by Samuel Rowen
Various articles on missions.
According to recent research, humor has many benefits. Being able to see the humorous dimensions of life reduces the negative effects of stress. The body is better prepared to resist disease. Now research indicates that those who laugh the best are much more creative learners.
Researcher Acner Ziv of Tel Aviv University (reported in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 68, No. 3, 1978) believes that humor and laughter may release creative abilities to think more divergently. One aspect of humor is the placing in relationship of two ideas that normally don’t go together. It causes one to think in unexpected ways. Ziv studied 282 tenth grade students to see what effect humor had on the flow of their creative, idea-generating capabilities. Half the students heard a humorous record and then took one of the standard creativity tests. The other half took only the test. The students who heard the record scored better on the test.
Ziv believes that laughter helps to foster creative growth. Humor helps us to jump the traces of cultural pressures to be logical, economical, and practical. Creative solutions are unusual, but appropriate to the context. One well-known lecturer says he tells humorous anecdotes and funny stories just to be assured that the audience is alive and well. There may be a more important use of humor now.
There are definite cultural differences in humor. Understanding and using culturally appropriate humor will help to improve many missionary teaching tasks. What would happen if mission board candidate committees required prospective missionaries to tell a joke? Graduate schools of missions could even require a course in humorous story telling, along with one in church growth.
TRADITIONAL MISSIONARY WIVES
The missionary wife who accepts the traditional role in the house in support of her husband’s ministry may face frustrating problems. The problems are not different from those being faced by women back home who have chosen the traditional role of housewife and mother.
Bev Menninger in "The Woman Behind the Man" (Menninger Perspective, No. 2, 1982) says that every lifestyle has built-in problems and being the "woman behind the man" is no exception. The role of the missionary wife differs according to the policy of the mission. The most common policy is that the primary responsibility is for the woman to be a wife and mother. Public ministry is to be entered upon only when possible.
Menninger says that the advantages of being married to a husband who is energetic and ambitious far outweigh the disadvantages. She says that "most traditional wives value these benefits and would not trade them for whatever satisfactions and demands a spotlight career of their own might bring."
As the "woman behind the man," a wife must continually subordinate and minimize her needs to those of her husband and children. Knowing these risks before marriage does not guarantee that the pitfalls that lie ahead can be avoided. The wife has a difficulty in establishing her own identity and is often known only as the wife of the husband. This can be frustrating if there is a large admiring public attending the successes of the husband.
Menninger identifies the following problems that the women behind the men must handle:
The role gap. Husbands and wives play different roles in traditional marriages. The paths are diverging and may gradually carry the wife and husband further and further apart.
The perfection complex. Many wives feel a competitive urge to do as well in their own sphere as their husbands are doing in theirs. This is particularly intensified if the husband is a high-achiever. Every task must be done to perfection. The danger is she may not live up to her own expectations.
The spotlight effect. Sometimes the limelight in which the husband lives goes to his head. He can then begin demanding the same treatment at home. As a result, it is difficult for him to receive feedback from his wife as she tries to keep him humble and rooted in reality.
The missionary can be highly susceptible to this problem. It is not only a problem in society in general. Being a missionary gives instant status. In most cases it is the husband who receives the public attention. The woman becomes "just a wife and mother" without any great personal stories of successful ministry. In fact, life sometimes does not appear different from the lives of their friends back home. The problem may be more extensive than we care to admit. In circulating this article among several missionary wives I was struck at how quickly they identified with it.
Faced with these special stresses of living on the edge of the limelight, wives have developed a number of ways of coping.
Capitulation. This is the most familiar and least wholesome. The wife will intentionally suppress all negative feelings and comply to the demands of her husband and children. Without a means for supporting any aspirations for personal creativity, the wife serves only the aspirations of others. Difficulties become acute when the children leave home and the husband retires or dies. "The long-term effects of being the compliant wife might be likened to the laboratory experiment of cooking a frog. Drop it into boiling water and it immediately jumps out. But put it into a pan of cool water, gradually turn up the heat, and the frog is cooked before it realizes it is in danger."
The independent career. In order to escape the situation of being a dependent wife, a separate career-path can be pursued. This is a very common pattern today. It meets some needs and creates others. It is difficult to maintain togetherness and closeness when there are two "independent" career tracks in a family. A choice must often be made when the demands of the separate careers come into conflict. It becomes an extremely difficult option for those women who value the role of the traditional wife.
Creative compromise. This alternative is "a manner of living and working which provides the best of both patterns- the benefits of an exciting, fulfilling marriage, and the benefits of the growth-providing challenges that lead to a personal identity." The idea of compromise does not mean that only the wife must make the tough choices. The husband also must decide upon the ways he will adjust in order to bring wholeness to the relationship. He will have to be supportive by making some sacrifices for his wife to have the opportunity to do something that matters to her.
Can all of this be simply ignored as another attempt to pervert God’s pattern for the family? I doubt it. What is at stake is people-wives, mothers, sisters, image-bearers of God. If we are concerned for people, we cannot ignore the needs of the "woman behind the man." However, self-fulfillment does not occur by being free from responsibility.
The creative compromise is directed toward helping the woman to both responsibly fulfill her role as wife and mother and to achieve her creative potential. Paul Tournier says that the crises of retirement are the result of unresolved needs that were present long before that day ever arrived. Now is the time to do the creative planning, not after the frog is cooked.
MISSIONARY COMPETENCE CAN BE NURTURED
What is effective intercultural communication? Are people from one culture more effective than others? These important questions need to be understood in order to develop training programs. But there have been relatively few attempts to define "effective," "successful," or "competent" intercultural communication. Hiroko Abe and Richard Wiseman in "A Cross-Cultural Confirmation of the Dimensions of Intercultural Effectiveness" (International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Vol. 7, 1983) compared Japanese and American sojourners to identify both their similarities and their differences. If their similarities were great, training methods would be highly interchangeable, or "exportable." However, if their differences were significant, then the emphasis in training would be placed on specific rather than general factors of culture.
The basis of the study was a list of 24 personal ability items (Hammer, Gudykunst and Wiseman, 1978). The Japanese did better than the Americans. The researchers attributed this to their greater sensitivity to different characteristics of communication. Also, the Japanese had a better grasp of the host language than did the Americans. The Japanese had an average of eight years of English language study. As a result, 88 percent of the Japanese sojourners rated their visit as very satisfying. Only a few rated the experience as difficult and unsatisfying.
There are some interesting comparisons in the study. The Americans identified the following items as most important: (1) the ability to deal with psychological stress; (2) the ability to communicate effectively; (3) the ability to establish interpersonal relationships.
The Japanese identified: (1) the ability to communicate interpersonally; (2) the ability to adjust to different cultures; (3) the ability to deal with different societal systems; (4) the ability to establish interpersonal relationships; (5) the ability to understand others. For the Japanese, the ability to deal with societal systems had much the same meaning as the ability to deal with psychological stress did for the Americans.
That the study uncovered similarities and differences is no surprise. However, it is significant that the similarities all point to human relationships and not to technical competence. The ability to develop good intercultural human relations is best learned in informal and nonformal settings.
For example, the family and the local church provide numerous opportunities for this: visiting the homes of people from other cultures; participating in the worship services of ethnic churches; entertaining international students in the home. These offer both parents and children opportunities to empathize across cultural boundaries. Increasing the number of course offerings in our schools will not make as much of a difference in missionary competence as changes in our homes and churches. A significant number of common cultural issues can be learned that will increase the effectiveness of our intercultural communication.
ARE THE NEEDS THE SAME?
Are the needs of the Christian leaders in North America the same as missionaries who go abroad from North America? There is now a base for making such a comparison. Craig W. Ellison and William S. Mattila ("The Needs of Evangelical Christian Leaders in the United States," Journal of Psychology and Theology, Spring 1983) asked 1,000 Christian leaders to identify the difficulties they faced in ministry. The following responses appear to be significant.
1. Leaders who experienced the greatest number of problems perceive themselves as less aggressive, less assertive, less joyful, less consistent, less confident, and weaker than other people think they are.
2. In areas of perceived difficulties the areas of stress, frustration, and feelings of inadequacy were identified as most problematic.
3. In the area of emphasis in ministry there was a high discrepancy between what the leaders were actually doing and what they wanted to do. The desire was for less administration and more discipling and small group training.
4. Senior pastors with staff experienced less difficulty than senior pastors without staff and associate pastors. Over 60 percent of associate staff experienced "disappointment or depression in relation to the continuous pressures which they experienced."
The respondents identified two areas of training that they felt would be beneficial: more responsible practical internship training in administrative-management skills, and more training in human relations. The summary of the study pointed to the lack of time and unrealistic expectations as the major problems.
Recent studies in the adjustment of North American personnel overseas have identified the critical areas to be self-awareness, interpersonal relationships, and personal expectations. These appear to be similar to the ones listed above. The similarities of needs should prove to be no surprise, since both evangelical missionaries and the Christian leaders in the study have been largely trained in the same schools. A comparative study would help to identify which creative solutions will be of benefit to both groups.
JAPANESE-STYLE MANAGEMENT: HELP OR HINDRANCE?
The image of Japanese-style management has become a little tarnished. Allan Bird ("Corporate Internationalization Strategies," PHP, September 1983) says, "The failure of many Japanese subsidiaries abroad to implement successful personnel policies has created doubt and skepticism in the minds of Western observers about Japanese management’s ability to do well in an international environment."
The 1980’s are being called "the decade of Japanese multi-nationalization." The style of Japanese management has taken on a mythical quality that has led some observers to believe it to be the panacea for all corporate management ills. Books like Theory Z and The Art of Japanese Management have reached the top of the best-seller lists in America.
Richard Pascale, author of The Art of Japanese Management, has punctured the myth of the success of Japanese management. After researching a wide range of Japanese subsidiaries in America, he notes". . . in half the cases the Japanese firms were more productive … in half the cases less productive than their American counterparts." Pascale identifies four general areas where the failure of the Japanese subsidiary was likely to be pinpointed. They were: speed of "Americanization," headquarters-subsidiary relations, Japanese-American communications, and staff selection policies.
The lessons to be learned by missionary agencies are clear. Management styles are not easily transferred to another cultural setting. They reflect a worldview that has many deeply embedded cultural roots. Japan is learning to adapt as it enters the multinational era. The advantages of internationalization are many even if they are difficult.
Toyota and Bridgestone are now internationalizing their headquarters staff. They have identified three specific benefits. First, having foreigners work alongside Japanese workers has helped the Japanese workers develop a better understanding of foreign thought and behavior. Second, there was an increase in effectiveness and efficiency contributed by the foreigners. Third, the foreigners bring to the headquarters the opportunity for experience in dealing with foreigners.
It would be interesting to see some examples of mission agencies that have internationalized. There are examples of internationalization of missions at the level of the "sending" countries, but where are the examples of internationalization of the headquarters from "sending" and "receiving" countries. There is much to be learned that can be of benefit far beyond the borders of mission agencies.
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