Some years ago there was a young lady who traveled for the first time to a very poor part of the Dominican Republic. Her name was Rebecca, and she went with a group that volunteered their time to build homes for the poorest of the poor. When I speak of “homes,” keep in mind functional simplicity. The finished product was a basic structure built upon a crude concrete slab, hardly a home by most standards, little more than a shed in most places. But for many of the recipient families, these structures might be the first reliable and safe homes they have ever known.
In recalling this first visit to the Dominican Republic, Rebecca shared that she knew very little Spanish at the time, but each day she made every effort to communicate and practice her language skills as she went about her duties during her stay. One day, while walking to a job site, she encountered one of the many children that played in the streets. The young girl was about ten years old. She asked what Rebecca’s name was, so she told the little girl that her name was “Becca,” thinking it would be easier for her to pronounce than “Rebecca.” The little girl looked perplexed and said “Bocca?” Rebecca replied; “Becca with an ‘eh’,” she told her. The girl seemed surprised as her mouth slowly formed “Bocca” again. After a “conversation” that was part verbal and part sign language, they parted ways each going about their respective day.
The following day they once again met, but this time at the work site. On this particular occasion there where a bunch of kids that had joined the little ten year old to watch Rebecca help build a house. During the course of the day, Rebecca noticed that every time she walked by the kids, they would ask her her name and then whisper “Bocca.” Immediately thereafter, everyone in the group would break out in uncontrollable laughter. The laughter would soon die down until she had to walk by the group again, and the entire process would repeat itself.
Finally, in mock anger, Rebecca tossed down her gloves in frustration and asked “what does ‘Bocca” mean?” One girl looked at her and slowly replied, “Cow.” That’s when it hit her, they where saying “Vaca,” Spanish for “Cow.” It was then that everyone, including Rebecca, broke out in laughter. It was an amusing moment and illustrated for her how difficult it was at times to understand some of the nuances of language. But it also proved to be a learning experience for her as well, and in the end this clarified understanding of her name resulted in a deepening bond between her and the families she was serving.(Reflections: A Journey to the Dominican Republic)
One of the greatest challenges we often face in life is in the ability to simply understand accurately what another person is attempting to communicate. While we may not always agree with what someone might share, it’s important that we at least ensure we understand and can articulate their position back to them. In this way they we might confirm our understanding of what they just shared to us.
Over the years I’ve found there are times when I’m not the best listener, and I don’t always practice good communication skills like feeding back the topic to the speaker to ensure I actually understand their perspective. I have a feeling I may not be alone in this regard.
As followers of Christ we are actively living in a culture for which we and others we encounter may not always agree. If we are to influence our culture positively, we need to start by first ensuring that we understand and can distinguish our own views from that of the popular culture around us. This first step is necessary so that we know upfront where we are in agreement and where we might be out of alignment with popular ideas.
Scripture says that just as we have been brought into a right and healthy relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we’re to help those around us see the same love and grace that God has bestowed upon each of us, and to communicate His desire to be reconciled with each person. In that way, we are to be “ambassadors” for Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
Our credibility for engaging the culture around us must be founded in our genuine love for those with whom we engage. Jesus said that our love for one another would be the way in which others would know that we are followers of Christ. (John 13:35 ) The scriptures share that if our love for others is not real, than we’re no better than a loud gong or clanging symbol. We’re just another voice in an already noisy world of erroneous beliefs. (1 Corinthians 13:1 )
When we encounter a contrary cultural viewpoint, we should always start our conversation by asking the Lord for wisdom and knowledge on how best to respond. Secondly, we need take the high road and not plan on “winning over” the person for whom we are in conversation. Rather, our goal is to hear out the other person’s position completely without interruption, and then to respond in a manner that leaves them with something worthy of consideration that cannot be easily swept aside.
Greg Koukl, author of numerous resources on apologetics, suggests that our primary tool in separating fact from fiction in any conversation is “reason.” In his book, “Tactics” he pointed out that the Apostle Paul often appealed to reason and other practical approaches to engage others around him. (Acts 17:2-4) Koukl also suggested that our conversations should be handled fairly, reasonably, and with a high degree of grace. In fact, we should allow enough room for our own views to be challenged with evidence, reasoning, and from Scripture.
The bottom line is that when discussing cultural values that run contrary to God’s desire for those whom he loves, we need to keep in mind that our goal is to testify by word, deed, knowledge, and reason. We’re not to take personal responsibility to change a person’s heart. That’s the job for the Holy Spirit. Heart change is something that happens from within, and only God can move a person’s heart. But that movement often starts by engaging the mind. That’s our job.
Don’t be discouraged when conversations don’t go as planned. Each encounter is an opportunity for us to learn. Accept that we personally may not succeed in seeing a person’s perspective change immediately, instead remember that in love, and as an ambassador for Christ, the purpose of our conversation may simply have been to lay the groundwork for positive change in that person’s life for some time in the future.