The apostle Paul worked hard to relate to a wide variety of people. Have a read of this from his letter to the church at Corinth in the first century:
1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose–living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized––whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ––but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God–saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it. Message Bible
As followers of Christ, we are to the same. This means learning to relate to people of different personalities, background, educational level, religious belief, age, gender and race. When it comes to race and nationality, we now live in a truly 'global village'. Yet people living in different localities still have their unique manners and customs.
Over the last month, for the purpose of both holidays and ministry, I have had the privilege of travelling to Russia (St Petersburg and Moscow), Sweden (Uppsala), Poland, Ethiopia (Addis Ababa) and United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi). What a whirlwind it has been yet what an enjoyable experience visiting different places and meeting different people.
Cultural differences include (noted by David Livermore):
- Individualistic versus Collectivist.
- Low verses High Power Distance.
- Cooperative verses Competitive.
- Punctuality verses Relationships.
- Direct verses Indirect.
- Being verses Doing.
- Particularist verses Universalist.
- Neutral verses Affective.
- Tight verses Loose.
These differences can be seen across a wide range of cultures, including Anglo, Germanic, Easter European, Asian (with many differences between regions), Latin American, African, and Arab … just to name a few.
A simple example is my recent experience with Indigenous Australians. When two men from Western descent greet each other, after exchanging names, their next question is always something like, "So what do you do?" We derive our primary identity from our work – our doing. In contrast, when two indigenous men meet, after exchanging names, their next question is more likely to be "Who's your mob?" In other words, tell me about your family. In their culture, your family and tribe are the source of your identity – your being. What a difference this makes in how people from these two different go about their daily lives!
Not everyone will travel, like I have had the opportunity to do, but people from different cultures are everywhere around us – in our neighbourhoods, our schools, our workplaces and our churches. Everyone of us should seek to understand people who are different, so we can better love and appreciate them, do life together with them with appreciation, and share the love of Jesus with them in meaningful ways.
Every time I travel to a new place, I do a few things to prepare myself:
1. Read as much as I can about the history, demographics, and local culture. Wikipedia as well as various travel guides are a good source of up-to-date information.
2. Learn about the people – their values, language, interests, education and well-being.
3. Study various maps to understand the geographical area and it proximity to other places.
4. Read about the state of Christian faith in a particular area, as well as the other local religious beliefs. Operation World is an excellent resource for this.
I am always enriched the more I know and understand about the people I am visiting and connecting with.
Here's some recommended further reading for those who are interested in learning more:
- Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multi-Cultural World by David Livermore.
- Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence by David Livermore.
- Handbook of Cultural Intelligence by Soon Ang and Linn Can Dyne.
- The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as they Do by Cloture Rapaille.
- Travel Tips.