Project Prayer: Ramadan 2016 - Day 21

Gary Fallesen

Project Prayer: Ramadan 2016 - Day 21

Day 21: The honor/shame culture, part 3 — For His purpose

By Gary Fallesen, founding president, Climbing For Christ

Honored to “feast” with Muslim friends in eastern Turkey. (Photo by Gary Fallesen, Mission: Ararat 2014)

The Open Doors ministry prayer calendar for Ramadan says today: “Many secret believers are forced to take part in Ramadan rituals. Pray for opportunities for them to share their faith.”

Muslim-background believers may continue to go to the mosque and participate in daily Islamic life after converting to Christianity. It could be likened to a worker in the West going to his secular job each day looking for opportunities to shine for Jesus.

In other instances, it is because there is no community of Christ followers. The MBB is isolated and alone.

We have encouraged many who have accepted Jesus in hostile territory (be it Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or animist) to keep Him in their heart. God knows He has a place there.

As it turns out, “there may be long-term advantages to encouraging new believers to remain in their family as a light and not disdain social customs,” writes Jayson Georges in The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame and Fear Cultures. “Family networks are the most natural channels for transmitting the gospel in shame-honor contexts, so they should be maintained whenever possible.”

God has placed each of us in a culture, in a time, and in a location for His purpose. He has works for us to do — to glorify His name — whether we live in Western, Latin, Islamic, African or Asian cultures.

Here’s how these five cultures are defined by The Honor-Shame Network, which includes authors Georges, Chris Flanders, Werner Mischke and Jackson Wu:
  • Western tends to be more private and personal, resulting in low self-esteem. “Shame is not so much community scorn (though social media is bringing this aspect out more and more).”
  • Latin honors machoism.
  • Islamic esteems the Qur’an, Muhammad, ummah (community), and even the Arabic language. “Muslims feel personally disrespected if any of these are disgraced.”
  • African gives a high value to ancestry, honoring the “living dead.”
  • Asian recognizes “face.” Shaming someone else brings shame upon oneself.

Map of cultures by The Honor-Shame Network.

While shame in the West is centered on the individual, it is about public reputation in the East. “The seedbed of Eastern shame is a strong communal culture, where the prying eyes of gossipy neighbors publicize my value,” Mischke writes on

Those prying eyes may also expose your new-found love — Jesus Christ. Depending on the place, this exposure can produce life-shattering results such as being ostracized and persecuted.

“Westerners often miss honor and shame dynamics in other cultures,” Georges writes in The 3D Gospel. “One reason is that languages use different words to talk about honor and shame, such as: glory, reputation, status, dignity, or worth. Many cultures use metaphors, since people are known by their name and face.

“Also, cultural expressions of honor and shame can appear contradictory. For example, Middle Eastern cultures aggressively compete for honor. Conflict is viewed as win-lose or lose-win. So they may resort to honor killings or even terrorism to avoid shame and restore honor.”

Some further insights into traits of the honor-shame culture:
  • Group orientation: The community’s opinion and acceptance of you is most important.
  • Public purity: “Dirt” and “filth” are metaphors for shame. But these metaphors are often taken literally, so physical dirtiness equals social dirtiness. If your shoes are dirty, shame on you.
  • Gender roles: Men are expected to advance the family name publicly while women are to avoid shame by means of modesty.
  • Feasting: Eating together implies community, acceptance, and shared possessions. Gifts of goats to our mission teams by impoverished people are a way to show honor. Jesus turned social honor upside-down (and was ridiculed for it) by eating with sinners.
  • Patronage: A superior gives something physical (food, money, housing) in exchange for something social from the inferior (loyalty, obedience, praise). Patronage is how the materially rich buy honor and status.
  • Hospitality: Hosting people is a form of patronage. You know who you are by who you eat with.
  • Indirect communication: Also known as lying in the West. Not telling the truth or completely disclosing information is a way to maintain one’s honor. “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged’” (Romans 3:3-4, ESV).
  • Event focused: Timeliness is the first (and often hardest) lesson for Westerners to learn in other cultures. There is no such thing as tardiness in other parts of the world. The event starts when everyone is there, no matter when that might be. The important thing is the people gathering, not the task at hand. Starting without someone would be offensive. Time is also a way to show honor; the most important people arrive last. Myriad times we are told a worship service begins at 9 a.m., but we arrive at 10 with our host as a sign of importance. (This flies in the face of humility, but when in Rome…)
We can learn many lessons from the greatest missionary of all-time, the Apostle Paul, who evangelized in the honor-shame culture. In his spiritual blessings to the church at Ephesus, Paul addressed salvation, writing: “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. … So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 1:5; 2:19, ESV, emphasis mine).

This is the message our Muslim friends and neighbors need to hear — focused on community and love. God is waiting for many to acknowledge who He is. May we be blessed to deliver His truth.

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