Cultural Obstacles to the Gospel in a Hindu Context

June 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

In addition to the stumbling blocks identified by Pani, I would offer three other obstacles to the gospel. The first obstacle is determining proper contextualization of “cultural” elements by identifying bridges and barriers to the gospel. The second obstacle is realizing our own ethnocentrism to identify personal and cultural idols. The third obstacle would be using the understanding of contextualization and ethnocentrism to shift focus to empower and enable the indigenous church.

Culture is similar to religion in that it is so varied and vague that it has become no longer useful. I would offer that it’s time we define “cultural” elements as social organization, customs and traditions, language, arts and literature, religion, forms of government, and economic systems and ask missionaries and academics to attempt to use these elements to make their arguments and offer solutions wherever possible. Ethnocentrism is judging other cultures by the standards of your own while assuming your own culture to be the best. Until we understand the implicit beliefs that we have acquired through our own development psychology and how the gospel can help us to identify and work through them then the cultural bias of ethnocentrism will be a major obstacle.

In order for the indigenous church to be empowered we will have to continue to seek transformation in moving from a short-term to a long-term view. As missionaries we will have to move from placing the primary focus on results to developing relationships with great depth and intimacy. In situations of great uncertainty and ambiguity it is a natural tendency to rely on preconceived and idealistic notions , and past experiences or the experiences of others, but sensemaking requires a great deal of cultural research and reliance upon God’s will in order to discern his mission, in this case for the Hindu.

Training, research, prayer and sharing best practices can help us to deal with the obstacles before us so that the gospel might be preached effectively in a Hindu context.

D. D. Pani, “Fatal Hindu Gospel Stumbling Blocks” (IJFM, Spring 2001)

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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!

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