Day 3: The honor/shame culture, part 1
By Gary Fallesen
, founding president, Climbing For Christ
All cultures are not created equally. (Infographic by Global Mapping International)
Sean Ranger, as the Climbing For Christ member came to be known, spent more than three years serving in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco (a nation of 33.6 million that is 99.6 percent Muslim and 0.2 percent Christian). He was part of our first Mission: Morocco team.
Sean came from a guilt-based culture in the West and found himself in a shame-based culture in North Africa. Cultural differences pose a challenge and require acclimatization when we land on foreign soil.
Jackson Wu, the author of One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization, put it this way: “If I said, ‘耶稣是救世主’ to someone who didn’t know Chinese, the message would amount to gibberish, even though I just said, ‘Jesus is the Messiah!’ Even if I used English, someone may wonder, ‘What in the world is the messiah?’”
We need to understand and adapt to the culture we are trying to reach.
“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” — Apostle Paul speaking in 1 Corinthians 9:22
When in Morocco, Sean Ranger did as the Berber did. He could make, pour and drink tea with the best of them. He also learned to speak to them in a way they, as Muslims (if only nominally), would better understand.
“As for sharing the Gospel with Berbers, we would most often use stories,” Sean said. “Usually stories directly from the Bible, although we sometimes used other stories that had been created with specific lessons in mind.
“Biblical stories commonly used include the healing of blind Bartimaeus (in Mark 10:46
), the story of the Prodigal, the story of the one sheep in Luke 15
, the Parable of the Tenants and the Parable of the Sower. We didn’t really choose these stories because of a common thread, they just seemed to be ones that came up more often than others.
“We would also often quote Jesus saying, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life
’ and then expand on each of those words and what they mean.
“One of the stories we used quite often was of a king ordering a tajine (the common Berber meal). He asks for a tajine and so his cook makes him a pork tajine. The king smells the pork when it comes, yells at the cook and tells him to bring him a ‘clean’ tajine. So the cook adds a bunch of good meat to the pork, brings it again. The king sends it back and the cook adds vegetables this time. Again it’s sent back and so the cook takes the pork out (but not the juices) and presents it again. The king recognizes the pork juices are still in the tajine and continues to refuse it. The point of the story being you can’t clean yourself with good works to be invited into the Kingdom of Heaven. I don't know who came up with this but it’s really spot on.”
Sean Ranger and our Moroccan teams also have carried the Jesus
film and other videos in Berber. “People that would often only listen to us for a few minutes before finding a reason to leave the room were willing to sit for an hour watching a film narrated by a native Berber speaker,” Sean said.
Dinner served to Sean Ranger by our host. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
At one house our team visited in 2013, there was a TV connected to a satellite dish. (This was where we were when the Boston Marathon bombing occurred, allowing us to see some of the horrifying news back home. A C4C Canada board member was running in that race.) The man of the house turned on a movie. It was an old, critically poor Bible film. In fact, one of our team immediately started criticizing the film – certainly a mission no-no. I told this person to be quiet and look at what was going on; we were sitting in a Berber home in the Atlas Mountains with a Muslim man who was absorbed by a Bible film. This was a God moment. It opened the door for Sean Ranger to share more about Jesus.
“One thing I found over time was that regardless of which stories or ideas we shared, the effectiveness of what we were sharing had a lot more to do with the spiritual condition of the people we were sharing with than how well prepared we were,” Sean Ranger said. “Sometimes my poorer attempts at sharing were more effective because the person I was speaking with was ready. Other times my better attempts all seemed to go in one ear and out the other – or not in at all!
This by no means excuses ill-preparedness. We need to be ready to share anywhere, anytime (2 Timothy 4:2
). That means we need to make every effort to understand and better know the people to whom we are called to deliver the Good News.
Father, we beseech You, to teach us how to clearly share You with those who do not know You as the One, true God. May Your truth be understood and not a foreign message of gibberish. Let those who have ears, hear it. In Your name we pray. Amen.
What is honor? What is shame?
Here are definitions provided by Werner Mischke in his book, The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World
- HONOR is “the worth or value of persons both in their eyes and in the eyes of their village, neighborhood, or society.” … “The critical item is the public nature of respect and reputation.”
- SHAME is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” … “the fear of disconnection.”
African theologian Andrew Mbuvi put it this way: “I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am.”
The West is about “self”: self-service, self-centeredness, self-sacrifice, self-deprecation, self-satisfaction. It’s all about “me.” In cultures in Africa and Asia, the “concept of ‘self’ is established primarily by one’s family and community. This is called the dyadic personality
, and is completely different from the individualistic personality by which Westerners view the world. … such a person (seeing life in terms of honor) would always see himself or herself through the eyes of others.”
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is viewed as the quintessential teaching on honor and shame. The “basic message of the Parable of the Prodigal Son,” Mischke says, offers the solution to the problem of guilt and condemnation from God and the covering of our shame and the restoration of our honor before God. Werner has written “The Father’s Love Booklet,” which is a wonderful resource. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is an excellent entry point for the teaching of the Gospel.