By Connie Dunn
Serving in Southeast Asia
Recently, my husband, Shawn, & I had the privilege of attending the training for trauma competent caregivers with the David and Jayne Schooler, sponsored by Back2Back ministries in Cincinnati. Our family serves overseas working among at-risk kids in an Asian, Muslim context. As we participated in the training, the question that kept running through my mind was “How does this information translate to the culture in which we work?”
A Visual of the Conversation
Exploring the Question
This question really surfaced as we went through the module where Jayne was discussing the power of connections with children from hard places, specifically with the method of connecting through eye contact. In my host culture, eye contact is not always culturally appropriate, so I really was asking if this is a valid, culturally- relevant way to connect with the children in which we work. When I asked Jayne if the developmental benefits of eye contact was really a cultural thing for western nations. She challenged me to answer my own questions so the research shifted to me. Here is what I discovered.
As I started studying, I asked the questions “What developmental benefits happen with making eye contact with a child?” and “Is it worth pushing past the cultural norms to connect with children in this manner?” I referred to a drawing Jayne had put on the board where she displayed the importance of seeing the child & the needs of that child through the lenses/glasses labeled “cultural response”.
I knew that no matter what, when the skill of a caregiver pushes against a cultural norm we, as the trainer, must know the WHY behind the WHAT we are asking them to do. So with the drawing on my paper and the questions in my mind, I went to two great sources of information…the Bible and google. J
I went to the Bible first, seeing how it has a little more authority than google. As I looked through the scripture seeing where God asks us to look at Him, I saw very clearly that when the eyes of our heart connect with the Father good things happen. In Song of Solomon chapter 2 God asks us to look at him so he can see our lovely faces and in Hebrews 12 we find that in order to live a full life, we must fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith. I was even more encouraged when I read through the Psalms and found that when we fix our eyes above, when we choose to look to heaven, those who have been in hard places find security, deliverance and victory over enemies. Wow! The Bible definitely points to some major benefits of making eye contact with our Heavenly Father!
Then I went to google. As I researched the “scientific” benefits of eye contact, it was obvious that it’s beneficial for these children. It’s one of the primary ways an infant learns that someone will meet the needs he has. Eye contact creates an agreement between the child & the adult where the baby expresses need & the adult agrees to meet that need. Other life skills are developed through eye contact, like stranger-danger (gaze at the familiar, look away from the unfamiliar), the ability to read the emotions of others and self-regulation (look away when over-stimulated to gain self-control). All of these skills are helpful in connecting with children.
With these facts in hand I started to put on my cultural response glasses. I asked myself “How should I seek to train someone in a way of connecting that completely goes against their cultural norms?”. In seeking this answer I felt the fear of God. I believe that when we call caregivers to push against their cultural norms, we have to come from a place of valuing and honoring their culture while calling them to live according to a higher culture…the Kingdom of Heaven. We must find a way to maintain the good of their culture while teaching them a new skill. How this works out in my host culture in the context of eye contact is this: Not making eye contact is about honor and modesty. So I have to make sure I address honor and modesty while asking them to go against their culture in making eye contact. It’s my job as the trainer to give them the skills needed to connect with the children they serve as well as helping them understand the deep values underneath these methods. When we work cross-culturally this is one of the most important skills we as trainers must possess.
I believe firmly that as the “safe adults” in the lives of these children, we represent the Heavenly Father. As we help them make connections with caregivers, we are essentially helping them connect with the Safest Person ever…Jesus. And this Safe Person loves and values every culture because he created each culture. Learning to work through these cultural responses will empower our caregivers to see genuine life change in the children we serve.
Connie lives with her husband, Shawn, & their 3 children in SE Asia.”