I used to think that culture simply described a country’s food, clothes, and music. It seemed to be relegated to a little “Cultural Note” box in the corner of a Spanish textbook or an authentic meal at an authentic restaurant.
What a narrow-minded way to think!
Because of the world of books and worldwide travel, I’m finally beginning to realize how “American” I am and how that affects everything about my life - not just my food, clothes, and music.
Culture is so much more than that! It affects how a person thinks, makes decisions, and tells a story. It determines how they understand acts of service and friendship. It drastically affects what things offend a person and how to apologize or forgive. When we’re overseas, we will not only be learning the culture of the community we live in, but we will also (most likely) be working with other missionaries from other countries... who come with their own set of cultural norms and communication methods. Plus, we'll be working intimately with the national translators and working to put Scripture in their heart language - and culture. With such a blended group of people all working toward the Kingdom together, it is vital that we’re able to communicate over cultures. It will be vital that we arrive as learners and ask a lot of questions!
I’d love to recommend a few books and share a few things that I’ve learned about culture. Perhaps it will fascinate you as much as it does me - and cause you to understand that blessings and pitfalls of being immersed in American culture.
I absolutely loved this book. It was written specifically for cross-cultural ministry workers, but I have recommended it to so many friends. It has been so helpful in teaching me how to think. It provides a framework to separate convictions into categories of Biblical mandates, personal preferences, and cultural standards. Thinking about my opinions in those ways helps me to see things from another person’s perspective, and it helps me to know when I can relax my convictions and when I need to follow them. Since none of our consciences perfectly align with God’s, we must always be willing to let Him adjust them. But, we must also always be mindful of our God-given consciences.
This book was required reading for one of our trainings last summer, and it’s one that Jack and I have talked about many times since then. To sum it up, every culture values humility and servanthood, but every culture communicates that differently. It’s so important to learn how to communicate those things in the unique culture we live in. Otherwise, we will be hurting more than we’re loving - and we’ll be grossly misunderstood! There are really interesting stories in this book to describe really practical ways that missionaries messed up culturally. And in every situation, I thought to myself, “That’s exactly what I would have done!” That book jump-started my journey to learning how to ask the right questions so that I know how to love and serve well overseas.
This book is exactly what it sounds like - a fascinating look at how parents raise children differently all over the world. It was written by someone who has spent time with her young family all over the globe and seems to notice everything. Each chapter is about one topic: food, potty training, strollers, sibling rivalry, sleep... and each chapter compiles stories from all over the world. I think it’s super valuable to see that the way we raise kids isn’t the only way to raise kids. It brings a sense of relief when I find myself not parenting exactly like the people around me, and it helps me to know what questions to ask and what to notice when we’re overseas! But, reader be warned, it’s wasn’t written by a Christian author and that comes up more than you might think. Still worth a read, though!
I'm throwing this one on the list just for fun... this one was especially fun for me to read since we’ll be living in France soon! And, we’ll be in the thick of raising children in French culture at the French schools. The way that she describes how the French teach their children to savor food, sleep through the night, and respect adults is really interesting. And, she has some unique insights into American culture. After reading this book, I’m really looking forward to some croissants and cheese...
“What’s going on now?”
“Have passports arrived yet?”
“Will France let you in?”
Those are all really good questions that we answer (to the best of our knowledge) on a daily basis! Unfortunately, we don’t always have the answers.
We’re still waiting for our passports, but our almost daily calls to the office have revealed that our passports are... in process. We expectantly await them any day!
As soon as they arrive, we can schedule our appointment for our visas. Our stack of required documents is growing to take with us to the appointment, and we’re crossing things off our list!
France went into another month-long lockdown at the end of October, but schools remain open as essential. So, we’re still moving forward! We’re ready and willing to do all that it takes to get there - COVID tests, quarantine, doctors notes, the whole deal. We’ve been in frequent communication with our language school in France to finish up final details for our arrival, and they’re being so helpful! They will continue to be a huge help as we get our kids enrolled in French schools and move into our apartment.
So, in the meantime, we’re beginning to think about packing and we’re talking a lot. I’ve loved spending time with our kids - answering their questions and hearing their hearts. We love being able to spend time with family and our church. We’re so thankful for you all!
Please continue to pray for doors to open, passports to arrive, and wisdom in the last minute details!