As a world geography teacher, I teach a great deal about culture and its many components. My students learn culture is food, art, music, celebrations, and religion among myriad subsets of each. I also take the time to teach them that different simply means different. One culture is not better than another. One culture might be more powerful, more educated, or wealthier, but that does not mean one culture supersedes another.
We, as Americans, tend to take great pride in our country. As a former missionary who lived overseas for 11 years, I also take great pride in my country. I’ve lived in other countries and have experienced how they work. Living abroad makes one very appreciative of the USA. However, I am not so arrogant as to think my American ideas or culture are better than another’s. There are elements of other cultures I disagree with or do not understand. But is mine better? No. Every culture is full of image bearers of God; therefore, no one culture receives a higher rank.
That certainly doesn’t mean another culture might not leave you scratching your head as you try to understand their viewpoints. I’ll give you an example from my years in Eastern Europe.
We Americans love ice in our drinks. When we order a drink at a restaurant, ice automatically comes in it. However, if you travel to Europe, and especially Eastern Europe, you will notice there is no ice. Restaurants do not bring ice with drinks. You can’t run into the grocery store and buy a big bag of ice. This lack of ice is due to the strongly held belief that drinking a beverage with ice in it will make you very sick. The same is true of sitting under a fan or by an open window. The most interesting part of this belief is that eating ice cream will not make you sick!
My American self does not understand these things. I’ve had ice in my drinks my whole life while sitting under a fan, and I’ve been just fine, as have millions of Americans. Yet across the Atlantic they believe that same practice could send someone to the hospital. While I disagreed with this way of thinking, I went along with it. I went along with no ice and no fans. I went along with placing my shoes by the door upon entering a home. In going along with these innocent practices, I opened myself up to a deeper relationship with my new friends than I otherwise would have had. I showed them respect and did not belittle their beliefs even though I disagreed. I set myself aside in the interest of others.
Our culture, while important, is also fleeting. Our witness for Christ can be hampered by holding too strongly to our culture and conversely helped by setting aside the idea that our culture is superior. Jesus set the culture of heaven aside for our sake we should seek to do the same when it is necessary for the gospel.
Stacy Dyck and her family served as missionaries with the IMB for 11 years. She now teaches world geography at a local high school.
This article originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of Missions Mosaic. To subscribe to this monthly women’s missions lifestyle magazine, visit wmustore.com.