Monday, January 29, 2007

Cultural Differences

(This post I originally wrote in response to a question on how to handle cultural differences. The person asking wanted to know how a missionary determines what is right or wrong in a culture and how does one go about changing something that is not right within the culture. I thought it would make a good post here.)

I am in a missionary working in a jungle village on a small island in the south Pacific. The culture here is incredibly different then what I am used to as an American. When I first arrived the culture shock was incredible and almost paralyzing.

After some time, I began my first church plant. When preaching and teaching on Sundays, I would have some women with no tops on. These women were usually breast feeding mothers who did not cover up after feeding their children. The children here breast feed until two to three years old. The children would be running around while I was teaching, and then run to their mother to feed. I am in a culture where fornication is rampant and expected. Most youths have lost their virginity by fourteen, especially if they’re female. Rape is against the law, but none the less it too is a cultural norm. A wife is almost property here and husbands beating their wives is common. Having more than one wife is also common. All of these items are clearly against Scripture. (Not the breast feeding of course, but the nudity, which occurred in between feeding the children.)

Now, my primary mission was not to end the nudity, remove the fornication, or stop the rape and wife beatings. My primary mission is to preach the gospel and as a result establish local churches. However, if a true church is established those things will change. The more who truly trust Christ, the more the local culture is affected and changed.

Let’s remember as Christians, in any part of the world, we will be different. We will be strangers and pilgrims on this earth. The people should begin to reflect the culture of heaven instead of the culture where they physically live. The missionary does not change the culture, but the Holy Spirit does as He changes lives. It is not up to the local people to decide what is culturally right or wrong either, it is up to God and His Word. Based on the authority of God’s Word, not my own authority, I teach against the unscriptural practices. There is something wrong in any part of the world where people make professions and yet there is no change.

“If any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” The Lord

As a missionary my focus is not on what part of the culture is wrong, but on drawing the people closer to a holy and righteous God. As a result, a new culture is formed in the church. This is not a western or village culture, but a heavenly one!


Cindy said...

This is a fantastic post. You are truly doing awesome work for our God. You are so right about establishing the faith of God in people, God will change them. The verse you listed is also the verse that I have my daughter memorizing this week! I love that verse!

Kate said...

Amen and amen and amen!!! How very true - once people are born again, 2 Cor. 5:17 kicks in and the Lord begins to change them and mold them to be more like Him!!

We are commanded to "go ye therefore" and leave the teaching to the Holy Spirit of God; after all, isn't that one of His jobs?

Brian said...


I'm actually heading to PNG before long to do some Jesus Film translation/recording.

Out of curiosity, where in the Bible do you estabilsh that the nudity is wrong - no passages quickly came to mind.

Great post!

Terry McGovern said...


Thanks for the comments.

What part of the country are you coming to?

I will write a new post to answer your question on nakedness and the Bible

Sista Cala said...

I agree about the missionary's focus on drawing people closer to a holy God. It would be most beneficial for all Christians to understand that they are not called to berate the unsaved for their sins and outward expressions of loose living; rather they are called to preach Jesus and Him crucified. They are called to live a life as a city set upon a hill showing forth the good works of God, that the world would see and desire to be like God.

Jungle Mom said...

Hello from Venezuela. I enjoyed this as we also are missionaries and have encountered the same thing among the Indians here. God's truth is universal.

panshrmu said...

I so appreciate your post. I am American married to a wonderful Bible preaching native Taiwanese. He usually gets ridiculed (from unsaved) because he doesn't fit into the stereotype of tribal people here. I have met too many missionaries trying to make Americanized Christians instead of preaching the Word and letting the Spirit do IT'S work.
I enjoy reading your posts...
Deana--in Taiwan

Terry McGovern said...


Thanks for coming by my blog!

I am glad to hear your husband is willing to be different for the sake of Christ and the gospel. Sounds like he gets alot of support from you and that is a good thing!


Yolanda said...

AMEN!!! From an one ministering in Ecuador with some of the same challenges!!! May God continue to Bless you and your work!!!!
(found you via Sista Cala)