Mission Briefing: Culture Shock

By Howard Culbertson

People often think the feelings arising in encounters with strange foods or customs constitute “culture shock.” In reality, those brief moments of discomfort are not what anthropologists mean by culture shock.

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Anthropologists and psychologists use “culture shock” to describe the confusion, doubt and nervousness common to people who have recently begun living cross-culturally and who are also experiencing one or more of the following:

  • Exaggerated homesickness
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Loss of sense of humor
  • Avoiding contact with local people by spending hours on email, the Internet and social media
  • Suffering psychosomatic illnesses
  • Frequent feelings of boredom or apathy
  • Inexplicable bouts of weeping
  • Eating compulsively
  • Diminished ability to work effectively
  • High level of irritability
  • Hostility towards people of host culture
  • Jingoism or super patriotism
  • Stereotyping of people of host culture
  • Exaggerated attention to cleanliness

Real culture shock is thus more deep-seated than the momentary discomfort felt when confronting strange things to eat or unfamiliar social norms. What anthropologists call culture shock grows out of a long period of coping with unfamiliar ways of doing, organizing, perceiving and valuing things. Indeed, because people experience culture shock symptoms over a period of time rather than in one isolated event, some anthropologists say “cycle of adjustment” rather than “culture shock.”

Culture shock symptoms appear quite prominent in some people and less so in others. Nonetheless, the cycle of adjustment (or culture shock) –– honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance –– is inevitable.  Though culture shock is not a medical condition, the psychological disorientation, the withdrawal and excessive sleeping can be compared to organisms going into physical shock after a trauma.

Culture shock symptoms may come and go over a period of time. Describing her experiences in Senegal, missionary Linda Louw said, “I thought culture shock was something that you got through and it was done, but it just keeps coming.”

The sense of unease and heightened irritability common in the frustration stage can be triggered by small things. The adjustment stage usually does not kick in until a person has become familiar with and increasingly comfortable in a new culture.

Fortunately, the effects of culture shock can be somewhat mitigated. Here are half a dozen coping suggestions:

  • Realize what is happening to you and why.
  • Remind yourself that this happens to every expatriate to one degree or another and that people do regularly survive it.
  • Refuse to succumb to the desire to withdraw from people. Choose instead to engage with those of your host culture.
  • Get involved in a hobby that involves in some way the place where you serve.
  • Be bold about reaching out to people in your host culture to build a support network of confidants, including enlisting individuals to help in improving your language and cultural acquisition.
  • Consciously cultivate your curiosity about the wildlife, geography, plant life, history, literature, foods, social norms, folk tales, children’s stories, proverbs, legends and fables of the place where you serve.

This article was originally published at: Engage Magazine

 

Mission Briefing: 10/40 Window

By Howard Culbertson

About 30 years ago, missiologist Luis Bush coined the phrase “10/40 Window.” He did that to focus attention on a specific area of the world where millions of people have little or no access to the Gospel.

Bush asked believers to draw an imaginary rectangle on the globe, from 10 degrees north of the equator up to 40 degrees north of the equator, and stretching from western most Africa to just east of Japan. Pointing to that imaginary oblong “window,” Bush pleaded with the Church to mobilize prayer, people and resources to evangelize and disciple people in all of the unreached and least-reached people groups in the northern half of Africa, the Middle East, and the areas once ruled by the ancient Babylonian and Persian empires as well as much of Asia including India and China.

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The statistics from that 10/40 Window can be staggering. Two-thirds of all people on earth live in that rectangular area. Almost all of the world’s 55 least-evangelized countries are in the 10/40 Window. Half of the world’s least-evangelized large cities are in the 10/40 Window. The majority of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs live in the 10/40 Window.

Sadly, the 10/40 Window is also home to 8 out of 10 of the poorest of the earth’s poor.

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Many areas in the 10/40 Window are places that Nazarene Global Mission Director Verne Ward describes as “where the Church is not yet.” With just 10 percent of the current global Christian missionary force deployed there, that situation is not changing very rapidly. Unfortunately, almost 9 out of 10 of the people living in the 10/40 Window today remain outside the reach of current evangelistic efforts.

In several 10/40 Window countries, Christians suffer physical persecution and even death for their faith. Due to anti-Christian hostility and stringent government restrictions, many missionaries in the 10/40 Window have become creative in how they evangelize and disciple people. Many of the countries will not give visas to religious workers.  So they have been labeled Creative Access areas. For these and other reasons, Patrick Johnstone, of Operation World, has called this area the “resistant belt.”

Drawing attention to the evangelistic task yet to be done, the visually dramatic 10/40 Window concept has inspired many to offer themselves for missionary service in some of the world’s most difficult and challenging places.

Clearly, the countries of the 10/40 Window are not the only places that need missionaries. So, this is not a call to remove missionaries from other areas of the world and send them all to the 10/40 Window. The 10/40 Window countries are not the only ones in the world with sinners needing missionaries to cross cultural and language barriers to tell them about God’s redeeming grace. However, the 10/40 Window does contain huge blocs of people who, by any definition, are today unreached and unevangelized.

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We must pray that God will call more and more laborers into the countries in the 10/40 Window harvest field!

This article was originally published at: Engage Magazine

 

Mission Briefing: Be a Sender

By Howard Culbertson

Not infrequently, people think the only way they can participate in to-the-ends-of-the-earth evangelism is by flying to another country. They are wrong. “Going” is just one avenue of world mission involvement. Indeed, those who leave home to become career missionaries need a cadre of consecrated and zealous supporters back home.

A few years ago, Steven Hawthorne wrote a chapter in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement about those who support the “Go-ers” (as he called missionaries)Hawthorne, who grew up in a Nazarene parsonage, titled his chapter simply, “Senders.” He noted that the Apostle Paul may have been thinking of human Senders as well as God when he rhetorically asked: “How can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15).

The Apostle John was certainly clear in his encouragement to people to become Senders for missionaries.The Amplified Bible renders verse 7 and part of verse 8 in III John as: “For these [traveling missionaries] went out for the sake of the Name [of Christ]. So we ought to support such people.”

How do Senders support and take care of missionaries? Well, the III John passage seems to refer to material support. The same is true of Paul’s words to the Romans about a planned trip to Spain (Romans 15:22-24). To be sure, money – lots of it – is needed in world evangelism. However, Senders can and must do more than give money. As one example, in almost every one of Paul’s letters, he requested prayer for his ministry from his Senders.

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R.A. Torrey, the founding head of Moody Bible Institute, believed that. Torrey once wrote: “The man or woman at home who prays often has as much to do with the effectiveness of the missionary on the field, and consequently with the results of his or her labors, as the missionary.”        

In addition to money and prayer, Senders contribute to Great Commission fulfillment in ways ranging from keeping missions bulletin boards updated to locating and shipping needed equipment and supplies. Indeed, a variety of gifts and talents can be used to facilitate the work of missionaries serving far away.

Here are half a dozen areas in which Senders can support missionaries:

— Emotional support (giving encouragement via emails, cards, Skype conversations, showing up at deputation services and more).

— Mobilization (raising global missions awareness in one’s own local church or district).

— Financial support (giving and encouraging others to give).

— Intercessory prayer for world evangelism (praying and calling others to prayer).

— Logistics help (providing house and transportation for missionaries on home assignment, making arrangements for shipping things, ironing out details for events and more).

— Re-entry assistance (being a “safe” listener, helping returned missionaries find their way around, and more).

Senders have been known to be so passionate about supporting missionaries that they adjust their lifestyles to pray more, serve more and give more.

Be a Sender. Impact the “ends of the Earth” from your own doorstep.

This article was originally posted at: Engage Magazine

 

Mission Briefing: Contextualization

By Howard Culbertson

When believers from one culture introduce the “unchanging gospel” to people of another culture, how do they keep the Good News from being dismissed as a foreign import? The short answer is one word: Contextualization.

When Christianity moves from one culture to another, there is danger that it will be thought of as belonging in the first culture, but very much out of place in the second one. The chances of that happening can be lessened if the Gospel will be proclaimed and lived out in culturally understandable ways. That process of meaningfully connecting biblical revelation to a specific culture is called “contextualization.”

Missiologist Darrell Whiteman said it this way: “Contextualization attempts to communicate the Gospel in word and deed and to establish the church in ways that make sense to people within their local cultural context.”

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Having the gospel “make sense” to people of a culture does not, of course, mean everyone will rush to embrace it. People must decide if they are willing to make the changes necessary for Jesus to be their Savior and Lord. That does not mean, of course, that people must abandon their ethnic or cultural identify to follow Jesus. Authentic contextualization is based on the premise that when people allow Christ’s transforming power into their lives, they will be even better Nicaraguans or Japanese or Bulgarians or Navajos than they were before.

Contextualization does not mean robbing the Gospel of its essence or “watering it down” to make it more palatable. On the contrary, good contextualization renders expressions of the “unchanging Gospel” more faithful to Scripture than they would otherwise be. Holy-Sprit-led contextualization allows Scripture to be as powerful and transformative in each cultural context as it can possibly be.

Proper contextualization moves gospel proclamation past a sense of foreignness to allow each people group to hear God say: “This is my design for you.” Contextualization allows people of a culture to see that Yahweh, Creator of the universe who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, loves them and wants a relationship with them.

In tangible terms, contextualization involves the wording of theological expressions as well as things like sermon illustrations, music styles, artwork, decision-making, lifestyle choices, church programs and schedules, modes of preaching and teaching, the process of discipleship, evangelistic outreach, leadership selection and even architecture.

It must be clear says missions professor Zane Pratt, that the ultimate purpose of contextualization “is not comfort, but clarity.” Thus, authentic contextualization does not involve the softening or white-washing of Jesus’ radical commands. Indeed, contextualization enables the Gospel to be offensive to each culture for exactly the right reasons. Whiteman has said that good contextualization makes sure that the Gospel “engages people at the level of their deepest needs.”

Authentic contextualization must travel on two rails. One rail is an unwavering faithfulness to Scripture. The other rail is that of communicating and living out the Word of the Lord in ways that are familiar to people in a particular cultural context.

This article was originally posted at: Engage Magazine

Heart of God: Parable of the Mustard Seed

By Howard Culbertson

Though [a mustard seed] is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” — Matthew 13:32

Matthew 13 contains over half a dozen of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom.  Jesus opens with the parable of the sower.  Then, He talks about an infestation of weeds, a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a valuable pearl, a fishing net and a homeowner.

To explain the mustard seed parable, Pastor Leo Hartshorn uses only eight words: “A handful of disciples become a worldwide church.”  That the Kingdom of God is going to be large is without question a central point of the mustard seed analogy. There is, however, one detail in it which gets little attention: the birds.

The transformation of a mustard seed into a giant bush emphasizes the Kingdom’s organic, continually expanding aspect. What those birds emphasize is that the Kingdom is open to all. Unfortunately, if people think about the birds at all, they see them as “window dressing” or as simply an indication of how big the bush is.

Sadly, that misses the point of the birds. Here, as in a similar scenario in Ezekiel 17, birds represent various people groups. Jesus mentioned birds to say that the Kingdom is not just for “my kind” of people (those who think, act and speak just like me).  The Kingdom is for all kinds of birds!

Bird watchers say that the land of Israel is a paradise for them.  Indeed, it is. In that fairly small area — 70 miles wide and 270 miles long — more than 400 species of birds have been sighted.  That is because the area where Jesus lived and ministered is a main bird migration route to and from Europe and Asia to the north and Africa to the south.

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In light of that, the “birds of the air” (in King James and English Standard version wording) surely means more than a few sparrows or starlings. Palestine had 70 indigenous bird species.  With those different kinds of birds around, plus all the migratory fowl passing through, wasn’t Jesus likely trying to get us to think about how inclusive the Kingdom of God is?

Furthermore, the birds illustrate that the Kingdom is beckoning to all peoples.  Where the King James version speaks of “perching,” translations like the New Living and New American Standard use “nesting.”  The Kingdom thus is to become a “home.” “Nesting” means that the Kingdom we proclaim is something that is inviting and attractive.

The inclusiveness portrayed in the mustard seed parable evokes for me words I have sung often: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.  Red and yellow, black and white . . .”

The wonderful thing for us is that we get to point all the different “birds” (peoples of the world) toward that extraordinary tree called the Kingdom of God!