anthropology is as we serve cross-culturally. This claim is the basis for his writing this book. Throughout, his work sets forth principles of anthropology, allowing the reader to see how these basic tenets might apply to both current and future ministry experiences. The evidence for his claims (as mentioned above) is seen by way of illustration and real life examples. The only way to see whether or not anthropological methods are effective is to put them to the test; Hiebert, along with many others of whom he gives example, have done just that. Thus, his support for his claim(s) comes by relating stories of various missionaries. These illustrations help his claim to take life for his readers.

Hiebert’s failure to deal with counter evidence on his main thesis and goal is self-explanatory: the assumption is that the reader is interested in how to utilize the discipline of anthropology and her insights to minister as a missionary. The title itself is indicative of this. One may say that this is no good reason for lacking antithetical views; however, in this case such an argument seems irrational as it is clearly accepted that an interdisciplinary networking is the best way to go about mission work. Historically, we see the mistakes that have been made based on a lack of cultural sensitivity, contextualizing of the gospel, and truly knowing your focus people group, among others. These are the mistakes we are striving to correct and avoid in the future through the use of disciplines such as anthropology.

The belief that effective cross-cultural ministry involves use of anthropological methods is one firmly held by Hiebert. As an anthropologist and a former missionary, Hiebert sees the benefits of anthropology for missions; however, he does not undermine the power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in ministry. In fact, in the concluding chapters of this book—after devoting more than three-hundred pages to articulating anthropological insights for missions—Hiebert makes it clear that he comes at this study from the perspective that God can and does work through us or despite us, no matter how contextualized or culturally appropriate our message. The bottom line is that the Trinitarian God works in the hearts and lives of people to bring amount ultimate change.

This book proves a very useful resource to those interested in any type of cross-cultural ministry—and especially missionary service overseas. Those with little knowledge about the field of anthropology might first read a short discourse on the discipline.2 This would help the reader to better understand Hiebert’s anthropological perspective and presuppositions. However, Hiebert’s work does stand alone; he elaborates as necessary on anthropological theory. Anyone involved in missions should pick up this book and invest a couple of days reading it and grappling with some of the issues that it presents; many are inevitable realities that each missionary will face in their overseas career.

Conclusion

Hiebert’s knowledge and experience in both missions and anthropology create a unique and helpful manuscript that is applicable to cross-cultural ministries—especially international missions. This work stretches me in thinking about my past experience in missions and in looking toward a future as cross-cultural laborers. Many times Hiebert’s work provokes more questions than it provides answers. This is good, however, as the positing of questions allows us the opportunity to grapple and deal with real life issues theoretically before we hit the ground running in our ministries abroad. As aforesaid all ministries must be conscious of many of the principles set forth in this work by Hiebert if they are to claim any effectiveness at all. In essence, we must be aware of the implications of colliding cultures, paradigm shifts, and the limited relativity of our theologies in order to prove successful in the aim of reaching the ends of the earth with the gospel message of the Bible. Paul Hiebert has worked very thoroughly—with years of experience and work both in anthropology and in Christian ministry overseas comprised in this volume—in his efforts to enable those of us called to missions to be effective ministers worldwide.

1 To guide our understanding, we will utilize a working definition of anthropology given by Stephen A. Grunlan and Marin K. Mayers in their work, Cultural Anthropology: “Anthropology is the study of man (humans). Anthropology is concerned with every aspect of human beings—their origin, their past, their present, and their future.” (Grunlan & Mayers, 34). To add, Hiebert is concerned here with the sub-discipline of cultural anthropology which looks at humans as they interact and live out their culture. This is the area of anthropology most helpful in assuming the missionary task.

2 A good beginning work might be S. Grunlan and M. Mayers. Cultural Anthropology. Grand Rapids,Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979.

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