When we think about cross-cultural ministry, how well do we prepare? Really, how well do we prepare our hearts and minds to encounter and interpret what we are about to walk into? When I first set foot in Peru, I thought I was ready. I mean, I have been doing missionary work for a few years now-one of my trips had also been to a South American nation. I was all set, right?.....wrong
Leviticus 14 explains in great detail the directions on how the nation of Israel was to go about cleansing a leperous person. When thinking upon how the ancient Israelites followed the Lord in obedience when carrying out cleansing, most non-Israilis would probably find the whole process to be a bit strange. Of course, anybody who isn't a member of ancient Israelite society would not understand what and why the nation of Israel behaves the way they do when they are cleansing somebody from Leprosy-in fact, the whole ritual would probably look quite strange to anybody from a non-Semitic society.
Flying through the streets in a taxicab through the streets of Lima is a radically different experience than riding in a taxi from point A to point B in Vancouver. Though the length of the trip may be similar, and although the vehicle may look the same, the actual experience itself is vastly different.
Just as the process of cleansing leprosy is vastly different from the time of the Book of Leviticus to any treatment you would find today, experiencing and interpreting culture in a foreign land is much the same. There is no such thing as strange when experiencing and interpretting culture.... only different. Sure, I've never seen a Vancouver cab driver stop in the middle of the trip and yell out to someone on the street for directions to the destination, and I'm not accustomed to hearing so many horns blaring in the streets in the night but this isn't Vancouver.
Rule number one for really engaging people in meaningful cross-cultural ministry is to understand the culture. Just as I wouldn't understand the significance of an Israelite sitting outside of his tent with his entire head and beard shaved, I cannot assume a North American understanding of the use of a car horn in Lima. Everything changes.
If I really want to understand why taxicabs operate the way they do, I need to become further immersed in the Limean culture. Of course, we can make numerous judgements and guesses, but that is all that they would be-judgements and guesses.
So far, my stay in Lima has been eye-opening, reflexive and powerful. As for the taxi rides...
I am not yet immerssed enough in the Peruvian culture to comment, nor will I ever completely lose all of my Canadian backgrounds and biases.
and I am not about to make the mistake of imposing my North American cultural interpretations on a Peruvian cultural phenomenon.
Perhaps a little cultural cleansing is just what the doctor ordered as I step into a cross-cultural ministry setting.
So far, I am learning a great deal about Peruvian culture-not nearly enough to call myself an expert on interpreting it, but my desire to increase my understanding of it increases daily. I have seen God do some amazing things here. And He isn't even close to being finished yet! As for the noise in the evenings... perhaps vehicles have a language all of their own... perhaps taxi drivers just want to give their customers the quickest and best service they can. Perhaps there is a lot I still need to learn about Peruvian culture. I believe that last thought in response to the traffic culture of Peru is the most accurate and helpful.