Exposure to new cultures has enriched my life and understanding of God since the first time I stepped foot on foreign soil. While learning Spanish, I was amazed that even the way language is expressed points to cultural values. This maybe should have been obvious, I will blame it on high school and the fact that my frontal lobe wasn’t fully formed.
I am not sure where I’m going in these writings, just thoughts tumbling around, no real conclusions, which is Jon’s least favorite style of conversation. :)
It’s easy as an outsider looking in to glamorize or villianize a culture we don’t understand. When looking at a new culture, we view it through a thick set of lenses, our world views that have been forming since birth-we could even argue that it starts in the womb. Americans of similar socio-economic, ethnic and religious background do it to each other over silly little things. For example, parents who are firm believers in early bedtimes for toddlers being surprised and possibly even judgmental of the mother who has her 2-year-old in a shopping cart at Target at 11:00 pm.
When we first moved to northern Ethiopia, I was shocked and horrified to discover the babies and young toddlers don’t have names. My immediate heart response (with my worldview lens) was one of defeat and indignation. “What?! Do these women not even love their children! What terrible people.” In trying to be understanding and contextual, my mind grasped for other possible reasons. Then my heart was moved to great pity. “Aww…how terrible that the mother’s don’t name their children to protect their own hearts because infant mortality is so high” This is true in some people groups but not in our surrounding villages.
To enter a new place is to take on the role of a baby, realizing that we know nothing and are dependent for everything. It takes watching, withholding judgement, asking questions, not assuming. I found someone to ask and we realized, because of their love for their children, the children are not named or if they are given a secret name the parents don’t speak it as the belief is it attracts attention to and invites evil spirits into the child’s life.
(Playing a rendition of volleyball with Jon after English class)
In our pre-field training, something drilled into our heads was the concept of “Reject and Redeem”. Every culture in the world has things of beauty and things of shame. Practices that point to God, His Salvation and His kingdom come and others that point to the darkness here in attempt to destroy us all.
What cultural points do you see around you that needs rejection and then prayers and action towards redemption?
It seems the world is homogenizing in culture. The Western world has a big responsibility as much of the homogenizing is coming because of Western media and entertainment. Ethiopia is composed of over 80 distinct languages, but some are dying out. This is how life goes, especially an interconnected one that demands progress or not surviving. Most of these disappearing cultures (there are exceptions) are HIGHLY relational. With the influx of technology, especially in the city, is a loss of this. In the 2 1/2 years we have been in Ethiopia, even the climate in the city mini buses have changed. Peoples’ noses are buried in phones as opposed to chatting with the man or woman smashed in beside you.
While talking to an upper-class Ethiopian, Addis Ababan man, he asked me how country side life was. I told him about it and that we love it, but it would not suit him as he is used to a connected and modern lifestyle. He quietly but passionately disagreed and expressed he wishes to move to the countryside, were people make time to invite others in for coffee, make time to sit together. Cultural strong points which over the last few years are fading. These are things he said he can longer find in the city. The city is hurtling at amazing speeds towards development in infrastructures, which is amazing. There is also loss. The streets in Addis are full of beautiful people, in almost every way, Westernized, for better and for worse.
As we watch technology come to the countryside, the contrast is stark. A man on a cell phone while he plows his field with an old wooden plow he carries on his shoulder and an ox. Many of the positive benefits of technology aren’t changing day-to-day life here but pornography is, coming soon to a village near us. It’s breaking my heart. No people are innocent as we are all born sinners, but there is a level of protection that is demolished with influx of entertainment. I am in this weird spot of benefitting from all the technology and advances while also saying it hurts.
We need to be aware that, as Westerners, our culture also has much that needs rejected and redeemed and the whole world is watching.