An excerpt from...
Avoiding the Minefield: Understanding Others by Understanding Yourself
By Rachel Elwood, Support Staff
When someone does something that you feel should be done in a particular way, in a way that is different from your way, do you get stressed or angry? If so, your culture-based judgment system might be showing.
Culture. Values. Simply put, the way you do the things you do. The things that distinguish a Swede from a Kenyan from an Australian. It’s one thing to look at what makes us different from each other—how we act, how we dress, what we eat. It’s an entirely different thing to look at the roots of why. How did those values, whether you are aware of them or not, get formed?
According to Dr. Sheryl Silzer, author and missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators, it all was formed in your childhood home. She recently came to WGM headquarters in Marion, Indiana, to speak to a large gathering of support staff and missionaries about this idea, called culture-based judgment systems. What formed your ideas of right and wrong, what you were disciplined for, your early experience with authority figures—these are the things that shape how you view the world today.
This concept is extremely important within missions work, because ministry teams are becoming increasingly multicultural. Cultures communicate differently, view authority and time differently—it can seem that a minefield of misunderstandings is just waiting to happen.
Fortunately, there’s grace.
“We can follow our own cultural way of doing things, or we can ask God’s help in transforming our cultural way to better reflect God’s heart for people,” said Dr. Silzer.
It starts with understanding ourselves. Once you get where you’re coming from, you can start to understand others. Laura Griffin, missionary to Honduras, shared, “My culture-based judgment system isn’t an excuse, but it gives me awareness that will help me avoid behavior that could hurt my ministry.”
As the missions community becomes more multicultural, this kind of understanding is key to removing obstacles that hinder our common goal: to spread the gospel to every man, woman, and child. In the midst of theoretical terms and case studies, we catch a glimpse of heaven; where there will be no more divisions or cultural faux pas, but when we can worship our Lord in harmony, our differences blending seamlessly into the fabric of the Church.
MORE: Purchase Dr. Sheryl Takagi Silzer’s book Biblical Multicultural Teams to learn more about the creative design of our respective cultures.