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“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.” — Malachi 3:1

God's Mission Matters

Check your bags!

Cultural baggage: what we bring with us as we engage in mission

By Sherron George
There is no longer Jew or Greek” (Galatians 3:28).

Every human being and country has a “culture” or many “subcultures.” Culture is the way we grow up doing and understanding things. It includes our language, thought processes, emotions, art, food, values, principles, sports, economy and social organization. We grow up with “culture” without realizing it. The Protestant work ethic and Puritan morality profoundly influenced American culture in the United States. Likewise, our cultural values and attitudes continue to impact our religion.

One of the early pillars of American Protestant culture was that America was a “light on the hill” with a responsibility to “enlighten” the whole world. This noble idea with religious roots led to an attitude of cultural superiority. We began to believe that the “American way of life,” the American values of freedom and democracy, made us more “civilized” than other countries. Our government began to intervene in other countries with “the big stick.”

When missionaries from the United States went to other parts of the world, they took the only kind of Christianity they knew, the American way of being a Christian, the American way of worship, of Puritan morality, of interpreting Scripture, of building and organizing churches. Unconsciously this American Christianity was “imposed” on Christians around the world.

Today the majority of Christians live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Christianity has African, Asian, and Latin American faces. When we go to other countries, we must respect, adapt to, and learn from their way of being Christian. We can share our culture, but never impose it on others. We must empty ourselves of all attitudes of superiority and control.

Listen to this episode of “God’s Mission Matters”and hear stories by Tracey King-Ortega, mission co-worker in Nicaragua since 1999, and by Charity Thompson, a Young Adult Volunteer in Guatemala in 2003-2004.

Check your bags! episode toolkit

Use these resources to equip your congregation, network, youth group and other groups in your church for mission involvement. You may use any of these for activities in the context of Bible studies, Sunday Bible class, Sunday worship service and committee or session meetings.

  • God’s Mission Matters: Check your bags
    Prefer printed? Download and read this ready-to-print booklet including the text of the podcast, a study guide for group leaders, and a reflection on popular culture. This is a great tool for a learning session in your congregation or mission group context.

  • Cultural Baggage Claim Handout — a supplemental worksheet of the study guide designed to help the students evaluate different areas of their lives where they may have cultural baggage.

  • Matters from Pop CultureOutsourced and Wicked
    • Reflections on the movie Outsourced by Shadowcatcher Entertainment. Todd Anderson is relocated by his company to India where he deals with culture shock.
      Print version
    • Reflections on the Broadway musical Wicked. By examining the story of the Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch’s perspective, we can examine our own preconceived notions and misconceptions about other cultures.
      Print version
  • My Story Matters
    • Video — Veronica Njoki Muchiri: Veronica, the National Women’s Guild Organizer for the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, describes how Americans and Kenyans have different perspectives on how a project should be completed.
    • Audio — Hunter Farrell: Hunter, Director of Presbyterian World Mission, tells about a time he brought a friend home from college and how both he and his friend learned about cultural differences in church.
    • Audio — David Hudson: Hudson, former Area Coordinator for Asia in Presbyterian World Mission, tells how when his family packed their bags for Pakistan, it became a metaphor for leaving our cultural baggage behind.

  • Matters of Worship 
    Closing prayer statement
    Hymn suggestions from the Presbyterian Hymnal:
    “Help Us Accept Each Other,” page 358
    “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” page 438

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