Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 3, Number 2


The Deceiving Nature of Adaptation in E-1 Situations

C. Philip Slate
Harding Graduate School of Religion
Memphis, Tennessee

A person with very elementary knowledge of culture correctly perceives it to be more difficult to live and work in some cultures than in others. Winter (1975) described the enterprise of evangelizing at different cultural distances by using the symbols E-1, E-2, and E-3. Thus, E-1 evangelization takes place when a missionary works in a culture similar to his own in language and general cultural experience, while E-3 work takes place where the missionary's host culture is radically different from his or her native rootage.

Similarly, Hesselgrave developed a more detailed means of computing cultural distance (1978:101-5). His scheme involves a ten-point scale on seven crucial items like linguistic forms, social structure, and world view. Thus, a higher number on the seventy-point scheme would indicate the need of greater effort and more time in personal identification and adequate task performance. Forewarned about the drastic cultural differences in an E-3 field of work, the missiologically informed person determines to be flexible and empathetic, seeking to understand and accept as valid the alternative ways of thinking and acting in the new culture. Perhaps on the front end it is understood that several years of diligent effort will pass before the missionary feels "at home" in the culture and is able to perform his or her tasks with some degree of adequacy.

For a variety of reasons, however, one may choose to evangelize in what Winter calls E-1 situations. In such cases a person is prone to accent cultural similarities and minimize cultural differences, especially at the physical level. Consequently, one tends to reduce efforts at identification, especially at the psychological level. The results may be as deleterious as the failure to adjust in E-3 situations. This article addresses the deceiving nature of evangelizing in close- culture situations.

E-1 Opportunities

Evangelists often have an opportunity to move about in one or more E-1 situations. The most obvious indicator of similarity is language. Thus, Brazilians can go to Portugal, Spaniards to various South and Central American countries, and Swahili-speaking Africans to several countries. Geographically disparate English- speaking countries like Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S.A. are E-1 situations for those who are cradled in any one country and move to another as an adult. However, English speaking countries like Singapore belong to a different class since other cultural differences override the commonalty in language.

External similarities like language, food, levels of technology, and housing are more obvious. Most popular discussions of cultural differences seem to center on the physical. Psychological factors are admitted but on world-scale the E-1 situations appear so similar that one is deceived into thinking that little effort needs to be made by the missionary in adapting to them. Neill (1964:392) reports that when Archibald Fleming, Anglican missionary to the Arctic region, spent his first winter with two Eskimo families in an igloo, he quoted favorably the words of Commander Peary: "A night in one of these igloos, with a family at home, is an offense to every civilized sense." Nothing approaching that is the norm in E-1 situations. Often the differences between cultures in E-1 situations are similar to the regional differences one may find in one's own country. So why exert a great effort in adaptation? Why not get into the work as soon as possible?

The Setback of Partial Adaptation

At least two factors are at stake in adaptation to another culture, effectiveness of work and personal longevity. Cleveland, Mangone, and Adams (1960) discovered that training and cultural sensitivity increased task performance and promoted longer work on the field. Either or both of these factors may be set back through the failure to adapt in E-1 situations.

There are numerous cases of missionaries who are miserable in E-1 situations despite external similarities to their home culture. Such unhappiness cuts short the period of work in the second country, and potentially good workers have themselves to thank for the outcome of their fatal assumptions about non- adaptation or minimal adaptation.

It is certainly true that people may live fairly happily for many years in a second culture by surrounding themselves with the trappings of their home culture. But if their task is to work with local people, they will be defeated by such arrangements. This very scenario provoked Lederer and Burdick to write The Ugly American (1958), a book still worth reading. If cross-cultural evangelists are not eventually accepted by the nationals in the host culture, then their work will be severely limited. A low credibility bearer of a good message is frustrating to the recipients.

Hall contends that the only time the famous defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow, decisively lost a case was in Honolulu in 1932 where he did not know how to appeal to the "formal systems" of his oriental jurors (1959:75). "Formal systems" is a crucial term; largely psychological, it is freighted with implications for identification. Perhaps more than the physical elements, the psychological factors determine acceptance in E-1 situations. Roman Catholic missionary anthropologist, Luzbetak, illustrates the matter well. When he inquired about the problem of missionary adjustment in Mexico, several bishops and religious superiors remarked,

    You North Americans are generally well disposed when you come to our country as missionaries; at least, you want to be "de-Yankeeized" whether you succeed or not. The trouble is that your culture is so different from ours that North American missionaries have a tough job ahead of them. But they can learn our ways. It is quite different with the Spaniards. The Spaniards come from a background similar to ours, but just because their way of life is so similar to ours they imagine that there is no difference at all between Spain and Mexico, and consequently they never really learn to know us (1970:70).
Cultural understanding and respect are always necessary, even in E- 1 situations where one may wrongly assume a similarity that does not exist at the formal systems level. It is a horrible handicap to pursue work among people who feel you do not know them.

Lynn Anderson's research indicated that many U.S.A. preachers with the Churches of Christ were not really accepted in English speaking Canada because they failed to negotiate the adjustments at the "formal systems" level (1965). Language, automobiles, houses, and food were largely the same for U.S. citizens and Canadians; but nationalistic feelings, matters of etiquette, and task orientations were different. Similarly, an English preacher informed me in the late 1960s that "at least half of the American preachers who come to England are not accepted." Where that is the case, one's effectiveness will be seriously hampered. Winston Churchill's quip that "Britain and America are two great nations separated only by a common language," is a gross cultural overstatement. According to George Bernard Shaw, as portrayed in "My Fair Lady," English has not been spoken in America for years! But even though there is enough language commonality for initial communication, other differences are very telling. As a part of her contribution to the war effort, anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote several booklets and articles designed to help British and Americans, troops included, to understand each other as allies in the 1940s (Mead, 1943, 1943a, 1944, 1944a, 1947). The formal systems are different enough even in culturally similar countries to cause a religious worker to be rejected if he neglects them.

A Brazilian going to work in E-1 Portugal will be faced with the same variables. A Honduran going to Bolivia or an Argentine going to Chile will face numerous formal systems differences. Language is only one dimension of a culture, and having it in common may deceive one into thinking few adjustments need to be made otherwise.

Even when a North American goes from Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, or Texas to work in Minnesota, Wisconsin, or one of the Dakotas, an unwillingness to make adjustments will hinder one's work. A Southerner will not be accepted if his notion of a church fellowship in the north is to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken and root for the Dallas Cowboys. When students from the north describe themselves as having "culture shock" as a result of their moving south to study, it should be obvious that Southerners who go north to evangelize will find enough difference to make adjustments necessary.

A further complication is that close-culture, E-1 situations may attract workers who are unwilling to make "those drastic changes." In other words, they may tend to be people who study little missiology and are personally inflexible. Thus, they put forth little effort to adjust to differences, and the result is short periods of essentially poor work.


When planning work in E-1 situations, it seems appropriate to do the following if one wishes to maximize one's work for God:
  1. Be acquainted with and take seriously the implications of cross-cultural studies. Stan Shewmaker claims that although he had lived among the Tonga of Zambia for almost twenty years, the work of anthropologist Elizabeth Colson "provided me with numerous insights into Tonga life which had never before occurred to me" (1970:xv).

  2. Pay attention to psychological differences and basic assumptions about life. Europeans and Americans, for example, are educated differently about the nature of success and failure (Mead 1943a:114); British and Americans make different assumptions about dating (Mead 1944a). Knowing and functioning within formal systems, like etiquette and social interaction, is crucial to one's acceptance in an E-1 situation as well as in an E-3 situation. Anderson found that the longer the U.S.A. workers stayed in Canada the more they realized the differences between the two countries (1965).

  3. Develop personal flexibility and a willingness to fit into local customs and procedures. Accepting as valid the general patterns in the E-1 situation will facilitate one's acceptance by people in the host culture and maximize whatever one is capable of doing for God.

  4. Help people in the host culture to think through the changes they need to make, but do so within their frame of reference. All cultures change all the time, and from a Christian point of view the gospel is always a kind of intrusion into every culture, including our own. But if a cultural foreigner, even in an E-1 situation, does not function within the cultural framework of the host culture, one is very unlikely to help the people to change in those matters that are required by scripture. Thus, when approaching E-1 situations from various angles it is obvious that adaptation is mandatory. Theoretically, such changes should be easier than those in E-3 situations. But a root cause of failure at such adjustments is found in the deceiving nature of a culture which is similar to one's own.


Anderson, Lynn 1965 An American Preacher in a Canadian Situation: A Study in Cross-Cultural Communication. An unpublished M.A. Thesis, Harding Graduate School of Religion.

Cleveland, Harland, Gerard J. Mangone, and John C. Adams 1960 The Overseas Americans. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hall, Edward T. 1959 The Silent Language. Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawsett Publications.

Hesselgrave, David J. 1978 Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Pub. House.

Lederer, William J., and Eugene Burdick 1958 The Ugly American. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Luzbetak, Louis J. 1970 The Church and Cultures: An Applied Anthropology for the Religious Worker. Techny, Illinois: Divine Word Publications.

Mead, Margaret 1942 "When Do Americans Fight?" Nation 155:16 (17 October):368-71.

1943 "Can You Tell One American from Another?" The Listener 30:777 (2 December):640.

1943a "What Makes Americans Tick?" The New York Times Magazine (9 April):54, 57-60.

1944 "A GI View of Britain." The New York Times Magazine (9 April):14, 40.

1944a "What Is a Date?" Transatlantic. No. 10 (January):54, 57-60.

1947 "The English as a Foreigner Sees Them." The Listener 38:973 (18 September):475-6.

Neill, Stephen 1964 A History of Christian Missions. The Pelican History of the Church:6. Harmondsworth, Middx.: Penguin Books.

Shewmaker, Stan 1970 Tonga Christianity. South Pasadena, California: William Carey Library.

Winter, Ralph D. 1975 "The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism." In Let the Earth Hear His Voice, ed. J. D. Douglas, 213- 25. Minneapolis: World-Wide Publications.

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