Traveler doesn’t mean you respect the Culture

Gates of Belarus

Few Communities in the United States or the world can come together and state that they have lived around the globe.  Communities with high population density of Mormons are often the exception.  Mormon Communites are often very unique with many representatives who have lived in countries all over the world. Languages spoken by many of these members will surprise those who don’t know about LDS Missions.

Missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are called to serve missions ranging from 2 years for males and 1.5 years for females.  This experience allows many Missionaries to experience different cultures and lifestyles.

In fact of the 194 Countries only 29 Countries and 12 Territories don’t have an LDS presence.  That is an incredible feat, and that is a large amount of cultures, according to countries-and-territories-without-lds.html

Many people might look at a Return Missionary and think to themselves that they must be a very cultured person.  They have certainly experienced a different culture but whether they become cultured and further a respecter of cultures is entirely up to them.

8 months ago I was serving as one of these LDS Missionaries.  During this specific time I had been called to serve in the Country of Belarus in the Capitol City of Minsk.  This country has an LDS presence but in respecting the wishes of the government I didn’t represent myself as a missionary for my church but as a Service Volunteer to help those in need.

In that time I considered myself someone who loved the people I was serving and who respected them and their culture, while so I thought.

It wasn’t until I was assigned with a native Latvian who helped me realize that respecting ones culture has so much more to do then just loving the people.

He showed me ways that I didn’t respect their culture and there ways.  He quoted a famous book the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon. In this book there is a man named Ammon who was a prince in his land. He lives in a nation called the Nephites. “Ammon went to the land of Ishmael,” which was a land that apposed his nation.  When he entered the land “the Lamanites took him and bound him, as was their custom.” Ammon declared before the King of the Land “I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea , and perhaps until the day I die.” The King was pleased with Ammon and offered his daughter to wife. “Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant,” according to Alma 17.

Ammon could have gone to this land and hated them for all they have done to his nation.  He could have been angry with their customs to bind Nephites.  He could have returned to the same lifestyle he had in the Nephite nation as royalty but he just wanted to serve them. He didn’t complain and compare the two different countries but instead he changed himself.

I learned that if I am going to truly experience and respect Belarusian Culture then I was going to have to stop comparing, complaining, and judging.  Instead I was going to have to change my perspective and see what they did have and seek learning for why they do what they do.

This is often hard for any foreigner to learn to appreciate someone else’s lifestyle but it can be done. When you are positive, humble, adventurous, and seek a different perspective you will learn to see the people the way they see themselves.

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