Living for an extended time in another culture will bring a person face to face with many differences. A different language, different foods, different clothes- all of these are surface things that are easier to identify. The differences in a way a group of people think may not be so readily seen. However, understanding those differences is of utmost importance- especially for one who is seeking to share the Gospel cross-culturally. A good example of this is a person’s perception of the USSR.
I grew up in free, democratic, capitalistic America. I was taught that it was a good idea that our Founding Fathers created the three branches of government to check and balance each other. We have presidents, not dictators. I was taught that Communism is a corrupt system. I heard about the religious intolerance in the USSR. Looking back, I realize that without anyone specifically teaching me, I came to the assumption that all governments should be like the United States.’
It was a t-shirt that began opening my mind to a different perspective. During our survey trip in Moldova in 2008, we saw a shirt with the letters “СССР”- the Russian equivalent to USSR. As a freedom-loving son of America, it was hard for me to fathom why anyone would want to be back under the Soviet Union.
Bit by bit I began to understand more. A conversation with a Moldovan pastor this past week helped me put those little snippets of information in perspective and begin to see the big picture. It would take too much time and thought to present everything, so I will just try to summarize a couple of key lessons I have learned.
1. While believers in general (and Baptist believers in particular) were oppressed and persecuted when the Soviet Union was in power, many unreligious and Orthodox people were not. They had a place to live. They had a job. They had income. They had plenty to eat. Children got the best the state could offer. People could afford the best health care that was available. There was structure and regulation in society.
2. For many, life now in the Republic of Moldova is not easy. Jobs are scarce. Around one-fourth of the population works outside the country. Housing, food, and health care are expensive. There are societal issues that were never a problem under the Soviet Union, for freedom is only as good as the personal responsibility of those who live under its banner.
3. Because of the above two points, many Moldovans, especially the older generation, talk of their life under the Soviet Union as the “good old days.” If they did not personally experience the oppression in the past, it is easy for them to look back fondly on those days. Many would give up what they have now to go back to what they had then.
My point: We are here to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to minister to people. Each of those things is built on interaction with people. If I do not understand what a person thinks, or, more importantly, why he thinks that way, I will be greatly hindered in my ministry to him. It is crucial that my love for others is more important to me than my loyalty to my cultural ways of thinking.