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Intercultural Communication for Christian Ministry


During the final proof reading of the manuscript I discovered a book of great value for intercultural communication. Consequently I have not given it the attention it deserves.

Lustig, Myron, and Jolene Koester, Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures. Boston, Mass.: Allyn & Bacon, 2010, Chapter 10. This book, while focused on intercultural competence is an excellent book in intercultural communication for secular environments.

Anticipated outcomes:

On the completion of this chapter the reader should be competent to:

· identify the cost and benefit of interpersonal relationships;

· recognise the place of self-disclosure, shared values and level of intimacy in developing relationships;

· identify culturally different ways of developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships;

· outline the characteristics of the various statuses and roles that may assume that hinder meaningful mutual relationships;

· able to adapt and apply various conflict resolution strategies in varied cultural settings.


1. Considering a particular culture you are familiar with (other than your own). What kinds of behaviours help develop trust? What kinds of behaviours undermine trust?

2. Case study: A maid in the house

A missionary couple in South America employed a maid to help in the house. They wanted to treat her as one of the family and so show Christian love to her. They joked with her and invited her to share their meal. But when they visited the homes of national folk they noticed that maids are not included in their social events and do not eat the meal with them. The missionaries felt uncomfortable about this. They also noticed that when their guests came to eat, they avoided speaking with the maid despite the missionaries? attempts to include her in the conversation. Other missionaries told them that being too familiar with their maid could result in problems. 

Mayers observes that, in South America, there are distinctions between various statuses in society and the maid can be a ?mistress? of the man. 

What cautions should the missionary observe?

What behaviours could their familiarity encourage?

How could they maintain appropriate social distance?

Source: Marvin Mayers, Christianity Confronts Culture: A Strategy for Cross-cultural Evangelism, rev. edn. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), 339-340.

3. Reflection: What is your preferred strategy? How Biblical is it? Next time you face a potential conflict consider what strategy would be best for the desired goals in that situation.

4. Case study: Will the Snake Live Again?

A conference was held in Ethiopia that included missionaries from a USA based agency and the Ethiopian church with whom they worked. All had gone well until, near the close of the conference, a heated debate erupted threatening the unity and general goodwill between the two groups. The controversy centred on issues of control and submission. As time progressed the discussion became more intense. Relationships deteriorated to the point of collapse as westerners and Ethiopians traded accusations based on past perceptions and experiences. The unity between the missionaries and the church in Ethiopia was clearly in jeopardy. At this point, an Ethiopian leader who had been fairly quiet until this point began to tell the following story:

 A father and his son set out on a journey. Halfway to their destination, they encountered a dead snake lying across their path. The father said to his son, "You must tell me with complete honesty your deepest desire and I will tell you mine. If the truth is told, the snake will come back to life and we will be able to complete our journey." The father began by saying that his desire was to pass his inheritance on to his son. The son stated, "It is my desire that your desire be fulfilled." At that moment the snake came back to life and moved off the trail. The two travelers were then free to continue on their journey.  

For whom is the story intended?

What does it mean in the context?

What advantages could there be in using the story rather than the direct confrontation?

See the author?s understanding at the end of this chapter.

Source: Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 102-103.