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During our cross-cultural training with New Tribes Mission, I first heard the term concrete relational. This phrase describes how most cultures function at their core. It explains the way in which most societies function and revolve around relationships.
When moving to Asia Pacific, the next idea, Relationships are key! would be something I heard often. For instance, it is not uncommon when you go into a small business in the city that you sit and share tea and talk to the owner and employees.
This is a foreign concept to most of us. When is the last time you had tea with your supermarket manager?
You can see why this may cause culture shock in some. There is this frustration that occurs when someone coming from a very time-oriented, quality-controlled culture, like the culture in North America, drops into a concrete-relational culture.
We have to-do lists. We have agendas. We have schedules.
For example, when we are staying in a coastal city in our country, when something breaks or we need to buy something, we find ourselves often wanting to do it in the most efficient, timely manner possible. So we jump out of our air-conditioned car and get blasted with the hot humidity of the tropics. Then we duck into what we consider a cramped store, frustrated that what we are looking for isn’t where it ought to be compared to the mega store layout we are used to. And instead of stopping to ask the manager about his store or his family or offer information about our own family or situation, we just barge in and want our stuff. We need to get back to our work, our lists, our plans. People, unfortunately, seem to just get in the way. We get frustrated.
But we have to remember and remind ourselves that whether it is a short-term mission endeavor or a career mission, our desire must be to see our neighbor come to Christ.
Relationships are key. Time is essential. Investments mean sacrifice.
When it comes to sharing the good news, that God did not leave us in a state of sin and misery but in His abundant grace has made a way for sinners to be made right with him, there are no shortcuts. We have learned that most times we can’t simply blow through an eight-step gospel message or show them a movie and hope they are bridging all the cultural gaps, interpreting all of our church lingo, and throwing off all their layers of worldview.
If the gospel is important to us, if we truly want to make disciples and teach them all that Jesus has commanded, if we believe that the news of salvation holds value and worth above all else, then we must take the time to do our jobs right. Just writing this makes me wonder about who I rush by day after day and what relationships I miss out on!
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