Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Monochronic and Polychronic Cultures

Dominique - Worship Leader
   When he was conducting pre-trip meetings with our small group, Greg told us that one of the main things Haitians appreciate is our willingness to just be with them. He spoke about their culture as being highly-relational and how they are really blessed by spending time together. Although internal and unspoken, "Yeah right" was my first response. My thoughts quickly turned to "What are we going to do?" or "What will be the most effective way to spend this week?" I, like many Americans, wanted to use the time we had to be as helpful as possible. It just didn't seem important to go all that way to hang out.
   Fast forward to 2010. Before leaving for Haiti for the second time I read When Helping Hurts, a book about poverty alleviation and missions. This book is an indispensable resource on missions in the developing world. It, like Greg, spoke about a highly-relational form of ministry. In the section on cross-cultural engagement it graphed different concepts of time. Two types exist in the world, monochronic and polychronic. Not all cultures, of course, fit neatly into these two categories. There are varying gradations across the spectrum between the two. "The monochronic view sees time as a limited and valuable resource. Time can be lost or saved. Good stewardship of time means getting the most out of every minute." On the other hand, polychronic cultures see time as "a somewhat unlimited resource. There is always more time. Schedules and plans are mere guidelines that have little authority in shaping how one spends one's day. Tasks typically take a backseat to forming and deepening relationships." The point is not that one type of culture is superior or inferior to another. The point they made was that the USA is an extreme monochronic culture and many developing countries like Haiti are strongly polychronic.
  Another section of the book highlights a ministry in inner-city Baltimore. Here's the story from the book: "We decided to locate to an inner-city neighborhood-not to change or save it, but to be neighbors and learn the agenda of the community and to live by the terms set by our neighbors...We held tightly to a commitment of God's shalom for Sandtown [the neighborhood they moved to], but we had no plans or programs. Instead of imposing our own agendas, we sought to place our lives in service to the community...For over two years we weren't working to renovate houses, we were out and around the community "hanging out."...During this time the foundational relationships of the church were formed...Everything revolved around building community together."
   In the end this ministry ended up being a model of success for inner-city transformation. They have transformed an entire area of what used to be a hopeless ghetto.
One example of the importance of relational ministry was brought to my 
attention the last time I was in Haiti. Around the middle of the week Dean 
passed me a short note written in broken English. Dominique had written it. 
He expressed his thankfulness for us coming to Haiti and being with them 
and caring about their situation. It was very nice of him to express his 
thankfulness and it was good to know that our presence was a blessing to 
him. Interestingly though he didn't list anything materially that he was 
thankful for. Not the food for the children's feeding program, not the 
motorcycles that CWO had just purchased for 5 of the pastors, not the 
feminine training center or any of the other ministries. 
He was thankful for us just being there!

   The point is this: Everything in my reading and experience so far points to a highly relational form of ministry as being the most effective form of ministry. But it's very difficult to ask people to partner financially to go "hang out" with people on some remote island somewhere between Florida and South America. But as we prepare to go to Haiti it is becoming more and more clear that our ministry, if it's going to have long-term effectiveness, will have to happen inside of relationships with Haitians. 

   Haitians will be the ones to change Haiti. Americans can assist and train and give, but in the end Haitians will be the driving force behind the real, lasting change.

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