September 12: Culture Week!

Good morning from Thailand! I am still struggling with my jet lag- this morning I woke up at 3:30 AM and could not fall back asleep as much as I tried. I was just lying in my bed, so tired, with my eyes closed. So, I know today is going to be very long. However, it is a very exciting day as well! This afternoon we are going to experience our first “touristy” outing. We are going to visit The Grand Palace, and Wat Pho! I cannot wait to post pictures. What I really want to talk about in this post is what I have been learning in my “Culture Week” classes. *For those of you who don’t know, my training is split into 4 specifically geared weeks. Culture, Holy Spirit, Personal walk, and Ministry.* I have found that in my classes, which are each around 3 hours long, I cannot stop listening. I wish that I could take these same culture classes every week for the next month so that I could really absorb everything that is being said. I have been vigorously trying to copy down everything in the power point presentations along with every example that is given because it is all so important to know if I really want to understand the culture. Anyways, here’s what I’ve been up to:

On our first morning, we began with a commissioning ceremony from ISM. It was so encouraging to hear the things that they said about us, and was incredibly uplifting especially in regards to my feelings of “what have I done?!” The picture below is from after the commissioning:

photo(4)

Our first official class was “Orientation” with Sandra. She went through general dos/don’ts of the Thai culture-and shared some of her experiences as a missionary here for the past 8 years. The most impactful thing (for me) that she said was, “We don’t come to change the culture, we come to bring Jesus to the culture.” It is so true. We are here to be the hands and feet of Jesus within the existing culture. Peter (Sandra’s husband) dove further into this, and I will mention it later on.

The afternoon class on Monday was taught by Dr. W. Vaden Williams, the president and CEO of Real Time Outreach here in Bangkok. Dr. Williams and his wife have been in Thailand for going on 27 years now! At the beginning of the class he said his goal for us was that he would force us to think- and think we did! We were challenged to think about how cultures are conveyed, and how they are interpreted. After our (short) three-hour class, I concluded that he is one of the most brilliant men I have ever come into contact with. He knows so much about the current status of government, military, culture, etc. in South East Asia, and more than that- he knows the history of how the countries got there. This is what he wanted us to think about. How does a culture come to be? Where does it start? He challenged us to think all the way back to the first alphabet ever created, and to think about how that has affected cultures now. It was an incredible class, and I wish that I had more time to spend picking his brain about anything and everything regarding the rich cultures in this region.

Tuesday morning we began with worship, led by two of my roommates. Hartley sang and played guitar, and Monique played violin. It was beautiful. We then climbed into cars/taxis and rode over to the YWAM base in Bangkok for a Thai language class! It was SO fun. Afterwards I was feeling very overwhelmed, but I loved being about to learn a little bit of the language. I think I’ve been given the itch to continue to learn it..even when I’m back in the States. So that could be an exciting adventure! The first picture below is of the phonetic Thai alphabet/sounds (we didn’t learn how to write or read any of the actual Thai alphabet-but I want to!) and the second picture is of the girls and I with our instructor!

To follow our Thai language class, the afternoon class was on “Culture Shock and Culture Stress.” Peter began the lesson by having us pair up and head out to the street to try and get directions to the nearest SkyTrain. IT WAS HARD. Monique and I talked to a lady who had a food stand and did not speak a work of English. She was just spouting off in Thai and pointing back in the direction where we came from. So we said thank you, and went back the other way. A woman on a motor-bike (who looked to be in a uniform-possibly a police officer) asked us in English where we were from. So, we asked her for directions and she was able to communicate in English that it was a 20-minute walk from where we were. We all returned to the classroom a bit overwhelmed-but that was the purpose of the exercise. Peter covered the difference between culture shock and culture stress, the symptoms of culture stress, and the practical steps to coping with the stress. He said it’s important to know that it takes years to completely overcome culture-stress, and it usually doesn’t even fully happen for missionaries.

Day 3 was another day of intriguing classes! We began with a class on “Ethnocentrism” taught by Jessica. I don’t have a lot of time before my classes this morning, so I’ll just list the 10 practical starting points for doing missions with cultural intelligence- which are all very interesting.

  1. God is a lot bigger than your missions trip.
  2. Stop petting the poor. Sandra said this: “Missions is not about poor people, missions is about lost people.” Jessica shared a story about a missionary who went to a tribe in Africa and asked them what they needed most. The tribal leader told them they wanted a basketball court. The missionary responded with, “I can provide medicines, education, training, etc.”-but the tribal leader had no interest in those things. All the tribe wanted was a basketball court. After some convincing, the missionary pooled together resources and worked with the tribe to build a basketball court. Come to find out, none of them knew how to play the game. So once it was finished, a Christian missionary was invited to teach them basketball, and was able to build relationships with them that way. Through this seemingly insignificant basketball court, the whole tribe came to know Jesus. So, it is important to keep in mind that as we look through our cultural glasses, we may THINK people need something, but in fact what they believe they need is something completely different.
  3. Be yourself.
  4. See to understand. Ask people who have been there for a long time what part of the Gospel message really reaches the people here?
  5. On second thought, think again! Continue to dig deeper into the meanings underlying the culture.
  6. Try, try again. When you fail, it can be easy to never try again-but it is important to persevere if you want to actually increase your cultural intelligence!
  7. Actions speak louder than words. It’s important to get out and experience the things you have studied.
  8. Give up trying to see who’s in and who’s out. In the end what matters is that God is glorified through you. It is not our job to play scorekeeper of who is/is not a Christian.
  9. Incorporate short-term missions as part of your seamless missional journey. We have been called to missions regardless of where we are- so when we return home, the things we have learned in Thailand or India can be applied and contextualized in our own culture.
  10. Love God and love others.

These 10 things come from a book called “Serving with Eyes Wide Open” by David Livermore. I personally read the book before coming and found it incredibly eye opening! It’s worth a read.

Alright- my next post will be about my afternoon class yesterday (which was about Culture, Contextualization and Christianity-sharing the Gospel in other cultures) and about our trip to the Grand Palace! For now, I need to get ready for class! -E

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