When I saw my friend just leaving her toddler in the yard to go to the shop to buy food, I was shocked. ‘How can she do that? That is bad parenting!’, I thought to myself. ‘What if he falls into the cooking fire on the ground? What if he chokes on something?’ In my culture no mother would ever do something like that! So it must be bad, right? I soon realised that my judgement was wrong.
My husband and I were missionaries amongst the Iso, a Muslim people group on the east coast of Africa. We were busy learning the language and building relationships when I visited my new friend and saw her leaving her toddler ‘to fend for himself’. I soon understood her behaviour, though: the Iso is a close-knit community, and they live together in extended families; they are also group orientated. Babies and toddlers in the extended family are the family’s children, not just an individual’s child, and so it is the responsibility of the whole family to look after these children. When a mother has to go out to buy food or take someone to the clinic, there is always another family member who will keep an eye on a small child. Their collectivist worldview is very different from my individualist worldview! And it works well for them.
We often make assumptions from our own context and belief system and project it onto others, and in the process we tend to judge them, just like I did. When I realised how their values and worldview determined their behaviour, I was ashamed of that I had thought they were such bad parents. From then on I always tried to tell myself "It is not wrong, just different", thereby deferring judgement of their actions until I really understood what was going on, and what their reasons were for doing things the way they did.
An overview of missions
The field of missions is huge, and many cross-cultural issues such as I've described above are not immediately obvious. The scary thing is that you do not know what it is that you do not know! Having some missionary training that presents an overview of the world of missions gives one an appreciation of the complexities of missions, as well as a firm footing to stand on when starting out in mission. It is easier to gain insights into situations like the one I described above once you understand more about how culture and worldview shape the behaviour of people.
When I flew in an aeroplane for the first time and I saw my city from high above, I was amazed at how big it really was. I saw the lay-out of the streets and I could see that there was a quicker way to the town centre than the one I used to take. I saw the beautiful mountains that surrounded the city, and I was surprised to see how many trees there were. I saw a very different perspective of my city than what I had from walking in the streets. An overview of missions will do that to your perspective on cross-cultural ministry too.
The "Discovering Missions" series
Our in-depth overview of the world of missions is called the "Discovering Missions" series. It consists of The Bible and Missions, Missions 101, and Roles in Missions. Together, these will help you identify gaps you might have in your knowledge and understanding of cross-cultural ministry.
Have a look at the ‘Discovering Missions’ series. Like all the courses at Didasko Academy, they are free of charge.