Tina is a missionary serving with her husband in Spain. The specific culture in Spain in which they serve is not presented in order to protect the privacy of the people they serve.
We were in ministry before we participated in the CultureBound training in South America. We were involved in church planting and placing national believers in positions of leadership so that the North American missionaries could step away and let those national churches thrive under their own national leadership.
Before we transitioned to our next mission, we went through the CultureBound training. I started to see things from a different perspective. We examined the deeper levels of communication and relationships and how people work together in the community. It became really obvious to me that the Languages of Culture were spot on.
I learned it would take something much more to get down to the heart and to the soul of a person that we are communicating with. Studying the different Languages of Culture opened up a sense of freedom in me to really explore other values like time and space and touch and feel. Thinking creatively about how to use those levels of communication brought a whole new perspective to ministry for me.
We moved on to our new ministry assignment in Europe into a community of about a million people. I knew at that point that we needed to find the networkers of that community — the people who would be at the center and hub of community life. My first interaction with anybody would just be those casual relationships while buying groceries at the local market and saying hello to a neighbor on the street.
Our training strategy was to post our phone numbers at the local university offering language exchange. We would meet anybody who was interested in practicing English over coffee. Because we weren’t native speakers, we could also practice our Spanish. It wasn’t formal language classes, just casual meetings with locals.
We prayed God would lead us to the right people and soon had a list of 35.
Having young children, I knew I could really only handle meeting one person regularly to develop a friendship, to learn more about the place that we live, and to learn how to communicate effectively in Spanish and start to understand how to get to the heart of that community.
The very first person listed on this list of phone numbers that we collected was a woman named Montse. I began meeting with her for coffee and found that we had many things in common. She had a very high level of English but said she needed to stay in practice because of her work. After a few weeks of meeting with her, she started putting the pieces together and confronted me. She said if I had intentions of converting her, she was not interested and would not be meeting with me anymore.
I explained to her that my intention was to learn about my community and that I certainly did not mean to mislead. I also explained that it is true that I believe in God Almighty and Jesus and my relationship with God is a beautiful part of my life. She walked away and I expected not to hear from her again, but she called a few weeks later. She made it clear she did not want to talk about religion or church or God. I agreed and we began to spend a lot of time together. I needed to earn her trust.
Over two months I was able to use my training and began to understand what was happening in the community, the differences and similarities that we found between our cultures, and about humanity and the state of the world. She stopped me one day in our conversation and said that if I really intend to make a difference in our community and understand the people, then I could come work with her as a volunteer. I could network with many other people, be immersed in Spanish, and see what’s important to the Spanish people, their history and the future that they hope they have.
Montse works in a government museum. She’s involved in all things cultural, archaeological and everything related to the history of Spain. Working with all the different artifacts that are stored in the museum became the focus of my outreach. Artifacts was one of the Languages of Culture I’d learned and now was literally working with them.
Over time the volunteer group grew to 16 and it is a continuous opportunity to share my faith. We have spent many hours working together in the warehouses, in laboratories handling artifacts, and writing up documents and reports for all the different objects that are passing through the museum. That time has provided for many conversations.
One of the most beautiful opportunities I’ve had is over a Spanish-style coffee break. Montse will emcee the breaks and lead a discussion. One particular day she said, “Our discussion today will be on whether religion is good for women.” She went around the group and asked everybody their opinions on religion and how it had affected women in different civilizations over different periods of time.
Spain has grown to have a very negative view of religion. Spaniards are also very keen on protecting women’s rights and the movement of feminism is seen as very important - this was a hot topic.
After everybody had their piece to say about religion and women, it was agreed that religion was actually bad for women. Right at that moment, Montse asked me what my opinion was. I went to what I know of different women through the Bible. I shared the stories that show so clearly that women are loved and cherished by God - how God used them, valued them, and had good things for them.
After I shared a number of stories about specific women in the Bible, Montse said, “Wait a minute - we’re all very educated and understand so much of world history and different cultures, but we don’t know these stories. Does anybody else here know these stories?” Nobody else spoke up.
The stories of Ruth and Esther and Sarah were stories they had never studied. I was asked to start teaching the stories of these women over breaks. That became a lovely opportunity to actually have a whole series of Bible studies sharing what God has taught us through His Word. We discussed God’s plan for all people. It has turned into an incredible opportunity that is just beginning of an avalanche.
We continue to have these conversations of faith related to the Scriptures and to real life. None of this would have happened if it had not been for my training at CultureBound. It was through that training that I started to see the importance of getting into the community and understanding the deeper values that were found there.
"He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers."
Exodus 35:35 NIV