We were standing around a pile on the ground of cement mix, rocks and sand. About 12 of us. Half of us from the U.S. The other half guys from this village high in the mountains of Guatemala.
Some of the local guys had just poured some water on the pile of mix in what looked like to me a strategic way. Then they stood back. Leaned on their shovels and talked. The pools of water slowly soaked into the pile. They seemed to not care.
All of us Americans began looking at each other. What are they waiting on? We are only here for a few days and we have a lot of work to do!
One of our young 20 something guys couldn’t take it any longer. He jumped at the pile with his shovel and began mixing the water into the pile as fast as he could. Another of our group joined him. They had the look of satisfaction on their faces. Now the job was getting done!
But, the water began running off, away from the pile. They couldn’t work fast enough to prevent it from happening. The local guys smiled and laughed at our foolishness. They knew if we just waited, the water would soak in making a thick, wet mixture. Now they had to begin over.
Besides this approach gave them the opportunity to do what was more important to them than getting the job done—just being together.
I wondered what those guys thought about us impatient Americans. Maybe they only thought we didn’t know much about mixing cement on the ground. They were right.
But this scene revealed something else. Our differing views of tasks, time, and relationships.
To us, we had to complete the job before we left later that week. If we didn’t, we had wasted our time and money.
I am not so sure they felt the same way. If the job didn’t get done that week, they would finish it soon enough.
Understanding cultural differences is vital to the success of any kind of mission work.
If you are working with different cultures, either here or abroad, in mission work or a secular occupation, it will benefit you to learn how we view life differently.
- How do Americans see themselves compared to other cultures?
- How do Americans see their relationships with others?
- How do Americans see the world? (adapted from “Bring Home the World” by Steven Rinesmith)
How you see the world affects your mission work
I have been a part of multiple mission teams over the past decade or so as a team member, leader, an in-country facilitator and mentor.
How well a team grasps this affects their work, every time.
Here are a few ways your view of the world might affect your mission work:
Really it is about mutual respect. Just because a person from a different part of the world has a different way of viewing tasks or relationships that doesn’t make them wrong and me right.
When we barge into a cross-cultural relationship with the mindset that our way of getting a task is done is the right way, we show little respect or value for the other person’s view.
A way to build trust quickly is by showing respect for the way the other person sees the world. Not only showing respect for it, but possibly employing it. This is especially true if you are in their context.
Creating an ability to hear
Ultimately, we want those we serve to hear the Good News. Too often our differing ways of seeing the world prevents them from ever hearing that story.
This is true more than ever right here in our own country.
People from all over the world move here for school, work or permanently. Also, our own culture is more diverse than a couple of decades ago.
One of the challenges within mission work over the past century has been an autocratic approach. Meaning that I will impose my worldview on you.
Bottom line is that if a person is going to receive the story of Jesus Christ as his or her own, it will help if I respect their way of seeing things, build trust and allow them to hear the story in a context that makes sense to them.
How else does our way of viewing the world affect our mission work?