I know that most of you that read our blog are not missionaries, nor do you live overseas in another culture. However, this is what is on my mind today so it is a “Britton Current Event” for me.
I have spent a mere 12 years on the field and yet I have something to say to you all—oldies, newbies, wanna-be’s. LISTEN.
Listen, just disengage your mouth and engage your ears.
Listen to the one that you think is crazy that right now, without hesitation, you want to give a piece of your mind to, but Don’t you Dare! Just listen.
Listen to the culture. Look in the eyes. Listen to the stance, listen to the furrowed brow. Listen beyond the smile. Listen to the words, even. You don’t know. YOU don’t know. You DON’T know. You don’t KNOW. You don’t. Even when you do, you really don’t.
Give it and keep your mouth shut.
If you feel your panties bunching up in a wad, relax and listen. It is probably not as you assume.
How many times have I hauled off with my mouth because my first impressions led me to assume I knew what was up in a situation? Too many. Way too many.
Those times got me labeled by the casual worker hired for a short job in our compound, whom I NEEDED to direct, uh huh, as “tough.” In a culture where women are not at the top of the totem pole that was not a compliment!
Those times have earned me the ability to slow down the progress of work by our daily compound worker because when I ask him to do something it only garners inactivity—12 years later and I haven’t yet learned to just listen when my husband directs him. When I think I need to give instructions regarding work in the compound they are cast off because they came from me, a woman.
When will I learn to just be quiet and listen?
It doesn’t matter if you are reading this and getting angry at what I just said about the status of women in this culture. This isn’t your culture or mine. It is theirs and in order to function gracefully in it I must not only understand it, but move humbly in it. When I don’t, I create walls and distance.
Newbies on the field—listen. No matter how much you’ve prepared yourself you don’t know it all. Listen to the natives and assume you have something to learn, not something to teach or prove. Oldies, regardless of how long you’ve been there, listen before you speak or act—you can still learn something new every day! And guess what? You also can still be wrong, you really don’t have the market on cultural awareness.
Above all, even above listening, humility.
Humility. Listen. Give the other one(s) a teachable friend, acquaintance, neighbor, co-worker, visitor, even boss.
And when someone speaks or acts who is of the native culture or someone who has lived in that culture many more moons than you advises you, remember that your best response is to be willing to adjust your perspective and follow their lead.
I think about all the times I rashly did what I wanted to do casting off what guidance I’d been given as irrelevant and ended up either embarrassing myself or those I was actually intending to serve.
I remember being bent on buying a blanket for an older woman in our community. She had been admitted to the hospital and was recently discharged. I had heard that she was feeling chilled and I wanted to bless her with a blanket. So, I went to the open Saturday market with a seasoned missionary. I saw a beautiful red, yellow and brown striped “blanket” and decided it was the one. I barely heard the fellow missionary telling me it was the undergarment to the local traditional dress. I presented it, proudly I might add, to my new friend who graciously received it and to this day has never told me to my face what a blunder I’d committed.
I wouldn’t listen. I was sure the seasoned missionary was mistaken about the use of the “blanket.” Instead, I should have allowed her to direct me to the usual type of blankets everyone here considers nice (it didn’t matter that I thought they were ugly—the blanket wasn’t for me it as for someone else for crying out loud!) My headstrong ways didn’t provide my new friend with a new blanket when she needed it, but it does provide her with a chuckle every time she puts my “blanket” on underneath her traditional dress!!!
I am not exactly sure why this all is on my mind today. Maybe instead of trying to analyze to death why, I should just LISTEN and be aware of my frequent tendency to reject a humble stance, embracing pride of my own understanding. Instead let me humbly trust the LORD who brought me to this place to be with these people and let me not lean on my own understanding, but acknowledge Him and let Him lead me. (Proverbs 3:5-6)