It’s Not Bad It’s Just Different

In the next 370 words I hope to address what is one of the most complicated issues in missions…cultural bias. It is imperative that missionaries not revert to mission tactics of the late 19th century and try to impose their “superior” culture on the people they have been sent to serve. The gospel is not American nor Western. The gospel changes cultures, the messenger should not.

Our landlord just had our house painted. The painters did their work in a very Honduran way, which in the U.S. would be viewed as lazy, sub-standard and unacceptable. White paint was on black paint, blue paint was on white paint, paint was on windows and there were few straight lines or right angles. And, here is the part that is going to get under your skin (and it would have me too a few years ago)…that’s ok. The way they painted is not wrong. It just is. Why do we, in the U.S., insist on straight lines, right angles and non-touching paint? Yes, I know, you are screaming at your computer screen, “BECAUSE IT IS THE RIGHT WAY!!!”

As fulltime missionaries we have hosted over 500 short-term missionaries and they see things through culturally biased glasses…as we all do. We have been asked many culturally biased questions; “Why are Hondurans so lazy?”, “Why don’t they care about their community and throw trash on the ground?”, “Why are Hondurans always late?” These are questions that originate from the concept that our culture (no matter what culture it is) is better. We all believe that our way of doing things is best. And, that is normal, but not healthy in cross-cultural settings. The answer to all this is, “It’s not bad, it’s just different”.

Missionaries are not sent to change cultures, but to deliver the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. When we as cross-cultural missionaries get bogged down in cultural bias we miss the point of missions. It is our job to enjoy, celebrate and sometime endure cultural differences without passing judgment. Christianity is global and our multi-ethnic family should rejoice in diversity and proclaim our unity in Christ. Let’s not weigh down the purity of the gospel with our sinful biases.