Culture Shock and the Clash of Cultures in Cologne

What really happened on New Year's Eve, and why

HowCulture Shock, New Year's Eve in Cologne did you celebrate New Year’s this year?

To celebrate the New Year 2016, about a thousand Muslim refugees gathered in the Cologne railway station.  In their excitement in the celebration, they forgot themselves and treated the women who passed by very badly.  They also got a little crazy and robbed a bunch of people as well.

We all look on with shock, especially at what the women of Cologne and the other towns endured on what was supposed to be a night of joy.  As an American with a wife three daughters of my own, my gut reaction is that there is no punishment too severe for the way these women were treated.

Where we come from affects the way we think

But then I was reminded of a place where I spent fourteen of the last twenty-five years, by an article in the UK Telegraph.  British television personality Saira Khan reminded me:

“We need to stop burying our heads in the sand and accept that Asian, Arab and African men grow up in societies where discrimination against women is the cultural norm.”

“Along with my female Asian friends, I saw Asian men ‘get away with murder’, while as girls, we were strictly controlled – what we said, who we said it to, where we went, what we wore, who we married. As women, our conduct, behaviour and reputation all had a bearing on the family’s ‘honour’ – and to dishonour the family could mean death.”

Saira Khan

Saira Khan

Yes, it’s true.  The way these young men treated the women they met that night reflects the societies where they came from.  I would love for each Christian to leave their comfortable western world behind, jump on a plane and fly to where you are needed most to make an eternal difference.  However, I must confess that life on the other side is not easy, especially for a mother and her daughters.  It requires precautions you wouldn’t normally need to take.  As a result, you lose a level of freedom you have known all your life, especially as a woman.

For the privilege of serving Him, we get to share the Good News with, among others, young men like these refugees in Cologne.  Their religion justifies as the weakness of their gender. As a result, they often do not try to overcome them.  And many of them have been misinformed about the norms of Western culture, believing that it is permissible to act on their desires based on what they see.

Our culture doesn’t change our human nature

Culture Shock in Cologne, New Year's Eve 2016

But then again, maybe we aren’t so different after all…

Maybe we just know better what is acceptable, and unacceptable, in our western society.  But, when it all comes down to it, perhaps every man struggles with the same “flesh”, no matter where he comes from.  With God’s help, we must make the daily decision to keep struggling, rather than follow our hearts…

I agree with Saira when she says that, for fear of sounding prejudiced, we pretend the clash between these cultures doesn’t exist. In order for the two worlds to live well together, we need to talk about these issues, openly and honestly.

When we are called to serve Christ overseas, we are called to stand between cultures to help the one understand the other. It takes more than translating the words we speak into the target language; it requires an understanding of the culture and the worldview… and a lot of love and forgiveness.

When Jesus was forbidden from staying in a certain village, James and John His disciples asked him, “Lord, do You wish for us to call down fire from heaven and consume them, as Elijah did?”
But turning, He rebuked them, and said, “You do not know of what sort of spirit you are. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”
And they went to another village.”
– Luke 9:54-56 (MTNT)

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