“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law,[c] that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God,[d] but under law toward Christ[e]), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as[f] weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
1 Corinthians 9:19-22
Sometimes things are “lost in translation”, as they say.
I have learned this over the years, though I feel as if I have not scratched the surface of truly grasping the culture here in Northern Uganda.
For example, within the first few days of my arrival in Northern Uganda, the man whom I was working with told me that we should go visit his brother who needed encouragement. He said the brother lived very close and we could easily walk there.
First of all, it was the dry season. I had just come from winter in New York to the heat and dry sauna of Northern Uganda. Walking two feet felt difficult as I wasn’t yet adjusted to the weather and environment. Nonetheless, I thought it was a good idea to pray for this brother. He was newly saved and had two wives. He wasn’t sure what he should do with them. Neither did I, as I had never encountered that before, but I knew it would be a good start to go pray with him and meet the family.
Then I later realized that the term “brother” was different and much looser than my American understanding. A brother could be a cousin, a clan member, someone who grew up near someone else, or indeed an actual brother. It needed to be thoroughly investigated if you wanted to determine the true relationship. Suffice it to say that after a while when someone calls another person a relative, it can mean many things but the essential part (usually) is that THEY are important to each other. (I have had friends whose employees requested leave to go to their mother’s funeral- THREE TIMES!! It turned out one was a “step mother”- or co-wife of his father; one was a grandmother; and one was the actual mother.)
Most importantly, I have learned that when someone in Kitgum says something is “just near” or “not far,” it is usually VERY far and not near at all. I found this out the hard way in those first few days when I walked in the hot sun to visit this “brother” of my co-worker. I didn’t bring any water with me, since it wasn’t far. Nearly two hours later, we arrived at the house. Afterwards, when someone would tell me something was “just near,” I buckled up for a long journey. I brought water, put on sunblock, and sometimes packed a snack. Multiple times this has paid off for me.
I would like us to venture into the topic of living in a cross-cultural world, and not just surviving- but living well.
I have tried my best to navigate the murky waters of different cultures. Sometimes I have fallen on my face, covered in mud and thoroughly embarrassed... this literally happened to me once when I fell off my bike, but I’ll save that story for another day.
Through it all, I have learned and grown. There are some things about this culture that I love and have adopted as my own. Others are still an almost daily struggle, but they have taught me as well. At the end of the day, we all need to leave behind our cultures to embrace the culture of Christianity.
I hope this month’s topic will encourage all of you missionaries, and those of you who are living in your own culture and yet - you realize that you, too, are an alien and a foreigner as a believer. May we find mutual encouragement knowing we aren’t alone, and knowing we aren’t yet where we belong.
Why do we do it? Why do we push through the humiliation, the discomfort, and confusion of it all? In order that we may win some! We become “all things to all men” that our lives may be an example (albeit a messy and imperfect one) of what Christ came to do.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to just SURVIVE the cross-cultural world I live in; I want to live well. And I want my life to reflect Christ more and more as I embrace the culture of Christianity in this world that is so very contrary to what that truly is.
So what do you think?
Comment below to get this conversation going!