Article: Understanding Different Cultures

Article: Understanding Different Cultures

During a recent trip to East Africa, my wife and I learned a lot about the relationship between Kenyans and Tanzanians. We had the impression that Kenyans could be described as the Nigerians of East Africa while the Tanzanians could be likened to Ghanaians.

The difference between Nigerians and Ghanaians came to the fore in my personal experience during a conversation with a top executive in Accra, her husband and their family friend. She described the way Nigerians are perceived by Ghanaians even in the workplace – as very pushy, “I know it all” etc. Nigerians would say the Ghanaians are laid back, slow etc.

Many years ago, while on the “full-time” staff of the Church in Abidjan, a visiting Nigerian leader challenged Ivorian disciples to rise up and lead – most of the staff were non-Ivoirians at the time.

After spending the past 8 years in Lagos, why would a Nigerian not be pushy? The population of Lagos alone is equivalent to that of the entire nation of Cote d’Ivoire – understanding brings about patient acceptance. 

This same Nigerians are some of the most hospitable people I have ever encountered. Each time I interact with non-Nigerian disciples who lived in Nigeria in the past, they are full of nostalgia and share great memories of their stay here – with great emphasis on the people.

With some intense civil war behind them, Ivoirians are more aggressive now. They have gone from a system where education worked, with clean and smooth roads, to a more challenging political landscape. Ivorians are also extremely welcoming by nature – deeply ingrained in their culture to treat strangers well.

What I am learning is to find out why certain cultures exhibit certain traits. Knowing the history behind it does make the difference, getting immersed in the cultural background.

I believe the success, or lack thereof, of any missionary endeavor depends on whether the missionaries become “all things to all men” as Paul did. 

What are some of the prejudices or pre-conceived ideas you have about certain cultures? – Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo, Swahili, Zulu, etc. Have you taken out time to inquire? 

*Proverbs 14:29*; *Proverbs 4:7*

Gilbert Kimeng

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