I appreciated seeing two different missionaries write about how they have found people in drastically different cultures to simply be people. Here are two excerpts though both pieces are worth reading.
Jake has been in China for over six years and plans on being there a lot longer. He has learned the language, started churches, and trained pastors from scratch. He concludes his take on East v. West culture clashes with this:
For missionaries, remember that for the most part, people are people are people. You will get much further with cultural adaptation if you assume that Chinese people are mostly like Westerners. Treat them with the same respect and humility you’re used to exercising in your own culture. Focusing on the differences between the cultures is like trying to build a bridge at the widest part of a canyon. It’s very impressive when done well, but it’s the hardest way to accomplish the task. Much wiser to focus on the incredible degree of overlap between two cultures.
Lori Bassham is the wife of a good friend of mine (Phil Bassham). They are just getting settled in Bangkok, Thailand. The Basshams moved in April 2013 and are currently in language school. Lori wisely contends in her post that attitude is everything and not living in America is not awful. She did briefly touch on the theme of people being people:
Thai people aren’t weird. They are people and people are largely the same no matter where you go. I have not found anyone here any more difficult to understand or get along with than anyone in the States! It’s hard for me to hear people talk about Thai people as if for some wacky reason they are impossible to understand. I love these people! The more I get to know them, the more I am blessed.
No one is denying that there are significant differences in cultures. Neither of these missionaries—the veteran or the neophyte—are saying that learning the language and culture are unimportant. Both view it as critical. What they are saying is that humility and thoughtfulness can go a lot farther than most people think.
Maybe we should be practicing this in America too. God has not called you to reach Democrats as a conservative Republican but as a Christian. The country bumpkin may have to give a little to reach the urbanite. And the urbanite that God has called to the middle of nowhere may--no, will--have to adapt. But people are people. Treat them like they are.