Crossing the ocean and crossing social protocols

Amin* and Nawar* have lived in OM's Near East Field (field consisting of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq) for nearly two years and have learned how to navigate many of the cultural differences. As OM members sent from Latin American countries, they hope to help recruit more Latino missionaries to go to the Arab world.

Amin and Nawar have found many key similarities between Latin and Arab culture, which has helped them to connect and adjust on the field. For example, one of the most important values in both cultures includes a strong focus on family and relationships.

“Everything is about relationships. The Latinos are very quick doing that. So that’s not an issue,” Amin explains. “We like to be together, we like to party to music, and food is a priority. If you have good food, that is important.”

“We connect with people very similarly. So for us, it’s not hard to connect with people and to have friends,” Nawar continues.

Learning social protocols

According to Amin, one of the biggest challenges in navigating these relationships, however, includes learning the social protocols, which vary from Latin culture. While some Arab cultures tend to appear more direct and open, this can shock those who are unfamiliar with that behaviour, he explains. Learning these protocols is key to successfully forming significant relationships with locals, he insists.

Regarding neighbourly visits, "maybe you need to learn a few things: what’s first, what's after, what's at the very end,” Amin explains.

One example he uses is offering coffee to guests. Whereas in Latin countries, this gesture may be seen as simply polite, many Arabs interpret this as a signal from the host that it is time to leave. In addition, in the Near East when the host offers anything, the guest is welcome to make a request for a different item, which also contrasts Amin and Nawar’s home cultures.

Another significant difference can be seen especially at formal functions. Arab culture largely centres on prioritising one another’s honour, the couple explains. Because of this, when attending social gatherings, people should always know who the guest of honour is.

“Whoever is the guest of honour, they know. I don’t know how they know,” Amin laughs. “So they find out you are the guest of honour today, so they make sure you have everything perfect. For us, it is everybody should have everything.”

Another example of prioritizing honour includes making introductions between genders on first meeting. “For us Latins, we are all touchy and all very friendly, no matter if you are a boy or a [girl]. Here, no,” he says. When first meeting it can seem like “the men basically ignore the ladies, then primarily the guy greets the guy and the girl greets the girl.”

After introductions have been made, often times the guests will request a tour of Amin and Nawar's apartment home. Although this took adjustment, Amin and Nawar stress the importance for them of finding balance between respecting the host culture and maintaining privacy. “Now I need to have my house very clean all the time, because [if] I have visits, …they want to check everything. Also, because they are looking if you are clean or not,” Nawar explains.

While Amin and Nawar continue adjusting to the culture, they also get to look back every once in awhile at where they started and praise God for how much they have learned. Nawar tells a story of one of these moments.

“I will never forget, I was coming back from an international trip back to the field. So, in the [airport], the attendant was trying to make a line. So suddenly he shouted, ‘Please, people, you need to learn how to make a line, one by one by one, not in a bunch.’ But it was funny, [because] he was shocked and frustrated. I was laughing to myself because you need to know the Arab culture.”

Part of Ministry

Adjusting one’s lifestyle simply remains a part of living and serving in cross-cultural ministry. Amin and Nawar continue to find the process fulfilling as God enables them to see how He transforms lives and communities.

“We need to see why the Lord is using this country,” Amin continues, “why the Lord is bringing refugees from Iraq, Syria and from Africa. And we are also here as foreigners, free to share from God."

“God gave me this passion and this love for the people here. So this is something I have seen every day that I have been here,” Nawar says with a smile. “This is how I have been developing some connections and relationships with people here that makes me feel at home.”

*Name changed for security 

OM Communications intern Jana Eller is a student studying journalism and missions and loves to see how God is moving among the nations. She is always up for spontaneous adventures and exploring new things. 

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