One of the first tasks of the missionary newly arrived on the field is to “dismantle” one’s own communication processor in order to rebuild it along the frequency of the host culture. This is easier said than done as many of our communication assumptions are so culturally ingrained that we do not think about them consciously. “Question, Listen, Understand, then Teach” becomes a little helpful initial formula. This results in a lengthy learning process that slows our teaching aspirations down and can be very frustrating… unless we learn to enjoy it. I try to think of it as “smelling the cultural roses along the way”. A good starting place is in the making of inquiries concerning a culture’s “symbols and meanings”. Often a symbol that our culture and the host culture shares has two completely different meanings. This can often lead to comic miscommunications. I remember my nephew, Jason Davis, who discovered the many interesting chameleon species in our forest. He very innocently placed one on his shoulder as he walked down a path. He was somewhat non-plussed to find villagers running in terror from him… what meaning of horror do the Kaonde attach to the symbol of a “cute little chameleon”?
As our volunteers enter the Kaonde culture this May through July, this little formula may help you to communicate better. Even Jesus and Paul have something to say concerning this:
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'"
Matthew 15:10-11 NIV
“I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.”
1 Corinthians 9:22 ASV
Never having found a communications short-cut yet,
Brian, Sondra, Noah, & Bryson