I’ve never experienced a culture this way before.
Whenever I visit a new country, I want to get out and explore and see as much of it as possible. After all, I want to learn all I can about the place. Walk around and observe people, drive around and see the lay of the land.
But not much of that happened during my recent trip to the C.A.R. Out of an abundance of caution caused by recent rebel activity, I could count on one hand the number of times we ventured out of our secure (but un-air-conditioned) guest house compound. I only rode about 60 miles total in a car all week, a quarter of that just to and from the airport. And I only walked about a block to an artisan market once.
Here’s what my week looked like:
- A half day dedication ceremony for our new theological training facility (outdoor ceremony, coat & tie required). The Prime Minister of the country pinned a medal on me during this ceremony! Ok, that’s a completely accurate but misleading statement. I didn’t earn the medal, but I was asked to stand in proxy for a missionary who spent 40 years there but couldn’t make the ceremony.
- I preached (through a translator) to a congregation of about 2,000 people on Sunday morning.
- I successfully (I think – again through a translator) trained a Bayaka villager how to use a new water filter system.
- Three half-days were spent observing seminary classes (English/French translation). I shared a devotional with them one morning. They brought the students to us instead of us going to the seminary.
- One full day and three half days were spent in meetings with various national church and ministry leaders. (English/French translations again.)
That wouldn’t make a very good action movie unless you like watching sweat drip in humid, 90-100+ degree temperatures.
But sitting in meetings addressing real-life challenges was far more insightful than playing tourist. I sometimes teach about cultural differences – collectivist/individualist; monochronic/polychronic; high/low context; high/low power distance, honor/guilt/fear, etc. And I’ve been places that exhibited most of these characteristics before. But the difference here was more intense.
Part of the reason I felt the differences so acutely was that, in a culture where titles and social standings are extremely important, I was there as a Board Member representing the organization that gave birth to the largest Evangelical denomination in the country. The potential for social miscues to send wrong messages was high.
I come home with a deeper appreciation for three things:
- The challenges our Christian brothers and sisters face making disciples and planting churches while dealing with malaria, rebel threats, and poverty;
- Some wise and passionate leaders God has raised up to meet the challenges; and
- Our Encompass World Partners staff who navigate these and other cultural challenges around the world continually.
A big thank you to those of you who prayed and supported me through this ministry opportunity!