Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cross-Cultural Case Studies: What Would You Do?

Yesterday I decided to fill in the gaps and type up the scribbles that I used to teach two sessions on Islam at different churches in October. If I'm ever asked to teach this stuff again, it's organized.

I'm pretty proud of my case studies. I wrote gobs of them. Many from my own experiences. Didn't get to use them all, though. And in neither class did they go over quite as well as I hoped, I'll admit. I was having time management problems at the first class - I promised the coordinator that we'd do this and he told the class, and then I didn't get to it until almost the end of the session. Oops.

The second was a really small group, so rather than breaking them up into twos and threes I walked us through the case studies together. Bad move. People don't really process stuff and interact over it if the teacher is right there. (Maybe they thought I was going to give them the "right" answer?) So, next time, I'm going to force them to work on this stuff without me. Might make all the difference.

Anyway, the idea with the case studies was to help Christians to put themselves in the shoes of Muslims. Or, at least, to consider some of how they might comport themselves if they were hanging out in a Muslim-flavored context. What sort of things might they see, feel, or experience that probably wouldn't happen back home?

Here's a taste. Feel free to snag and adapt them if you find yourself in a place where there are helpful. I think most of these could adapted for any cross-cultural situation, not just a Muslim one.
Case Study #1: The Witch Doctor?

You live in a mostly Muslim area of West Africa. Karim works for you as a driver. He’s very concerned about his wife. She’s so sick and unhappy. He asks you for an advance on his salary so he can take her to the doctor. You suspect he’s going to take her to a witch doctor, but you haven’t asked and you can’t be sure. What do you do next?
This one is kind of fun, because it's a bit of a trick. As you might guess, it's not about the money. Your friend is concerned about his wife and you should be too! Here's the advice I'd give:

1. Be sympathetic. Go visit. See if you can help her. Here’s your opportunity to come alongside someone in the real struggles of life.

2. Be spiritual. Open up dialogue; pray for and with this woman and the husband, if you can, and seek God for healing and peace.

3. Be discerning. In terms of the both the culturally appropriate way to respond to a request for funds, and the witchdoctor question, you need to get some input. Ask others who know the culture better than you do about good ways to respond. And ask God for discernment about how you should respond.
Case Study #2: Doing Business

A. You live in Dearborn, Michigan and are wondering if God might open up the way for you to reach out to Muslims - there are so many of them there! You are about to buy a house. Do you look in a Muslim neighborhood, or buy one from Christians? After all, your family is going to live in this house. You aren’t quite sure how these things work but don’t want to take the chance that "strange" spiritual things have been happening in the place where you raise your children.

B. You are looking for a doctor. Do you get a recommendation from someone at your church, look in the Christian yellow pages, or go to Dr. Hakim, who comes highly recommended but is a devout Muslim?

C. Some Pakistanis, relatively recent immigrants to your country, run the local gas station. You aren’t sure how much English they understand. Do you save them and you embarrassment by paying at the pump, or do you overcome your insecurities and go inside to try striking up a conversation?
Here's one more that could add some new wrinkles to the usual list of do's and don'ts I hear in these classes.
Case Study #3: Holy Books

You've recently moved to a traditional part of Central Asia, and you've heard that many Muslims have traditions different from ours when it comes to handling books that are considered holy. How will this affect how you handle your Bible? You already traded in your beat up paperback Bible for a leather one with gold leaf and a ribbon. But do you keep in a box or carefully wrapped up, and never write in it? Do you put it on a high shelf in your house? Or do you leave it out, carry it around, etc. hoping that people will notice and see how important it is to you?

Do you make sure you read it reverently and when you do, say things like, “This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!” Do you copy down passages in the local language and give them to your friends who are struggling? Do you make or purchase embroideries of favorite passages and hang them on your walls?

And... do you copy down powerful verses and carry them around in a pouch to keep you safe from harm?
One fun thing about case studies is that I know the endings - what the people in question actually did and how they explained it. And usually I also know people who handled basically the same situation with an opposite approach. (Usually, neither one gets struck by lightening or loses all their street cred.)

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