Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Cultural Barriers on the Mission Field

Written by E. Everts
We know that the members of our Free Reformed Churches have much love for the mission work in Cubulco and that there is a lot of prayer for the daughter church in Cubulco. We are glad about that, and to come to the point, we also are very much in need of your support. In this article I would like to tell you something about cultural barriers we meet in our work. When we made our preparations to go to Guatemala we also received instruction about cultural issues. It is necessary to have that preparation, but there is a lot you cannot learn beforehand and you have to learn by trial and error. In the meantime, it is important to take care that the errors cause as little harm as possible.
This is an example. A brother wants to have a special service in his house. This happens a lot, and it is a great opportunity to spread the Word of God, because usually there are a lot of guests, also from outside the church. So, if someone asks for such a service, we always try to fill the request and arrange that some of the brothers will be there to conduct the service and to preach (Nico or I, or one of the obreros).

Often the brother or sister that invites us asks: ÒBrother, will you come too?Ó What will you say, when it is clear that you have another appointment for that time? Will you perhaps say something like, ÒExcuse me, I cannot be there, because I have to be somewhere else?Ó After a while you find out that this is not the customary way the people of Cubulco respond. They will say, ÒI will try to be there,Ó and when the time comes, they will NOT be there. When you ask them for the reason, they will say, ÒIt was not possible for me to come, because I had a pressing need to be somewhere else.Ó When this happens, we tend to feel irritated. We think, ÒYou knew beforehand that you could not come; why did you not honestly tell us?Ó But it seem that for them there is another aspect. If you say bluntly, ÒI will not be able to come,Ó it indicates to them that you have not much interest for that person and an event that is important to him. So it is better to keep open the option of changing your schedule.

This example makes clear that you little by little have to learn how to act with the people in certain situations. It is true that this is a challenge for a pastor anywhere, but the cultural difference gives another dimension to this challenge.

When we do have such a special service it can happen that there is not the interest that we had expected. There may be children noisily playing. Perhaps the hostess leaves for the kitchen when the message begins. Then the question arises, ÒIs there so little interest for the Word of God?Ó But we may be totally wrong. In the first place, we cannot measure with our own measure. We, who have been brought up in the church, have learned to pay attention to GodÕs Word since early childhood, or at least pretended to pay attention. But the Achi do not have that tradition. It is possible that the reason for such inattention is because they hardly even understand anything of the message because it is in Spanish, and they do not understand this language.

Many of the things we do in the world, and also in our churches, are shaped by customs. It is understandable that in the practice of church life in Cubulco we very often encounter the influence of the customs that have determined peopleÕs lives for centuries. When a person begins to believe in Jesus Christ and enters His church, he brings all his customs with him or her. It is a learning process for the new convert to understand that a lot of his or her customs are not according to the Word of God and that in the church standards are not always the same as in public life.

Here is an example. In village ÒAÓ the message of the Gospel was preached and there was good response. Some families gave their life to Christ and were baptized. Afterwards they always congregate in the house of one of the families and they invite others, and so the work of God grows.

More and more the need for a church building is felt. One of the brothers has a piece of land that he places at the disposal of the church. By their own efforts and with some outside help they succeed in constructing a nice building. From that moment they hold their services in the church.

After a while some troubles arise in the church. That is not unusual, because there is no church on earth that is ever without friction. But it seems that the problem causes a division within the church. It is a division between the members that have constructed the church building and some families that became part of the church afterwards. The first group does not want to fully accept the opinion of the second group, because they had not given their efforts in the construction of the building. After that, another problem arose. The brother that donated the land for the church building feels bad about this decision because some of the church members do not always agree with his opinion.

In this example we see different levels of the same non-biblical way of thinking. The reason is to be found in the custom of the community. For example, if there is a project to provide drinking water for a community, everyone has to join in the work. Anyone who does not join in the work has no right to benefit from the project. This way of thinking easily enters into the church. The reasoning goes like this: I helped to build our church, so I have more rights than the others who came afterwards. And if the chapel was built on my ground, I also have some rights.

It is clear that in the church of Christ it may not be this way. We live by the grace of God. What we do for the church is not in order to obtain privileges or to get rights, but we do it for the love of God.

Who is there who fully understands the Gospel with all its implications? Spiritual and continuing teaching, with attention to the cultural context is needed to build up the congregation and to increase the maturity all its members.

I have mentioned only some examples of the cultural barriers we meet in our work on the mission field. It is clear that it is possible to mention many more situations. Marriage and family life are full of customs. Traditions have a tremendous influence on how people deal with birth and death, health and sickness.

The examples show that the customs in Cubulco are often very different from ours. Therefore, we have to realize that our task is not to implement our customs and traditions in Guatemala. We always have to ask the question: what does God say in His Word about this? This always confronts us with our own views too. Why do we act as we do? We not only have to teach, but we too, still have to learn a lot. Therefore we are in need of the LordÕs constant help, to be honest, to understand His Word and to be able to apply it in the context of Guatemala. Pray that He will give us firmness and patience to introduce true biblical values in every situation in order that the people of Guatemala will more and more learn think and act biblically.

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