Before preparing for cross-cultural mission work, I had not given a lot of thought to the fact that I am monocultural. In preparing, I have found the discussion in VanRheenen and Parker’s book Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies to be very helpful.
According to them, someone who knows only one culture and one language is monocultural. This is me, through and through. Thankfully, there is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about being monocultural, it simply describes a reality, one that describes many, many people in this world.
The problem with monoculturalism is that it often leads to ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is cultural pride, a group self-centredness. While monoculturalism says, “My way is the only way I know,” ethnocentrism says, “My way is better than your way.” Ethnocentrism grows and matures into racism (I am superior because of my skin colour) and nationalism (my country is better than your country).
Sadly, as I reflect on my life, it is clear that my monoculturalism has led to ethnocentric pride on many occasions. Rather than try to understand and appreciate other cultures, I have often tried to affirm or assert the supposed supremacy of my own. I have argued with my father-in-law about the superiority of western democracy, pitied those poor, ignorant people who do things all wrong in Africa, and been offended by what I interpreted as the rude and offensive behaviour of “foreigners” in the grocery store.
I am thankful that God has not left my monoculturalism unchallenged. He has given me a wonderful wife whose Chinese-Canadian upbringing was very different from my own. He has allowed me to live in a very multiethnic community in Ontario for a few years and in multicultural Canada my whole life. Now, he is giving me the opportunity to live and work in the strange (to me) but beautiful culture of Melanesia. I don’t know if I will ever be fully bicultural, and I know that I will never be fully free of my ethnocentric pride, but I consider any movement in that direction to be a gift and a blessing from God.