Christians and Culture: An Interview

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We Christians in America have our concerns; unfortunately, we are often myopic and forget that Christianity is global. To provide us with a bit of perspective, I decided to reach out to Christians living in other cultures.

This is in interview with Mr. G1 in North Africa. I pray it will be helpful to you and hope, Lord willing, that this will be the first of many.

Christoph: Tell us a bit about you. Who are you, and why are you in North Africa?

Mr. G: I have been married for 17 years to Mrs. G, we have 3 kids, and we have been church planters in an Arab Muslim country for the past 6 years.

Christoph: How are you and your family doing? How can we pray for you specifically?

Mr. G: The Lord has been incredibly gracious to us over these past 7 years (6 years here and one year in another country learning language). We have stayed closely connected to our sending church in the States and we have had the privilege of serving here with dear friends from the same sending church. We just recently had an influx of new co-workers to our city from different places all over North America. You can pray for us as our local church culture is changing quite drastically as we have doubled the size of our local church with these new folks. Prayers for unity and serving one another and forgiving one another and encouraging one another are much appreciated.

Christoph: What are 2 or 3 things that differentiate your culture from the US?

Mr. G: The biggest difference that comes to mind is that the US culture is, to a large extent, based on principles and ideals that I would say originate with the Bible. For example, the ideal of “all men are created equal” (though no doubt inconsistently applied throughout US history) has a straight line to the concept in the Bible of all men being created in the image of God. The Muslim Arab culture, on the other hand, has no such concept. The ideals and principles that it draws from originate from the Quran. For the past 1400 years, the Muslim Arab culture has been cultivating laws and societal norms and views of humanity that come from Islam. For example, Islam teaches a form of fatalism in which they believe that God predestines good and evil in such a way that it largely excludes personal responsibility for mistakes or even high-handed sins. One missionary wrote that this fatalism leads to an attitude “careless of self-improvement and heedless of progress.”

Another cultural value here that is quite different than the US is the fact that your sins can be wiped out completely, multiple times throughout your life based on certain actions. The Islamic system of weighing your good actions vs your bad actions on a scale at the end of life, is applied to the man on the street through folk Islam. That is to say, there are various popular beliefs, not codified in the Quran, which assign weight to certain sins and assign cleansing value to certain good deeds. If you fast all of Ramadan, it will erase a certain number of days of sins. If you take a pilgrimage to Mecca, it will erase another amount of sins. This has a practical effect on how your community might see you. Consider this proverb I found in a missionary biography from a community in North Africa: “Shun a man who has made the pilgrimage once; live not in the same street with him who has performed it twice; and reside not in the same country with him who has visited the Kaaba thrice.” The Kaaba is the center of Mecca where Muslim pilgrims go to pray.

Christoph: Help us understand the people in your city or country. In general, what do they care about? What do they want out of life?

Mr. G: I think most people here are trying to secure a better life for their kids and grandkids. That, in itself, would not necessarily be different than most people in the States. But what may be different are the perceived means by which they would achieve this goal. I hear people talk about “education” more than any other concern they have for their children and grandchildren. More often than not, people will attribute a lack of education as the reason for society’s ills and a good education as the solution for them. Furthermore, many will spend every last dime they have and borrow from family in order to put their kids in a well-regarded K-12 education system. In my experience, the emphasis, though, does not seem to be a concern for the content of the education, but in the prestige of the school attended.

Christoph: Humanly speaking, what are the major hurdles to someone in your country becoming a Christian?

Mr. G: The largest hurdle facing someone’s conversion to Christianity is loss of family and community. This is not a foregone conclusion; I know of Christians who have kept much of their family ties (after much time and effort to rebuild them). But the prospect of giving up everyone you know and love is very intimidating. My understanding is that if one leaves Islam to become an atheist or agnostic, even though it is a big deal, it is quite common. Leaving Islam for atheism is culturally understood to always leave the possibility of coming back into Islam. But to convert to another religion is completely unacceptable. When a family shuns you because of your conversion and when you don’t have connections at the local mosque because you never attend, you have no visible means to get employment. In our country, virtually all employment happens through relationships.

Christoph: What do Christians in your city or country care about? What’s on their minds as Christians?

Mr. G: I don’t know many Christians from this country, but those that I do know are quite concerned with their future: that they will have a nuclear family (i.e. have the chance to get married or if married that their family will be Christian and not leave them for Islam) and that they will have a way to support themselves so that they won’t be reliant on the Muslim community.

Christoph: What are your goals as a missionary/church planter? When is your “mission” complete?

Mr. G: Our ultimate goal is that God would be glorified with our lives. Our specific church planting goal is to see a church established in our city that would endure, grow, and multiply until Jesus returns. To see this happen, we are pleading with God to give us converts, who would become disciples, whose worldview would be shaped by God’s word. To the question of when our “mission” will be completed, I will answer in two ways:

  1. It will be complete when we finally leave this city. Whether a church is established by that time or not, my hope is that we can leave with our head held high knowing we were faithful in loving God and loving others, evangelizing, discipling, and shepherding.

  2. We will have planted a church when there are multiple qualified elders, the regular preaching of God’s word, and the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper. Might we try and plant a new church at that time or go somewhere else, I do not know.

Christoph: Thanks, brother, I appreciate it!

Photo of the Kaaba in Mecca by ekrem osmanoglu on Unsplash

  1. Name changed. ↩︎