It’s Not Wrong; It’s Just Different!
For most people, not feeling well simply results in a quick phone call to the doctor to setup an appointment at which time you show up and wait a few minutes before being taken back to be examined by the doctor. That’s not so here. Instead a person goes to the doctor’s office hoping you’re not too late and appointments are available. Regardless, you take a number and then wait until the receptionist calls it. When your number is called, you explain the issue to the receptionist, and if there is an available appointment you will be given another number for the appropriate doctor. Then you wait again for it to be called. This process is just for a normal appointment, but consider what must take place if you are sent out for tests or to a specialist. Then you have to repeat a similar process at each place and return to your original doctor with the results, and thus have to go through the process again. These are the types of situations that your missionaries face everyday when they are engaging with a different culture.
Basic aspects of daily life simply do not exist at the same level as they do in the United States; in fact every culture does things a bit different. With words we all express that each culture varies from one to another. However when it comes time to engage with those differences, either as full-time missionaries, short-term workers, or simply as visitors, we are quick to criticize and question. However, unless they are violating some Biblical principle, we must recognize that these other cultures are not wrong, they’re just different.
While missionaries go to the field with the expectations that there will be need for adaptation and adjustment for those differences, those on short-term trips or to visit the missionaries aren’t prepared for them. As a result they are usually the quickest to denounce supposed arcane practices. Therefore, when engaging with others from another culture I would urge the following cautions:
- Be slow to judge.
- Be slow to criticize
- Be slow to belittle
Consider your words and response to those differences. If you are constantly exasperated by the differences, that can be offensive to the locals and frustrating for the missionaries.
Instead you should do the following:
- Use Scripture as a guide (if they aren’t violating Scripture, don’t be so quick to condemn).
- Consider and respect the differences.
- Understand that there are usually reasons why this culture does what they do.
- When in doubt, ask questions (in a respectful manner).
Simple love of people for the sake of God’s glory and message to be displayed are powerful tools in these types of situations. For that reason we must be cautious in our critique of other cultures.
Perhaps the best thing you can do with these differences is not to criticize them, but utilize them! First, they are opportunities to create conversations with people. Genuine interest and conversation can lead to opportunities to establish relationships and talk about more serious things, such as the gospel. Second, use them as an opportunity to recognize the different circumstances that your missionaries face on a daily basis. Both of these will aide in the way you relate to and support others, including your missionaries.