Content and process must be culturally relevant
Ramonda Lunsford, SIM, Southern Africa
Is Entrust’s Developing a Discerning Heart course relevant to women in Africa? Absolutely! Its foundation on the word of God crosses all cultural barriers and makes it a powerful course for life transformation. As women come to understand how much value they have because they are made in the image of God, they are more open to understanding the impact of the fall on how they think, what they choose and how they feel. They delight in learning why they are thirsty and what they are thirsty for. Through repentance and focus on truth, they learn how to train their hearts to quench that thirst in Jesus.
However, over time, Entrust facilitators and I have become aware of how to facilitate DDH in a way that seems to bring more clarity and understanding to women in Africa. Making the facilitation experience more culturally relevant is as important as making the content culturally relevant. Listening to the way the women pray, how they communicate their problems, what their struggles are, how they describe their relationship to God and others, and what helps them understand scriptural truth, helped us learn how we could do better.
Here are some lessons we’ve learned, helping us to contextualize our facilitation of DDH here in Africa.
Build trust within the group. DDH is a very personal course. Entrust facilitators seek to build strong trust in their groups worldwide. But in our African context, talking about personal experiences feels risky because of fear that personal information may be used against you. We’ve learned we need to take even more time at the beginning of this course than we might in other places, to emphasize confidentiality and the need to treat one another as sisters in a family who will look out for each other. This assures participants that this is a safe group where they can be honest and open.
Take more time for women to express themselves through their stories. This demonstrates each woman’s value regardless of tribe, language ability, educational background or service in the church. When participants see that facilitators value each participant’s input, the women share more freely, opening up through their stories or the stories of others. Often the point the participant wants to make is embedded in the story she is telling.
Stories are key to helping women understand themselves. Before understanding and making sense of their own story, local women see the lessons to be learned in the lives of others. Starting each DDH lesson with contextual stories and questions has increased discussion participation exponentially. All of a sudden, the women are “in” the story and their minds are racing to what the women in the story should or should not do. As they offer their own stories to the group, the facilitator can use those stories as “case studies,” asking questions pertaining to the lesson based on the stories shared. Our participants enjoy discussing each other’s stories and find it easier to learn biblical and life principles from a story.
Use culturally relevant examples. As we facilitated DDH, we discovered some examples we were using weren’t clear. We asked what examples our participants would use instead. For instance, in Lesson 1, we used to dump the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on a table to demonstrate the feelings women might have as they seek to put together the many struggles in their lives. But here, not everyone has experience with a jigsaw puzzle. Our participants helped us see that a ball of tangled yarn or thread is more readily pictured and understood in illustrating this concept. Another example is in Lesson 6, where an iceberg is used as an example to illustrate the need for examining deeper beliefs. For those unfamiliar with icebergs, we use a hippo. The hippo’s cute little ears are above the water line, but there is a massive body below the water line that controls those cute little ears!
Start with scripture. Looking at scripture first, or just after the introductory story, emphasizes that the Bible is the foundation for all the principles we are learning. Starting with scripture, rather than with ideas or principles, lays the foundation for better understanding.
Ramonda Lunsford and her husband Tom have served with SIM in Africa for over 17 years. Ramonda has developed close friendships with women from some 20 African countries. Along with Entrust’s East Africa training team, Ramonda has hosted Entrust women’s ministry trainings in Kenya, Ethiopia and Zambia.