Saturday, May 11, 2013

Values and Culture. Why/How We Do What We Do.

Behind everything that we do are both values and culture.  RMI is an international organization that desires to uncompromisingly embrace the values of Scripture, while honoring the US and Haitian cultures.  This is no easy task!

We have found it necessary to teach Biblical values as well as create our own 3rd culture, that embraces both American and Haitian cultures, that honors both, that carefully encourages the positives of both, and cautiously discourages the negatives of both.  Of course, evaluating the positives and negatives of a culture is no easy task that can be checked off the list as done!  Cultures are different, usually not right or wrong. Listening and asking tons of questions before evaluating is paramount. 

Example: In the context of working to aggressively extend God’s kingdom by bringing the Gospel to bear on every part of life (this is what we do), what’s more important, productivity or relationships?  Good luck coming up with an answer that equally embraces both cultures while aggressively standing upon Biblical principles!  Answer:  It isn’t one or the other, but it often needs to be one or the other.  These values must be held in tension.  Sometimes, we must walk away from the desire to be productive in order to develop relationships.  Sometimes, we must walk away from the desire to be relational in order to be productive.  Americans find it easier to do the first.  Haitians find it easier to do the second.  I am simply confused all the time!

Values themselves are very much a part of culture, and we have found that values always determine our culture.  Some values are Biblical, and these values are meta-cultural.  These values MUST affect all cultures.  Some values, or the hierarchy of a set of values, are not necessarily Biblical mandates, and therefore they are chosen in a specific time for a specific cultural reason, or at least uniquely applied.  Again, it’s a minefield that we choose to navigate.  This is actually the benefit of working in Haiti with an experienced “on the field” “bridge” between both cultures. It’s our job to help both sides work together for the expansion of the kingdom. Figuring out how to appropriately contextualize, while at the same time working directly with people on both sides who tend to be driven uni-culturally is difficult indeed.  But, we are committed to this adventure.

When I got to the field, based on observations I made, and in light of some encouragement that I got from others, I could see that we desperately needed to address both values and culture as a staff.  So, I have spent time teaching both (always remembering that I am NOT the expert).  We must as a team evaluate our motivations, figure out why we do what we do, and hold fast to some trans-cultural values.  I have of course had the American culture ingrained within me.  Therefore, I lean hard into my team to constantly learn Haitian culture.  Bottom line?  We are devoted to creating our own unique “RMI culture”, that is unapologetically committed to Biblical values, and that honors both American and Haitian culture.  


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