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Cultural Differences and
the Communication
of the Gospel
Paul G. Hiebert

Y

Paul G. Hiebert
is Chairman of
the Department
of Mission and
Evangelism and
Professor of Mission and Anthropology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He previously taught
Anthropology and South Asian
Studies at Fuller Theological
Seminary’s School of World Mission. Hiebert served as a missionary inIndia with the Mennonite
Brethren Board. He is the author
of Cultural Anthropology, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries,
and Case Studies in Mission with
his wife, Frances H. Hiebert.
Adapted from Crucial Dimensions in World Evangelization, by
Arthur F. Glasser, et al. , 1976.
Used by permission of William
Carey Library, Pasadena, CA.

ou were excited. You were accepted as amissionary.
The church held a big farewell in which you were
center stage when all your life you had sat only in the
pews. There was the thrilling, sorrowful parting at the airport,
the flight in the giant 747, and a little uneasiness as you landed
in a strange country. But friends were there to meet you. You
couldn’t read the menu at the restaurant so you pointed knowingly at something you didn’trecognize and took your
chances. You recognized half the food on the plate. The other
half looked inedible—was it roasted insects or goat’s entrails?
Later you went to the market to buy oranges but the woman
couldn’t understand a word you said. You pointed to your
mouth and rubbed your stomach like a little child. You had to
pay her, but all you could do was hold out a handful of the
strangecoins for her to take what she wanted. You were sure
you were cheated. You got on a bus to go across town, and got
lost. You imagined yourself spending the next ten years riding
the bus trying to get home. You got sick and you were sure the
local doctor didn’t know how to treat American diseases. Now
you are sitting on your bed, wanting to go back where you
came from. How did you getyourself into this anyway, and
what do you say to your church after a few weeks of ‘missions’
abroad? “The job is done”? “I can’t take it”?
Your reaction is perfectly normal.

Level of Satisfaction
Tourist

Culture
Shock

Adjusted Bicultural
Person

want to
stay

want to
go home

Time
Culture shock is a sense of cultural disorientation in a different society.

Chapter 54

373 375 C hapter 54

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

It is the culture shock everyone experiences when they enter a new culture. Tourists
do not really experience it because they return to their American-style hotels after
riding around looking at the native scenery.
Culture shock is not a reaction to poverty or
to the lack of sanitation. For foreigners coming to the U.S. the experience is same. It isthe
shock in discovering that all the cultural patterns we have learned are now meaningless.
We know less about living here than the children, and we must begin again to learn the
elementary things of life—how to speak,
greet one another, eat, market, travel, and a
thousand other things. Culture shock really
sets in when we realize that this now is going
to be our life and home.

THECONCEPT OF CULTURE
To understand culture shock and the problems of intercultural communication, we

need to first understand the concept of “culture.” We will begin with a simple definition that we can modify later, as our understanding of the concept grows. Culture is
“the more or less integrated systems of beliefs, feelings and values, and their associated symbols, patterns of behavior andproducts shared by a group of people.” Let
us unpack this definition.

Patterns of Behavior and Products
Most people begin learning a culture by observing the behavior of the people and looking for patterns in their behavior. We see two
Americans grasp each other’s hand and
shaking them. In Mexico we see them embrace. In India each puts his hands together
and raises them toward his forehead...
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