Culture slap

Ever get that feeling like you've been a jerk but you didn't know it at the time?

Well, yesterday we we told in the most gracious of manners that we had committed several cultural injuries to some folks here in Guatemala. The folks we had injured told the Coreanos what we had done and the Coreanos told them that they needed to approach us. They didn't. that's just not how most people do things here in Guatemala.

In order to help us out, the Coreanos told us (maintaining anonymity, of course) what we had done so that we would know and not repeat it. Same goes for us if they commit similar offenses. So it's a good thing. And it won't be the last time.

And we knew it was coming. They told us in training at MTI that we would, in the process of acculturation, hurt a lot of feelings. I mean, we knew that, but when you find out you have done it, well, it's a kick in the stomach. Because we don't WANT to act in such a way as to hurt folks but in ignorance we do just that.

Two of the things we did made it look like we think Guatemala is second-class. We talked about homeschooling our kids (a decision we haven't made yet) and it made them feel like we thought Guatemalan schools weren't good enough. We can afford the best private schools in Xela, and yet we want to teach our kids at home? Nobody does that here. Now, I know that our reasons for wanting to maybe homeschool have nothing to do with the quality of schools here. We'd be having the same discussion in the states. But that's not how it made the Guatemalan feel. Also, when Deacon was having his bug bites we took him to 3 different doctors; the best in Xela, and they didn't know what was wrong. And we got frustrated and voiced that. What that made the Guatemalan's feel like was that we can afford the best doctors, the best schools - more than 90% of Guatemalans - and yet we complained about the doctors and don't want to send our kids to their schools. And that made us look like arrogant jerks.

The reality is that we aren't free to express frustrations like we are in the states. We can't complain or gripe or express displeasure to many people here because it causes us to look uppity and demonstrates a better-than-you attitude. I know that's not our heart but that doesn't matter. What matters is what people think and we have to take that into account to such a degree that we are willing to silence ourselves, our reactions, expressions, in order to build relationships. Once we have deeper relationships we'll be able to express ourselves in culturally appropriate ways. But until that time comes we don't have that freedom.

And that's ok. Because that's what Jesus did. He gave up, put aside freedom so that we could have it. Because He considered us and loved us and His culture, well, He never made mistakes, but they didn't treat Him all that well anyway. So that's just how it is. The Lord tells us that it is "God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure...Do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent,children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world." So I guess we do have a choice, a freedom. We can just 'be American' here. But that doesn't seem like a very good option when we can be 'lights in the world'.

I hope this didn't seem like grumbling. Just rambling a little.


cookiehawk77 said...

Doesn't sound like grumbling to me -- just sharing your heart! I know the pain of hurting someone unintentionally or coming across as a know-it-all or selfish, when that is so far from your heart attitude. Having a rather visible ministry at times, I have been accused of wanting or needing the spotlight. It pains me that others would think that about me.

It must be tough to walk on eggshells around those you are trying to get to know, interact with, and minister to. I think that is the importance of building a strong relationship with your fellow missionaries, having some you can "get real" with. You are going through a time filled with the frustrations of culture adjustments, language adjustments, parenthood adjustments, even marriage adjustments, as you adapt to your new ministry.

You are blessed in our time & age to have e-mail and IM and internet phone services and international cellular service. But God, not people, are our main strength.

I pray that those who have misjudged you will have the opportunity to see your heart and change their opinion. But all we can do is our part. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Romans 12:18. The rest is in God's hands!

Didn't mean to write a sermon! We love you guys!

Rob and Becky said...

Brandon, great response to something that must have been hard to hear. I would have probably responded with indigatio and arrogance. Your humility is to be commended. Keep learning... Rob

Brent said...

I'm not even in a foreign culture and I'm a jerk and didn't know it at the time.

Sometimes I'm a jerk and I DO KNOW IT at the time.

I'm not sure that's cultural. I think it's just human.

Brandon and Jenny said...

Thanks for all the encouragement!

And, to be honest, I could be a jerk before too. It's just more exposed here :-)

I'm finding it hard to not be human no matter where I am.

Anonymous said...

Brandon and Jenny,

So good to see love works in a relationship desirous of serving together in the will of God. Concerned love is shared, it is received in love so growth spurts are experienced.

The Haitians say, "Sa ou pa konnin pi gran pase ou." "What you don't know is bigger than you are." Once you know now it is something you can handle.

God has gracously allowed you to know, let that past go and enjoy sharing your heart and lives with this new family of believers and with the unbelievers, too. Humbly admitting our mistakes and changing our ways are the road to true intimacy, especially in another culture.

We are so proud and refreshed with your healthy response.

Herb and Shirley