I grew up in Australia and didn’t give much thought to culture. I didn’t even realise I had one until I travelled overseas and discovered that people did things differently to me. My understanding of culture has changed since joining missions. When it comes to the Gospel, our role as missionaries is to reach the heart. This may sound practical when talking about individuals but can be vague when it comes to a Nation. How do you reach a Nation? What does that look like?
I have come to learn that the heart of a Nation is found in its culture.
Let me share how I came to this discovery.
The first time I went to France I was nervous. My friend was going to meet me in Paris for a long weekend and I had to make my own way there. I had heard Parisians didn’t like to speak English, were rude, and wouldn’t help me if I got lost. A wise lady heard about my concerns and spoke truth into my fears. We sat and prayed together refusing to believe anything but God’s opinion on a Nation. Something she said stuck with me for years… “Sarah I don’t believe we should label an entire nation with an opinion – especially if it is negative. Let’s ask God to show you something different.”
Upon arriving in France I was determined to use the little French I knew to communicate.
If language was important to them it would become important to me.
Immediately I observed this small gesture making a huge difference. The people were polite, classy and willing to help. There was no eating on the metro, you say “pardon” when walking past someone and food is always enjoyed sitting down with conversation. Paris is the most visited city in the world. Many Parisians are interrupted several times on their way to work with lost tourists whom I observed were frustratingly rude in conversation. From mothers on the train interpreting the announcements, to commuters on the subway helping me with my oversized luggage; I was constantly surprised by my positive experience. I was learning the culture and discovering the people.
It changed my view that ‘different’ isn’t ‘weird’ and my ’normal’ was now out of context.
I was saddened to hear tourists walking the streets of Paris complaining about the service, the way of life, and other inconveniences they were experiencing. I wondered how it would feel listening to this as a French person and I became determined to understand and honour their culture.
The past several years I have invested in the city of Paris through the YWAM Summer Of Service. This two-week outreach focuses on blessing the city with the message of the Gospel. Paris is a city passionate about the arts, conversation, and social issues. Much like my own culture in Australia, she resists anything not ‘for the people’ and highly values family and friendships.
There is a raw honesty with the French that some cultures may find rude. As an Aussie; I find it trustworthy.
Since adopting an approach to honour culture, we have seen incredible things happen through outreach in Paris.
The Summer Of Service engages with the heart of the city through music, the arts and street evangelism. Everything is translated into French and English. The entire program fits around the French lifestyle including lunch as the main meal of the day and an evening program that goes late into the night. During the Open Air’s hundreds of people gather to watch dynamic performances and stay to listen to the testimonies.
Many French and Arabic Bibles are distributed over the two weeks. One evening I was talking to someone when a French lady politely interrupted asking if she could ‘have one’. It took me a moment to realise she was asking for the Bible in my hand. People are often surprised when they hear these stories. They are used to hearing that France is difficult and that Paris is not a city that cares for religion.
They fail to recognise that when Jesus commanded that the Gospel be preached to every Nation there wasn’t a list of where it would or would not be received.
He simply believed it was a message for all people. Jesus is the hope for all Nations and this Gospel is good news. It is our job to make sure people can hear it, and that we are communicating it in a way they can understand. This is an exciting task!
Understanding culture will make all the difference in how effective this message is.
If you honour a culture and position your heart to understand without demanding they conform to yours – you will reach a Nation’s heart. And if you reach their heart; you will connect to their humanity and they may be more likely to receive the message to claim it as their own. I love the passage of scripture in Revelations 7:9 where John describes the scene of many nations, tongues, and tribes standing before God giving praise for the gospel. It’s a beautiful picture. No conformity – just total unity. Everyone celebrating in the way God created them to celebrate. God loves the Nations. He is redeeming the world back to Himself one heart at a time. We are invited to share in this process, and it involves culture.
I want to encourage you to value culture, to try understanding it before complaining about an inconvenience. It may surprise you what happens. Perhaps God will get the chance to show you something you couldn’t see before – the heart of a Nation.