To fall with the door into the house, understanding culture is vital to effective communication. And if that sentence made sense to you, you are probably either Dutch or Afrikaans. Because “falling with door into the house” is an idiom meaning, “to cut straight to the point.” But since the idiom is not used in either British or American English, it would be rather confusing if you’d use it when speaking to them.
Now, in everyday conversation this might not be such a big deal. But when it comes to teaching Scripture, we want to make sure that our communication adds as little as possible confusion to the message. This is why we recently had some modules regarding the study of culture; or with fancier terms “cultural anthropology.”
As for the studying part, this is not too difficult to start with. Simply being with people, hearing their stories, and seeing their daily lives will give you plenty of material to work with. Eventually you will start to investigate more specific topics. Why do these people avoid walking underneath ladders? Why do these people think stealing vegetables is wrong, but stealing an axe is even worse? Why do these people think the sun rises every morning? Things that may not be revealed through everyday life, but need to be specifically sought out in order to answer.
The harder part comes in documenting all of the experiences. What we have been taught to use is a numbered list of categories. For example, a story about making campfires goes into “372 fire”; and when attending a funeral, we can document it under “764 burial practices and funerals”. We then also have a special software program which has these categories built in. So after several years of living in a culture, we will be able to make conclusions that aren’t just based on “I think I once heard a man speaking about…”. Instead, we will be able to make conclusions based on what we consistently see in the culture as a whole. And once again, all with the goal of being able to better teach Scripture, and thus give more glory to God.
In class we didn’t just leave it at the theoretical explanation of culture studies. We also put it into practice. By listening to several recordings from the Yurok people in California. (The pictures in this blog all come from www.yuroktribe.org.) With the dialogue stories from these people, we were able to practice the skill of filing culture information. And next up, in two weeks time, we will give a Bible lesson as though we were teaching these people. With culturally appropriate examples, bridges where they agree with Scripture, and extra explanation of the topics that they view differently from Scripture.
- All of this has been a really good practice of skills useful on the mission field, for which I am thankful, but also pray that I will remember what we’ve learned.
- Pray for the assignment we have where I need to prepare two Bible lessons as though teaching them to the Yurok.
- Pray for our assignments in general. It is a busy time, with many deadlines coming up.