What is culture? What makes one culture different than another? And how do different cultures impede or facilitate the spread of the Gospel? What cultural differences are there between Colombia and here? We’ll try to answer these and other important cultural questions in less than 1,200 words. Let’s get going!
In college, they told me that culture is the sum of all the human beliefs and actions from a specific group of people. Whatever it is that Americans think, believe, say and do, that is what makes up American culture. So if we eat lots of hamburgers and sing the national anthem at baseball games, that forms part our culture; if young American men greet each other with hugs while older men greet each other with handshakes, that forms part of our culture; if many of our families are ravaged with alcoholism, abuse, greed, pride, and distrust, that forms part of our culture, too. A superficial look at culture deals with things like festivals and traditional dress, but the important part of culture is how people act, behave, and think on a daily basis.
What are some differences between American culture and Colombian culture? One of the important ones is something we’ve touched on before—the oppressive poverty that pervades nearly every corner of Colombia. America has some poverty, as well, but in Colombia we see it on a much broader level. Most (though not all) people in America do not wonder if they’ll get to eat today; indeed, many of you may not even know someone who is homeless or goes without meals. Another interesting facet of American life is our multi-culturalism. 99% of people living in Colombia speak Spanish, while 80% of people in America can speak English. (Do you know anyone who complains that some people live in the United States without learning English? It bothers nationals in Colombia just as much when missionaries go to them and don’t bother learning the language well!) Americans are far more likely to arrive on time to social gatherings, to give handshakes to friends instead of hugs, to eat at a restaurant than at home—remember the poverty factor!—and to move far away from their family. Colombians tend to have tighter familial bonds. As an American, I moved out of my parents’ house on my 19th birthday to go to a college over 2,000 miles away; many Colombians won’t move out until they are married, and even then might stay in the same neighborhood as their extended family.
What opportunities and difficulties does that present for American missionaries in Colombia? One crystal clear difference: you have got to learn the language. In America, there are many missionaries from Latin America to the Spanish-speaking population; this doesn’t really work in reverse, since there are so few English speakers in Colombia to minister to. On the other hand, one powerful advantage for the missionary comes from tight familial bonds. If one man gets saved, he might lead his entire family to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ—which could be thirty people!
I have never lived in Latin America, and so I’m thrilled to experience it firsthand this July when I head to Bolivia for five months. The culture is different in ways that a book or blog post can never fully, fully express; nevertheless, God has already been preparing each man’s heart for the tasks ahead of them. Will you pray that God will give each and every missionary a heart for their people group’s culture? And will you pray that God will raise up more laborers to go and tell the lost people from every culture about Jesus?
Latest posts by Matt Yeager (see all)
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