Another thing that hits me when I travel is how different culture is. We just took a trip to Texas and it is amazing how different life is there from California. I guess I assumed there were less differences than there are, and that is the point of this post.
There are many things that go into making culture the way it is. Geography is one. We went to Norway in 2002 and the impact of geography is amazing. Even the Norwegian language is fractured along rivers, lakes, mountains and fjords. Weather is another. People make few new acquaintances during the heat of a Texas summer, and in Norway some places are easier in the winter, others in the summer. The list goes on: types of available food, clothing, individual and collective history…
Of course every culture is different. I am sure none of this comes as a surprise to anyone. The important part is that you learn a lot about your surroundings and people by just being around them. However, almost everything you pick up is based off of assumptions. Sure, there is some verbal communication, maybe even in a language you understand. However, consciously or unconsciously, you fill in all the gaps with assumptions.
When meeting new people this is very helpful. You can learn a lot about them without having to ask every little detail. You fill in the gaps. We grow up learning this ability and use it a lot. Think about driving down the road. You come across a car, you take into account its make, model, age, cleanliness, and any stickers it might have. In your mind you might already have a picture of what the driver looks like, and I bet you are often very close.
There is a problem with this when you go outside of your culture, you keep making those assumptions. And they are all wrong. Like a child, you have to relearn everything you think you already know.
Why is this important? Because when we talk about God and His plan it needs to be translated. Not just in language, but in culture. Just as Hebrew and Greek need to be translated, so does the culture. Just as we cannot water down or adulterate the language we also must translate it culturally in a way that is not changing the meaning.
This means that to be effective in ministry, one needs to understand the culture. Wherever that might be, be it Texas, or Kenya.