In the Context of Cultural Differences

Photo by  Benny Jackson  on  Unsplash

“One of the greatest challenges here is to realize our own limitations as we look around at a people who appear so “backward” in comparison to our developed, enlightened selves. We’re realizing how difficult it is to bring the Word of God without packaging it into our own cultural context of what it means to be a Christian...He created cultures and ways of thinking that are different than mine, and that white, Western people often times don’t even have the right questions to ask, much less the answers! It will sure be the revelation from the Word of God and not us that exposes any cultural practices that are not pleasing to the Lord. The Holy Spirit alone knows where to shed the light.”

Judy Curtis wrote this in light of a discussion she had with her Kenyan gardener regarding the process of Kenyan weddings and how to her, and myself, they just don’t make sense. I haven’t been in the international mission field very long, nor have I conversed with many who have. However, I think modern (international) missionaries are slowly moving away from the dispositions their predecessors had upon entering a foreign land. Nowadays, I think more consideration is given to the idea of cultural sensitivity when it comes to Western missionaries in the field; In addition to making disciples of Christ, evangelical missionary work is no longer trying to also make disciples of Western culture.

I’d like to think Rheanna and I came to Kenya with a sort of humility, knowing we are welcomed visitors. I also think we tend to do a pretty good job informing our teams and leaders that we are actually teaching biblical principles that come from a kingdom culture, not Western, and that any taboo cultural practices may, in fact, be unbiblical. However, after reading this excerpt from Out of It in Africa, I was a little convicted.

Am I really teaching biblical principles, or am I actually wrapping up what I’ve read in the Bible within my own personal, Western context? Is my [Western] understanding of scripture really more “accurate” than of those to whom I’m teaching?

It’s easy to think that because the Western world is so developed and “successful” we do everything right, even walking out our faith. But as we’ve seen in the recent political climate in the States, that’s haughty, dangerous ground to be treading. I think having these questions in mind as we prepare and conduct trainings opens the door for just a little more humility and grace - for myself and towards others. Knowing I don’t have all the answers, let alone the right questions, really keeps things in perspective. This all takes quite a bit of humility and thus leads us to trust the Lord to complete the work for us; we’re just doing the best we can and expecting the Holy Spirit to take over. After all, isn’t that the point of planting seeds?

I know there will be times where I may screw up and essentially misspeak for God (as if He needs me to speak on His behalf), but I am trusting the Truth of His Word to humble my heart and open the hearts of all we are reaching in East Africa. If we really are quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19), especially while living in a foreign land, we begin to find that God is doing something more in us than anything we could possibly do for others.