We are currently in Brussels, Belgium for the next 4.5 weeks in a dorm-style living center with 11 other missionary units for Cross Cultural Ministry Internship (CCMI), where we're learning (among other things) how to assess, engage, and assimilate into another culture, how to learn a language, and how to plant a church. We've spent our first three days of class learning about culture and "ethnography." Assuming that many others are just as ignorant of this word as I was, I'll quickly explain.
Today we looked at four ways that culture is measured, and each country is given a rating from 0 - 100 which I'll put in parenthesis next to each country below. I'd like to go through what we learned as it applies to Romania versus the United States and the way we are anticipating that these differences may affect us. Hopefully this will also give our friends and family back home ideas of how to pray for us specifically as we assimilate.
Romania (30) vs. United States (91)
This category shows one of the starkest contrasts in the two countries, as the United States unsurprisingly has the highest scores of individualism in the entire world, according to this Geert-Hostede analysis. Children in the USA are taught to think in terms of "I" instead of "we," and we tend to find our identities based on our individual characteristics, hobbies, passions, etc. However, most of the rest of the world (including Romania) is more collective in their identity. Their identity is based on their membership in a group or family, and they tend to be very family-oriented in exchange for loyalty to the family.
We anticipate seeing these differences play out in many ways. Firstly, to be Romanian is largely to be Eastern Orthodox. They are born into the church, baptized in the church, and buried in the church. Therefore, any perceived threat to that collective identity (i.e. understanding the Bible through a different lens or joining a non-Orthodox church) may be met with a lot of resistance, not just because differing viewpoints are hard but also because a change in churches would be a change in loyalty and identity. We are, therefore, praying that we will rightly view ourselves and therefore help them view themselves as part of the larger collection of Christians, which including protestants. Acknowledging our collective heritage may help overcome this hurdle, though we anticipate it being on the hardest ones. Furthermore, for as much as I generally dislike the individualism in America, I recognize that living in another way will probably create tension. I can imagine feeling as though others are infringing on my "me time" or my introversion may be stifled if I feel like others are coming into "my space" too much. I am praying especially that the Holy Spirit will allow me to view myself as part of the larger collection of humans whom He loves so that we can overcome this drastic cultural difference.
Romania (90) vs. United States (41)
Power distance s considered the extent to which a culture accepts an unequal distribution of power. Is it okay for people to be unequal, or should we work to end inequality? Are children equals to their parents and teachers, or should they just be quiet and obedient? Is the ideal boss a resourceful democrat or a benevolent dictator? The way cultures answer these questions helps determine their acceptance of power distribution. The United States is almost in the middle of high-power versus low-power distances. I see this often in the way that we philosophically disagree with inequality yet in practice there are still many, many inequalities in our nation. In contrast, Romania is a very high-power distance country so that they are very accepting of differences in power. Some people are "born to rule" and some people are not. Some people are rich and some people are poor. These values make sense to me because of their history with communism and the Orthodox Church, which tends to give high authority to Priests.
We've already been told that having a teaching degree will definitely be to our advantage, as it will open up doors for us to potentially get on campus in an adjunct capacity or work as tutors for English or other subjects in the towns. The "authority" we have a certified teachers plays to their high-power distance values. Also, I've been told that doctors are highly revered and don't do well with people who seem to question them. With a baby on the way, this cultural difference may be difficult for me! And also, we know that our lack of a "Priest" to act as the go-between for God and the people makes it difficult for Romanians to trust our Bible Studies or church services. I think focusing on Scripture - which of course we all share - that speaks to all of us now being priests may help Romanians with that transition.
Romania (90) vs. United States (46)
As a country with a high score of "uncertainty avoidance," Romania is a country that, as a whole, is very risk-averse. There is an inherent fear of risk, failure, differences and unfamiliar situations, so these things should be avoided and fought since they are a threat. As a culture they live and die by the rules, even if the rules don't really work. The United States is much closer to the middle of this scale, but certainly I know from personal experience that our culture tends to value entrepreneurship and stepping out of our comfort zones to achieve. We are more tolerant of differences, more comfortable in ambiguous situations, and believe that fewer rules and more individual freedom is better.
The church-plant in Romania is already experiencing this cultural uncertainty in a very real way. The MTW missionaries are NOT the pastors or the head of the church. We are committed to empowering Romanians to lead themselves. Because of this, for the past several years of the church-plant, the three Romanian elders met with the missionary on a weekly basis, during which time he helped them prepare for sermons behind-the-scenes so that each Sunday the Romanians rotated who would lead the service. Yet we have been praying for the Lord to raise up a Romanian pastor to take charge of the church so that we can move on to another church plant. But being a pastor is risky. As a vocation or a bi-vocation, a pastorship does not bring financial certainty. In a culture where an evangelical Romanian pastor would be outside of the religious collective, becoming a pastor would be a social risk. So praying for a Romanian pastor is not solely about praying for someone with enough theological training to take leadership; we are praying for the Lord to overcome deeply ingrained cultural preferences for certainty.
Career Success / ("Masculine" Culture)
Romania (42) vs. United States (62)
This is the category in which the two countries are the closest, yet the United States is still rated as a more "masculine" culture where success is measured by what we accomplish. Therefore, in the USA it may be more common for men to be viewed as assertive, ambitious, and dealing with facts whereas women are viewed as feelings-oriented as less tough (though from personal experience I certainly don't think this is a necessarily true nowadays). However, I do think that the States to be highly driven by competition, material success, and progress. We live in order to work. In contrast, Romania is slightly more on the side of caring more about the quality of life, where they work in order to live. Most people, including men, tend to be more concerned with relationships than career success since relationships are seen as the higher value.
In theory, I am super excited about moving to Romania for this particular categorical difference. Each year at school I teach a lesson to my students about "Thinking Win-Win" rather than identifying oneself by success in comparison to others. And as a whole, I really prefer the emphasis on relationships that other cultures, including Romania, seems to have. However, I also recognize the truth that I enjoy accomplishing things and checking off my to-do lists. So while working in ministry with Romanians, we may not accomplish as much as I would prefer. I recognize that this can create tension due to differing cultural values. Also, I think it may be difficult living as an ambassador between the USA and Romania. It's difficult if our newsletters aren't full of identifiable, objective achievements that we send home to our supporters. Will they still want to support us if we build relationships but can't show a lot of progress? How will our cultural values collide in this regard? We're praying for the Lord to show us how to walk the tightrope line of living in between two worlds.
As we transition to Romania and rub up against these cultural differences, we are praying that the Lord will cover us with His mercy and grace so that we can love these people because we love Christ. And we hope to constantly remind ourselves - and allow y'all to remind, us as well - that these differences are not weird, bad, or inferior - they are just different. And we know that these differences are celebrated in the Kingdom of God, where "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)