"No task is more important in the first years of ministry in a new culture than the building of trusting relationships with the people." Paul Hiebert
Definition: Trust is the ability to build confidence in a relationship so that both parties believe the other will not intentionally hurt them but will act in their best interest.
This chapter in the book explores how we can build trust with the people around us, particularly people who are different from us...in most cultures of the world, trust is like the glue that holds relationships together, the energy that promotes spirited cooperation. Without trust, relationships do not grow or thrive.
Ingredients of trust:
- Trust takes time...trust comes in incremental steps over time. Through a variety of experiences we develop more comfortable and confident relationship. This dynamic comes into play as we learn the language of the local people, since learning their language is actually a signal of your desire to know them and to build relationships of trust.
- Building trust requires a certain amount of risk, mostly emotional...friendships grow while working through difficulties together and finding resolution...this includes things like clarifying misunderstandings, admitting wrong, apologizing and forgiving...as we deal with issues in a relationship, mutual confidence increases and soon both parties are more confident that the other will not intentionally hurt them.
- Trust must be built from the other person's perspective...it is easy to make the mistake of believing that what would build trust with you will also build trust with someone else. It is important to always ask the question, "What will build trust from _________'s perspective?" Without taking the other person's point of view into mind, it would be easy for you to become like the monkey who tried to serve the fish by taking it out of the water. Trust must always be built from the other person's frame of reference.
- Trust must be nurtured. Strong confidence in a relationship actually is a portrayal of the Trinity; absolute trust exists between the three distinct persons of the Godhead...the Trinity is a model for marriage, family, church and other relationships...in order to keep trust strong, both parties must regularly ask, "What will build trust with this person (or this group)?"
- He trusts us. Trust finds its roots in creation...God created every human being and entrusted us with his own image (Genesis 1:27). God has given us something that makes us completely and wonderfully distinct from the rest of creation...his image bestows such dignity that we are loved by him above all other parts of creation. With God's image imprinted on our nature, we have been given the great privilege of choice...the exercise of will...and with this will our Creator allows us to love him with all of our heart, mind and soul, or to despise him and profane him...we are allowed the choice to do good or evil. God also entrusted us with managing his world (Genesis 1:28-30).
- God builds trust.
- The miracles that God performed in the Old Testament...by these displays of power he showed Israel that he, the Lord God, was trustworthy for all aspects of their lives so that they would not place their trust in false gods. God declared by word and by deed, "Trust me. I am worthy of your complete, unwavering confidence regardless of your circumstances. All other gods are untrustworthy...they will betray you, but I will never betray you."
- The incarnation...God who not visible to the people of the Old Testament, was now made visible in the form of his Son Jesus, who was human (John 1:14, Phil. 2:7)...God built trust with us by sending his only Son to live among us. And throughout his life, Jesus displayed his power and invited us to trust him with our lives and our eternity.
- Perhaps the greatest act of trust was Jesus giving his life for rebellious humankind...a righteous person giving up life for his enemies (Romans 5:7-8)....in his ascension, Christ entrusts us with his life and mission, in other words, to live out his life in the world...to be his light in the darkness, his mercy to the needy, his justice to the downtrodden, his voice declaring he is "the way and the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6)...in Jesus' own words, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith (trust) in me will do what I have been doing" (Jn 14:12).
- God forgives our sins...when we repent of our sins and ask God's forgiveness, he promises to forgive us (1 Jn 1:9)...in our repentance, we communicate to God that we have broken trust with him and in his forgiveness, trust is renewed and the relationship is restored. And as his servants, we are to follow this pattern; forgiving one another when trust has been broken in order to restore relationships. Living in unforgiveness is to refuse to live like Christ.
- The resurrection of Christ. As the disciples faced the confusion of the present and an uncertain future, they found Jesus' words comforting as he says "Trust me all the way to the resurrection."
- Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me. (Jn 14:1-3)
In cross-cultural situations, building trust is even more important but also more difficult for several reasons:
- Trust is built differently in different cultures...most people don't really think about how they are building trust, it is done rather intuitively. Some of the things we do in American culture will work in other cultures, such as smiling, phoning, emailing, spending time together and showing interest. However, other things that build trust in one culture may actually undermine trust in another. For example, let's say you are in another culture and you agree to meet up with someone at a certain place at a certain time to get to know them better (build trust), but they arrive 30 minutes late. Lateness for a meeting, even an informal meeting of friends, usually undermines trust for Americans, but not necessarily for people from other cultures. It might undermine trust for you if a person from another culture began to ask you how much you paid for your shoes, your house, your jewelry or other things...or an American male is pleased with the relationship being built with a man from the local culture, but one day this local friend takes his hand and holds it while walking down the street. How can you find out what these kinds of things mean in the culture where you are living?
- Trust is culturally defined. Some activities may build trust in both cultures, but it is important not to assume this. In most cultures being late isn't disrespectful, it is a way of life and most people think nothing of being late...lateness should not be seen as a violation of trust. In other cultures it is not necessarily wrong to openly discuss money and wealth, people from other cultures are naturally curious about the wealth in the West and want to know more about it. Handholding, even among males, is in most cases a sign of good friendship, revealing a certain level of trust. The natural inclination, however, is to interpret these kinds of things from our own cultural frame of reference, but it is vital that we remember that trust-building is culturally defined. Learn how it is done in the culture you will be entering so that you can accurately interpret the signals that others are sending and so that you will be less likely to offend with your signals.
- Trust is fragile. The author points out that in his younger years, he would not have put trust very high on his priority list, but that experience has changed this perspective. He points out that he has learned that without trust friendships, families and organizations, including the church, sink into dysfunction. "Trust is absolutely essential in everything we do...trust in marriage, between friends, at work, in public life...without trust we are doomed to chaos and confusion because nothing can work" (Richard Capen). In this life, we must connect with each other in order to survive and yet our apparent inability to value cultural and ethnic diversity increases the complexity of building and maintaining trust...and yet God wants that very diversity not only to be respected, but used in such a way that together we work to glorify God and unify around the work of his kingdom..."Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, on baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:2). Trust is fragile and it breaks easily...when immersed in cultural differences, we can break trust without even knowing it...therefore, we must have a strategy for repairing it: forgiveness.
Every relationship experiences times of broken trust...sometimes it's minor, such as not arriving on time for a meeting, but sometimes it's major, such as violating marriage vows. When trust is broken, most people are willing to try to repair it, especially if the relationship is important. Only one thing can restore broken trust: forgiveness--forgiveness asked for and forgiveness received.
Westerners usually offer and receive forgiveness in a direct manner through a verbal exchange...one party says, "I am sorry for what I did (or said); will you forgive me?" and the other party usually responds with, "I forgive you." Assuming both parties are sincere, the relationship is then restored and is free to grow again. Based on Matthew 18:15-17, many Westerners believe that the only way to resolved conflict is accomplished through direct confrontation, face-to-face interchange; that it's verbal, one person telling another what he or she has done wrong.
The fact is, however, that in most parts of the world seeking forgiveness in the Western way only makes the situation worse because shame, honor and saving face are core values in other cultures and when violated, relationships usually break. Forgiveness will repair the damage, but it must be contextually understood.
How trust is built, violated and rebuilt in a given cultural context will vary. Therefore, you will need to discover for yourself what breaks trust and how trust is restored in your particular situation...you will need to learn this from the local people themselves. But, they won't tell you until they feel you are trustworthy! Trust becomes the foundation for deep sharing and mutual learning...out of this we discover how to best serve. In the next post in this series, I will share the author's thoughts on how to pursue such learning.
Becky's note: I will not list out the examples of restored trust and forgiveness offered that the author gives, but suffice it to say that the examples given are striking in their difference to the direct ways of conflict resolution that are taught here in the United States. The lesson I have taken away from this chapter is how vitally important it is to be intentional about discovering how broken trust is restored in the culture I serve and how the local culture 'do' conflict resolution...how willing I am to discover and use local methods of conflict resolution and trust-building will most likely be a major factor in determining how successful my relationships and ministry will be in another culture. Not to mention my relationship with my Venezuelan husband!
A Caution of Trust
Sometimes trust can be misplaced...we simply should not trust someone who is not trustworthy. Sometimes trusting someone too much too soon is naive and trust should never replace good sense.
To read earlier posts in this series you can go here or here or here....
**Notes for this post taken from the book Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility by Duane Elmer. I highly recommend you get this book, by the way...it might change your life!