Mark Vowels, CGO Director
NOTE: This post starts a new series on the CGO Blog for the month of June. Each week's post will focus on a particular world culture. We will examine basic elements of the culture in order to better understand how to communicate the Gospel in that culture.
Alexander Dumas is quoted as saying, “All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.”
Clearly, there are multiple cultures represented in the category Latin American, and any attempt to describe unifying features of people from the disparate countries that comprise Latin America will fall short – angering some, frustrating others and undoubtedly missing the mark completely in places. With that caveat in place, however, I want to consider some of the cultural characteristics of Latin American peoples with a goal of fostering more effective patterns of gospel communication among them.
My qualifications for undertaking this task revolve around my eleven years of experience as a church planter and pastor of a Spanish language church in Tampa, Florida which was comprised of various nationalities from within Latin America. Additionally, I have enjoyed the blessings of nearly 34 years of marriage to my precious wife Cary, who is Cuban.
I will observe three general characteristics of Hispanic peoples, which are by no means unique to them or necessarily lacking among other peoples of the world. These could be viewed as a sliding scale, being more or less true about different nationalities. Always keep in mind, too, that all people are individuals, so your contacts may have any combination of these dispositions or lack them entirely.
First, most Hispanics are very relational.
Relationships are valued above all else. Whereas some cultures prioritize completing tasks, Hispanics will often not be as concerned about the quantity of their accomplishments as they are about the quality of their interactions. Starting and ending times, completion of a to-do list or fulfilling imposed expectations may be secondary to good conversations which deepen a relationship. That means that you should be prepared to invest time in getting to know your Latin American acquaintances. How a person from this background feels about you is perhaps more important than what they know about you. If they trust you and like you they will be more likely to accept the truths which you hope to communicate.
Next, Latinos are frequently immersed in religion as part of their cultural background.
Roman Catholicism overwhelmingly predominates in Latin American countries. Without getting into a full discussion about the faults of Catholic doctrine, suffice it to say here that adherents to this religious system are taught to fulfill external rituals as a means of obtaining grace. For most Hispanics, Christianity is all about what you do in church, not so much about who you are as a person. So express your relationship with God through faith in Christ openly. Pray with and for your friend, showing that show that you actually know God in a personal way, not just as a concept taught in some catechism. Keep in mind that for many Hispanics, to be Latino is to be Catholic in the same way that to be Arab is to be Muslim or to be Indian is to be Hindu. Be cautious about criticizing Catholicism because it will be viewed as an attack on your friend’s very identity as a Hispanic. Again, be relational. Demonstrate that you have a living, grace-filled friendship with Jesus Christ.
Finally, emphasizing once more the relational nature of Hispanic culture, most Latinos tend to be more group, or collectivist, oriented than some other cultures.
Though this feature is not as strong as can be observed in many Asian cultures, Latin Americans will look to others among their friends or family for input when making important life decisions. I remember once presenting the Gospel to a sizable group of people that were all part of an extended family. When I finished I asked who would like to submit to Jesus as Savior. Nothing happened until the grandmother raised her hand, at which point every person in the room responded in the same way. My take-away from that experience is that those who are respected as leaders within a group have tremendous influence on others within the group. That means that you should not just befriend and develop a relationship with a Latino that you are targeting with the Gospel, but you should seek to get to know and become friends with his or her friends and family as well.
The more we understand how people think and what motivates them, the more effectively we can reach them with the message of salvation. The Gospel message never varies, but how we communicate it should be affected by the culture and background of those to whom we speak.
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.