Monday, November 16, 2009

First steps in a new culture

This weekend we had some dear supporters come in for a visit for the weekend. It was such a refreshment and encouragement for us to have them around for a few days and to show them our life here. Plus we got to see a pretty cool castle in the middle of a rain storm. Made us feel we were back in the day.

Inevitably when we talk to people about our life here the question comes up about how are we received in this European context? What are some important first steps?

Let me tell you a little about my experience. First of all, I grew up in the South. I planted and pastored churches in the South. After about eight years of church planting, I joined the staff of a large denominational mission agency for North America in the area of church planter assessment.

In 1999, I began traveling a lot outside the South, and my worldview changed immensely. (I was never able to get rid of the Southern accent though.)

When the Lord began to lead us toward overseas missions, I started asking myself how can I make a difference there? I am just a normal American guy who has a heart for God and, I want to follow Him and tell others about Jesus. How would I be received in another country?

I remember that we talked about this as a family before we moved to Madrid in 2001. We felt there were several things that would help us connect with the culture there – but we knew that being an American would not be one of them. We knew many people have their own ideas about what being American means and often they are not positive.

As we entered into this new culture, we always tried to be aware of three things. We tried to model and teach this to our children. I think these can apply rather you are living overseas or if you are simply visiting as a tourist. Here they are.

1. To make eye contact and smile. Check out this really good post on making friends.

2. To try our best to speak the language of our new culture – to make an effort, even if it was only a word or two. People appreciate that, even if it is incorrect grammatically. Obviously the longer we lived there our friend’s expectation of our language ability grew so this means we have to be constant students of the language.

3. To be humble. I must admit being humble was not a hard thing to do once I tried number two on the list; 5-year-olds would remind me how badly I spoke! But many people naturally think Americans are loud and arrogant. We wanted to break that stereotype and at the same time reflect the attitude of Christ.

Why are these three things important?

What would you add to the list?


donna said...

Thanks for referencing our article in your post, "Making friends." It is so important, as is finding a place of worship to express your faith and have it nourished.

tto said...


Great thoughts on getting into a new culture. I have found "being humble" can take many forms. While entering only a couple of cultures, the willingness to laugh at myself and try things I don't really know how to do, even if I look really stupid in the effort, are helpful in breaking down barriers between me and others. Well, some of the things I have tried might have created barriers, but in general the willingness to be clueless is helpful.