Unfortunately, there are no quick and easy ways to learn another culture and deal with problems. However, there are two states of being that I’ve found to work.
First, Be a Baby!
Now, that is counter-cultural!
We are told to grow up, and don’t be a baby. Nevertheless, a baby learns a language and culture by watching, listening, imitating and questioning. To deal with another culture, we must become like little children. We listen and watch how the new culture deals with conflict. We imitate their behaviors. We pester them with questions.
It takes humility to become a child again, but we can get motivation from the Christmas story. Jesus (our greatest example) didn’t come as a grown-up know-it-all. He came as a baby and learned Jewish culture the no shortcuts way. By twelve years old, he was still asking questions instead of giving answers.
To reach other cultures (whether across the ocean or across the street), we must pursue relationships with the curiosity and humility of a child.
Second, Be Prayerful!
Apostle Peter didn’t have access to all the wonderful cross-cultural classes that we have today, but he did know how to get alone with God.
In Acts 10, Peter was given a crash course, culture lesson. He got up and shared holiness with a Roman centurion (a culture group he wouldn’t have even eaten with a couple days earlier).
Although cross-cultural classes are beneficial for adding understanding, no one can give better cultural lessons and wisdom for action than God himself. We must pray always for God to give us opportunities to reach other cultures and negotiate within them.
God’s leading pushed Peter outside of his comfort zone and even caused conflict among some of his Jewish friends. We will experience similar consequences while reaching out to other cultures.
I’ve found these two keys have worked for me during my five years in the Asian world. I sometimes get tired of learning like a child and am tempted to lash out at cultural differences. At those times, God encourages me to move on and control my tongue.
Recently, a young man opened up to me (within his language and culture) about his struggle with pornography. I could share about the seriousness of pornography, who can forgive, and who can help. Later, the Lord encouraged me that this is what the hard work is all about. Humility builds trust. Learning and perseverance empower communication, and God provides the opportunity!