This is the final blog on Short-term Opps Done Right. If you missed the first two blogs, click on the following links:
Humility is a curious trait. About the time you think you’ve mastered it, well, you obviously haven’t! C. S. Lewis said it best. “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” In a cross-cultural situation, this means consciously putting aside certain cultural aspects that we have conditioned ourselves to classify as needs.
I remember talking to a swimming instructor a few years back. I voiced my desire to drop a few pounds. “That extra fat around the waist is interesting stuff, he told me. Your body gets used to it and thinks it is part of you. It’s really hard to get rid of it.” That was encouraging! But his statement is true of so many other cultural aspects of our lives. We think we have to have privacy and personal space, but alas, that’s not really a need, that is a culturally conditioned extra. It’s fat. We can get rid of that need…but it’s tough.
Another hard-to-break habit is cultural ethnocentricity. In a nutshell, it means that you think that your country and culture is the best in the world. It’s a peculiar disease, and the whole world has it. Name a country, and the resident of that country will tell you that their country is the absolute best, most efficient, most laid back, best food, best people, best family dynamic, best climate…best you name it. People from the United States have elevated this universal prejudice to an art form. Although I do believe this is changing as more and more students experience life in other parts of the world, it nevertheless is still very prevalent. And like the first step in AA, recognition is the beginning of change. A fish doesn’t know what water is. The culture we swim in is invisible to us. When we experience a difference culture, we have a choice. Either we mentally take our culture with us, and try our best to maintain an artificial environment that will inevitably provoke constant evaluation and judgment, or we seek to swim in new waters, realizing that there is a learning curve involved in that.
A humble, teachable person realizes that the world is enormous, the church of Christ is phenomenally diverse, and that many rights and wrongs are culturally defined. Duane Elmer does a great job with this theme in his book Cross-Cultural Servanthood. That’s not relativism, that’s reality! Obviously clear Biblical truth is true in any culture. But that doesn’t mean that if people party till 3 a.m., or eat a meal at 9 p.m., or have different views of hygiene and health, the culture is wrong. Or if people don’t enthusiastically greet and say goodbye to one another, they are in sin (although it may seem that way to a Latin!). One of the biggest cures to legalism is cross-cultural living. Realize that the KJV doesn’t exist in any language but English. Experience the exuberance and sobriety of God-fearing Christians the world over. Go to Europe and drink wine or beer for many of their meals (without drinking too much).
Jesus puts his hand on our shoulder and says to us, “Get over yourself and your culture. Enjoy life, all of it, wherever you are. Every good and perfect gift the world over comes from me. Dive in and learn. Ask questions. Ask for seconds. Open the door to your house and the door to your life. It’s all mine anyway.”
Quote of the Day: In a new culture, faced with a multitude of differences, we are prone to judge from our cultural perspective. Too often we see negatively what God sees as difference. If it is merely different and not wrong, we should stay open and be accepting.
Duane Elmer. Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility (Kindle Locations 460-461).