Lynne’s unreached people group, hidden away in Asia, needed to know about the love of God. She had learnt the language, but how would she explain the fatherhood of God in a matriarchal society?
Ben had seen several men come to believe in Jesus Christ in an African village where he had been evangelizing. But now he was wondering whether these polygamists should each divorce all their wives except one?
I once went to troubleshoot in a village where the local Christians had refused to attend pagan weddings and funerals because of all the heathen rituals associated with them. Why couldn’t attending these local rites be seen as a matter of reverence and not worship?
The greeting in S/E Asia with palms pressed together in a prayer like gesture signifies, “The divine in me greets the divine in you”. What does it actually mean for them? How could that be a door of opportunity for the gospel, in that all humans are made in the image of God?
Learning the language and culture to share the gospel is important as worldviews and beliefs are hidden in greetings, idioms and stories.
Paul Hiebert describes culture as “the more or less integrated systems of ideas, feelings and values and their associated patterns of behaviour and products shared by a group of people who organize and regulate what they think, feel and do”.
In Thailand, when our first child was born, a friendly neighbour came over with a lovely smile and said, “What an ugly baby you have”. We later learnt that mothers there believe that their newborn baby is a spirit for the first three days, and they call the baby ugly names in case a spirit finds it attractive and takes the baby away.
Latin Americans will vent their emotion in loud and eloquent manner. So for Colombian men showing public anger is acceptable. However, in an Eastern worldview one is considered immature if he displays such public emotion, because it disrupts the harmony of the whole, of which we are each a part.
It is more appropriate in Asian culture to tell a lie than to offend someone. However in European cultures, the greater sin is to tell a lie rather than hurt someone’s feelings. Is this because a culture with a Christian base has a God who has created us and will hold us accountable? Even our Australian cultural values of a fair go, of cutting down tall poppies, and of distrust of the church, offer some perspectives we need to understand before trying to share the gospel effectively.
Our ethnic minorities here provide a wide open door for us to engage in cross-cultural mission. I greatly enjoyed running an Alpha course amongst the Thai. To share a familiar meal and to be able to discuss things together with fellow Thais provided an effective context for understanding the gospel.
Does the gospel change cultures and the social structures of the people group with which it engages? Come and study at Worldview or do some cultural orientation with us before going on a Short Term Overseas Mission Program (STOMP).