Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Copping with Missionary Challenges

Pastor Nov Sopeak, Cambodian pastor 

It has been mentioned often that the most difficult challenges missionary encounters in the field are language and culture. Indeed language is perhaps one of most difficult a missionary encounters at the early stage of mission endeavors. Often, the root of misunderstanding in interpersonal relationships is miscommunication; and miscommunication occurs when language is not clear. This is the reason missionaries need to learn the language of the people so that they can communicate well. Although, this depends on the duration of the missionary term and the nature of the ministry, there is an advantage of knowing a few words.

Nevertheless, as missionaries stay longer in the field, they soon realized that learning the language is not enough; they need to understand the culture as well.  Understanding the cultural mindset is not easy, as it may appear to be. One of the reasons for interpersonal relational breakdown is not simply language a problem. The problem is deeply rooted in our unwillingness to understand the cultural pattern and mindset the people we seek to serve. Lack of understanding in our part can be corrected if we are only willing to listen and spend time with people. 

I must add, however, that it is one thing to understand the people's mindset and it is another thing to change your own. One of the most difficult parts for me being a missionary in a different culture is to change my own perspectives so that I can understand the people's perspective. Changing my worldview is necessary in seeking to understand others.

The temptation we face is to judge people without trying to understand them first, and then try to impose our own thinking to a situation without seeking to understand why people do what they do. 

I find it ironic that missionaries are willing to leave their own countries, giving up their own comfort zones, endangering their own lives and jeopardizing the future of their own children, but are not willing to give up their own perspective. To give up our own cultural point of view allows us to see the best in others and prevent us from critical and judgmental attitude. Understanding people's cultural pattern and changing our own way of seeing things will revolutionize our interpersonal relationship and increase our productivity.