by Samuel Rowen
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to figure out infallibly—at least with some measure of consistency—who will make it in overseas assignments?
How well do we adapt and do our jobs overseas? . . . What are some new ways to look at who is smart enough to make it? … How do we prepare to be urban missionaries?
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to figure out infallibly—at least with some measure of consistency—who will make it in overseas assignments? Frank Hawes and Daniel J. Kealey studied 100 variables related to adaptation and effectiveness, in order to improve selection and training of technical assistance personnel ("An Empirical Study of Canadian Technical Assistance: Adaptation and Effectiveness on Overseas Assignment," International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Vol. 5, No. 3, 1981).
They looked at job effectiveness, personal and cultural adaptation, transfer of skills, receptivity of nationals, and personal characteristics. They used both derived opinions and standardized ratings. Here are some of their insights:
They found two kinds of effectiveness and adaptation. Effectiveness is both doing the job, including teaching, and passing on software technology. Adaptation covers personal and family life, and adapting to local culture.
Nationals saw effectiveness in terms of job performance and social, personal, and family life. They thought the Canadians’ primary job was to teach them so well that the project would continue after they left. They integrated job and social life, but the Canadians tended to separate them. For their part, the Canadians looked at effectiveness in terms of job competence, getting along with the local people and their culture, personal and family happiness, good relations among themselves, and adapting to the climate. Their work came first, not making sure the nationals could do it after they left.
It takes the ability to get along with others, a healthy self-image, and realistic expectations to make it overseas. Hawes and Kealey explained:
First, the interpersonal orientation lends a certain curiosity and natural respect towards others. The person is ready to listen to others, get to know them, and seeks to understand their world view. Second, a sense of identity lends confidence to interaction with nationals. The person can remain open to experiencing local people and culture without feeling threatened by the differences, nor desiring to abandon his own identity in favor of theirs. Third, the person has a positive but realistic expectation about life in the host culture, akin to saying, "I know this won’t be easy, in fact, it’s probably going to be difficult for me and the family, but we intend to do the best we can, and well be okay."
Being good at your work is related to effectiveness, but it does not necessarily lead to overall effectiveness or adaptation. The one who has the qualities cited above will get the technical know-how when it’s lacking. But the one who lacks the basic qualities will tend to complain or quit when technical know-how is lacking.
Some things can be checked before going overseas to assist in teaching others how to do certain things: professional qualifications such as job commitment and technical skills; personal flexibility, respect, ability to listen and make friends, self-control and sensitivity to culture; initiative, confidence, and frankness; and realistic expectations for what’s ahead.
On the other hand, certain things must be learned overseas: language, nonverbal communication, knowledge of the country and its culture, commitment to training; developing the nationals’ respect and trust; figuring out how to transfer your skills and knowledge to others.
Because the study was limited to Canadians who went overseas to give technical assistance, it may not be fully applicable to missionaries. But in some respects it does relate to everyone serving overseas. Missionaries training church leaders and doing evangelism are also concerned with the transfer of skills and knowledge. Possibly, support personnel do not fit (e.g., secretaries, bookkeepers, maintenance workers, etc.). However, their adjustment needs are significant even if they do not primarily transfer skills and knowledge.
Past behavior predicts future behavior. This does not mean that we are trapped. It does mean that unless there are some changes, we will behave overseas the same way we behaved at home.
These are the critical issues. They were first identified in the early 1960s. Each subsequent study has come to essentially the same conclusion. Overseas is not the best place to begin changing. The costs are too high, both financially and in personal heartache. The place to begin to change is at home. There are some good U.S. cross-cultural experiences available to help us do that.
Everybody wants to be called smart. Nobody likes being labeled dumb. Now there’s evidence that the way we label people is not only inadequate, but also damaging. Howard Gardner ("The Seven Frames of Mind," Psychology Today, June, 1984) says there are at least seven different kinds of intelligence.
Gardner says that "most people in our society, even if they know better, talk as if individuals could be assessed in terms of one dimension, namely how smart or dumb they are. This is deeply ingrained in us. I became convinced some time ago that such a narrow assessment was wrong in scientific terms and had seriously damaging social consequences."
Linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence are the two with which we are most familiar. Most intelligence tests assess us that way. This is what we mean when we talk about IQ (Intelligence Quotient). Also, the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), given as a basis for assessing a person’s readiness for college, is essentially an IQ test and yields verbal mathematical scores. Gardner identifies five more kinds of intelligence.
Spatial: The core ability to find one’s way around an environment, to form mental images, and to transform them readily. Musical: The ability to perceive and create pitch patterns and rhythmic patterns. Motor: The gift of fine motor movement we find in a gifted surgeon or dancer. Interpersonal: Understanding others-how they feel, what motivates them, how they interact with one another. Intrapersonal: The ability to be acquainted with yourself, to have a sense of identity.
Interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence enchance each other. "The more you understand about other people, the more potential you have for understanding yourself, and vice versa. Nonetheless, there are people highly skilled in understanding other people and manipulating them-certain politicians and celebrities come to mind- and they show no particular intrapersonal understanding," Gardner explains.
Gardner’s major concern is to correct what he senses is a destructive captivity to the common ways of labeling intelligence. He says, "What I object to is this. Decisions made about 80 years ago in France by Alfred Binet, who was interested in who would fail in school, and later by a few Army testers in the United States during World War I, now exercise a tyrannical hold on who is labeled as bright or not bright. These labels affect both people’s conceptions of themselves and the life options available to them."
This is significant, because the studies of Christopher Jencks of Northwestern University have shown that IQ tests have only minimal correlation with success in professions.
Tests have limited value because by their nature they focus on only certain things. Gardner and his associates will recognize the usefulness of quantifying things. They are working on multiple tests and observational techniques.
What are the useful criteria in selecting a new missionary? There is little doubt that the measurement criteria used in schools are inadequate. In mission circles we know there is something more. But what is it, and how are we to know if a person has it? Gardner recognizes that the most difficult dimensions of intelligence to measure are interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. However, the literature on cross-cultural effectiveness consistently identifies these as the most significant (see the item above). Gardner is quite confident that the way to measure all the forms of intelligence is achieveable.
The dilemma we face is how to choose the person who should go and how to reject the person who shouldn’t go. Some solve it by accepting those who volunteer, or express a sense of call from the Lord. The desire to fill needs, or to respond to calls from overseas, sometimes overrides what otherwise would lead to a rejection.
The effective missionary does not necessarily have to be one who reflects the status quo. In reality, they seldom do. Gardner offers some ways of looking at potential missionaries that sharply contrast to the way society has looked at people in general. The question remains, however. In the light of the mounting evidence, will we use it in the selection process? Or will we still find a reason to continue using the same "filters" that are dominant and pervasive in our social experience?
The trend toward megacities is continuing at a rapid pace. By the year 2000 there will be a million new urban dwellers every four to five days. That means a new city the size of metropolitan Detroit every eight to 10 days. The world’s urban population is presently growing at the rate of 100 million new inhabitants per year, compared with 77 million in 1975.
At the turn of the 20th century there was one city with five million inhabitants. But the middle of the century the number rose to 10; now it’s 26. United Nations experts estimate that at the end of the century there will be 55. There will be 22 megacities with over ten million people. Among them will be at least 10 in the Middle East and Asia, including Baghdad, New Delhi, Teheran, Peking, Shanghai and Tokyo/Yokohama.
"The Population Bomb Ticks On" (World Press Review, April, 1984) projects the addition of one billion more people approximately every decade. The facts stagger us.
Kenya is the fastest-growing nation in the world with a 4 percent growth rate. This means it will double its population in 17 years. In spite of governmental programs for birth control, the people believe that having many children is the key to status and a better life. The family’s desire is fortified by the tribal rivalries. A tribe’s importance is heavily dependent on how large it is. According to a study in the late 1970s, the average desired family size in Kenya was 7.3 children-three to four more than reported in 18 Latin American and Asian countries.
The low birth rate in some industrialized Western countries is somewhat disguised. Countries like the U.S., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have large numbers of women of childbearing age. It is estimated that the U. S. will grow from 234 million to 268 million by the year 2000. Public schools in the U. S. expect a complete turnaround in openings for new teachers in the next five years.
Many European countries are concerned about the effects of a diminishing and aging population. East Germany pays a woman $450 for the birth of a child. Hungary and Czechoslovakia have put some restrictions on their abortion laws. In Russia, with the third largest population in the world, the authorities are concerned with the low ethnic birthrate as compared with the exploding birthrate of its Asian population.
China has implemented a successful birth control program. It is possible that a stabilizing of China’s population at 1.2 billion is possible. South Korea is promoting one-child families. However, over 60 percent of the families with two girls still want to have a boy. The desire to have a boy in the family contributes to the population growth in countries where there has been a general acceptance of birth control practices.
The only country in Latin America with a birthrate below the replacement level is Cuba at 1.8 percent. The Latin American Center of Demography estimates that by the end of the century Brazil will have 179 million people and will continue to grow to 245 million by the year 2025. The estimates for Africa are that the population will grow from 513 million in 1983 to 851 million by the year 2000.
Planning for world evangelization will have to take this reality into account. As the "population bomb" continues to tick, we will have to increase our commitment to urban mission. It is not just a challenge, but an absolute necessity. The United Nations estimates that by 2095 (a little over 100 years from now!) the world’s population will be 10.2 billion. That is more than double the present total.
People will of necessity have to live close to each other. The processes of urbanization will continue to accelerate. Some missions, like the Latin America Mission, have already made policy decisions to direct their energies to the evangelization of the cities. It is time for every mission to ask how it can best mobilize its resources toward the great urban centers of the world. The missionary of the future will need urban experience in order to be prepared for the task ahead. Those unfamiliar with the city will be greatly hampered in their ability to respond creatively to the urban missionary mandate.
Drinking can no longer be viewed as an individual problem. With the economic slowdown of the 1970s came a decrease in the consumption of alcoholic drinks. In response to this the industry turned to marketing and distribution in the Third World. The liquor companies also annexed many tobacco firms and are using the same methods to promote its use in the Third World.
In 1982 the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations concluded that more people are consuming more alcohol, due in measure to the expanded advertising and marketing methods of a handful of international companies. The report, "Alcoholic Beverages: Dimensions of Corporate Power," is a detailed critique of the $179 billion-a-year industry.
Developing nations increased their imports of $325 million a year in 1970-72 to $1.3 billion in 1980. Alcohol has been a traditional part of many agrarian cultures for ritual and ceremonial purposes. With the migration to the large cities and the rapid increase in population, the traditional moderation in use of alcoholic beverages is being destroyed. With the breakdown in family structure and social dislocation, many are turning to alcohol.
Into this situation the large industries have moved to peddle their wares. The twin health hazards of alcohol and tobacco are finding a ready acceptance. For example, in Zambia the annual per capita drinking of alcoholic beverages rose from 11 gallons in 1961 to 40 gallons in 1976.
The pressures to avoid dealing with this problem are very great. The WHO report was unexpectedly withdrawn before the publication date. One of the authors, John Cavanaugh, said, "WHO was threatened because the study flies in the face of the economic interests of its member states" (Washington Memo, May-June 1984). It is anticipated that it will be more difficult to attack alcohol abuse than the use of baby formula. After 10 years of trying to promote breastfeeding, the WHO voted 118-1 to adopt a code of conduct to restrict the promotion of infant formula and to encourage breastfeeding in Third World countries. The U.S. was the lone dissenter.
The increasing rate of urbanization suggests that problems related to alcohol will increase. Missionaries who have worked in areas where there is extensive abuse of alcohol understand the heartache and agony. The stakes are very high. It is unlikely that corporations will consider the issues calmly if it means a loss of profits. Prohibition may not be the answer, but some form of international regulation of the liquor trade must be considered. Cavanaugh says, "The world’s health cannot safely be left to the mercies of an unfettered pursuit of profit."
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