Now that Germany is beginning to feel like “home” we sometimes forget we are still “learners” in the culture. We were reminded of that fact this past Sunday while speaking at a local church. We have been sharing our testimony once a month with local congregations. After the worship service there is usually a time for fellowship and coffee. It’s always interesting to interact with people from other churches and listen to their feedback about our presentation. Sometimes they share about their travels to the United States, sometimes they ask us what we think about Germany, sometimes they praise our German-speaking abilities, and other times they offer constructive feedback. This Sunday, we received a comment unlike any we have heard before!
A 30-something woman, M, approached us, thanked us for sharing our testimony and offered helpful insight. She said, “Don’t give up hope on your German friends if they don’t open up [about faith] right away. It is difficult for them to share about their personal relationship with God. It’s seen as a very private matter in the culture.” And then she continued, “It’s easier for Germans to talk about their sex lives than it is to talk about matters of faith. When they talk about faith, they feel naked.” Her comments were helpful on many levels and gave us new insight and perspective.
As Americans, it’s fairly easy for us to open up to friends and family about matters of faith. While others may not always agree or share the same perspective, we know we will usually be heard and accepted. But to speak about martial intimacy with anyone other than very close friends would be seen as inappropriate. It’s seen as over-sharing and will likely make the relationship uncomfortable. According to M, this is how uncomfortable it is for most Germans to talk about their faith! Wow!
We entered the culture knowing it was important to be sensitive to the needs and experiences of others. But, now we have gained useful insight into just how sensitive we need to be when we broach the topic of religion with our German friends. We realize we need to wait to talk about these matters until we’ve developed a close, trusting relationship. This is why it is so important for us to constantly be learning and growing in the German culture. So we can build rapport in our community and have the most effective witness for the Gospel.
We praise God for this reminder to share the Gospel message effectively. Never have we been more aware that the packaging is just as important as the content! We have to remember that while our home culture is similar to German culture in some important ways, it is vastly different in others. We commit to continue being learners of the culture and learners of the Gospel. We trust the Holy Spirit to speak to us and help guide us on this journey. It’s certainly not easy but it is definitely worth it.