Posted by: calloftheandes | April 29, 2011

Different Views, Many Voices Revealed at Intercultural Communications Seminar in Quito

Two cultures are blended at Alfredo and Alex Leon’s home in Shell, Ecuador—British and Ecuadorian.

It’s a harmonious relationship but not without sporadic cultural tensions, according to the couple who shared their experience with other attendees of a March intercultural communications seminar in Quito, Ecuador.

This HCJB Global Hands couple faces two or more additional cultures as they travel to Ecuador’s Amazon region to promote, design and help construct clean water projects in underserved jungle communities. The rainforest they visit most is home to the Shuar, Achuar and Waorani—indigenous groups whose older leaders continue an oral tradition. Some are a world apart from computer software designs of projects or engineering equations.

To top it off, Alfredo and Alex Leon work frequently with U.S. missionaries, or as Alex put it, “the Americans.” You might think there would be no better candidates to take a cross-cultural communications seminar!

But then there’s Tannia Lascano, an Ecuadorian mestiza (blended Hispanic-indigenous heritage) who offers hygiene talks with the clean water projects team. “Ecuador is a blend of cultures by itself,” Lascano said. “I am a mestiza, but I work with indigenous Quichua and with mestizos too.”

In addition, she interfaces with the British and American cultures. Lascano was among 50 people from several cultures who attended the course, jointly sponsored by Wheaton College and HCJB Global. Dr. Stephen Hawthorne and his wife, Mary, a missionary couple with SIM in Bolivia, led the five-day event in Quito, Ecuador. Interested participants received Wheaton College credits for completing assigned readings and essays for the course.

“I like Steve’s style—lots of examples and [he] makes himself vulnerable by showing his own examples,” Alex said weeks after the conference had ended. Asked if she’d applied the principles learned, she replied, “My marriage . . . and my in-laws.”

Alfredo also mentioned putting the Wheaton course to work in the Leon home, adding that it has helped in working with colleagues and his foreign supervisors.

“The U.S. and Ecuador are at extreme ends of the scale of individualist/collectivist cultures,” said Bruce Rydbeck, another attendee. An American engineer, Rydbeck’s work with clean water projects in Ecuador’s mountain region takes him into many Quichua Indian communities which take the collectivist approach even further.

Time-oriented and project-focused, Rydbeck has learned during three decades in Ecuador that others do not view life in the same way. “Personal relationships are much more important to Ecuadorians than accomplishing goals.” He both values and contributes to what he considers a bicultural balance to confront a desperate need for clean water, especially in the rural areas.

“The indigenous communities are motivated by their need to take action regarding their water supply in spite of the cultural factors,” Rydbeck added.

Alex said small-group exercises aided seminar attendees to process the concepts learned. “In my groups the Ecuadorians/Latinos could see the other side, but the Americans in our group would resort to the biblical way,” she explained. “They couldn’t see that maybe they weren’t correct in a Latin culture.”

“Too often the Bible is read in one’s own culture, taken as right and then taught in other cultures, and it is no longer culturally correct,” Alex continued. “We need to read from the cultural perspective and know what is biblical and what is bad culture and can be changed. Some Bible studies looking at the differences in culture in the Bible would be good.”

Alfredo added that Hawthorne “went beyond theoretical learning to the practical, studying real cases.”

Concurring was another participant, Michelle von Debschitz, a speech pathologist and former HCJB Global working visitor who has trained Hospital Vozandes-Quito staff in procedures to correct swallowing disorders. She pointed out that Hawthorne set up cross-cultural scenarios to illustrate real-life challenges. “Sometimes no matter with what attitude when something is offered, people are not ready to receive it,” von Debschitz, explained. “In that activity, we had to consider that.”

Several of the seminar participants are being mentored by HCJB Global and partner ministries in a missionary mobilization initiative called Corrientes (translated as “currents”). Corrientes aims to help prepare Latin American bi-vocational missionaries to serve in other parts of the world.

“I believe the entire mission would do well to learn these principles to understand the situations that can cause pain and misunderstandings,” Lascano said. “It would be a heart cleansing time.”


  1. […] system to work better in the future,” stated intern John Bodett, a civil engineering student at Wheaton College. By the second trip, it was clear that the people of Santa Rosa were taking complete ownership of […]

  2. […] In the next several minutes, what followed was a reasoned appeal for theological viewpoints of those from the “Global South” during Gallagher’s April 12-14 course, “Theological Foundation of Missions,” in Quito, Ecuador. The course was offered in conjunction with the Wheaton College Graduate School with academic credit available. It’s the sixth year that HCJB Global’s community development department has offered graduate-level courses in Quito. […]

  3. Ralph, Thanks for taking the time to respond. As you can sense from my different comments I am very interested in your mission (and others, continuing) that is why I mention the use of students, “tried and true”. I am wrapping up 40 years in Student Success and College Retention/Graduation efforts. At our last conference there were over 1,300 in attendance with 100s in attendance for the 1st time. It was then I realized I had to do something with my education, experiencce and expertise. I would think that there are literally a 1,000 misssionary “specialists” that have unbelievable knowledge that needs to be “passed” on. As I note in your efforts every week someone is being called home. My gift is intellectual and intelligence dissemination and classification. Check with Ron Cline who knows how my work started at Azusa Pacific, perhaps there is some way we can work together.. we must keep your type of mission alive. Dissemination and salvation can be partners in our mission fields. Because of Him, Greg

  4. Very interesting article. I wonder how “tried and true” relationship-management concepts like “7 habits” would work as a netural perspective.. to wit “First Understand then be understood”, “begin with the end in mind” and so forth. I think the word “cultural” and situational may be interchanged. When I was an evangelist in San Francisco speaking in Chinese churches, accepting Jesus as a Chinese teenager meant that you were sent out to sleep in the hallway of your apartment? I said that to say, when we follow God’s calling His plan is different even in establiishing clean water!! Living here in Arkansas with 16 percent of our students being of Hispanic definition (multiple countries) stuff gets interesting between the original cultures and our culture. Again thanks for the very good article. He is the Living Water…. Greg

    • Greg,
      Thanks for your insights. I have heard “7 Habits” taught. I think much of it works in the radio and hospital management setting. That is to say, it crosses from corporate U.S. to corporate Ecuador without too many difficulties. (Some of our managers might differ with me.)

      Many of the seminar participants work in cultural settings far different than the corporate setting. I will say “tribal” settings, which I hope comes across as neutral and not condescending. Decisions are often reached communally. Hence Dr.Hawthorne’s teaching that helped participants increase their awareness of a collective approach versus the highly individualistic approach that you and are are accustomed too. Thanks again. -Ralph

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