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Monday, August 14, 2006

Picking On a Commenter

An anonymous commenter on my last post disagrees with the distinction between home culture "missions" and what I'm calling "host culture missions." You can thank him for this post. Unless, of course, you actually like this post. I which case, please thank me.

My assertion: If the word "missions" means "telling people about Jesus" or even, "Sharing one's faith by living out a culturally relevant evangelistic lifestyle," then we need to come up with a new word for cross-cultural, um, "missions."

Let me be clear: I do not believe that international ministry is any better or more important than home ministry. Ministry to people of your own culture can be as difficult as crossing cultures, and there are many similarities. But they are not the same. Sure, there are culture differences between New York City and, say, Paducah, Kentucky. I think I experienced worse culture shock when I moved to the Midwest than I did moving to Western Europe. But kids in Dallas watch the same television shows and get their news from the same news outlets and eat the same cheeseburgers as kids in Boise. The commonality of influences serves to lessen the culture barrier.

I know I've got it easy here. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a culture that has absolutely nothing in common with my home culture. I live in Western Europe, in a country that westernized, civilized, and modern. Despite all that I might have in common with the people here, I am not like them. I did not grow up with the same influences and national experiences they did. This means that for me to share my faith in a way that makes sense to them, I must translate my relationship with God and it's impact on my life into their culture.

By the way, if you're out of touch with your home culture, it's because you've taken measures to insulate yourself from it. We should all be students of the cultural context in which we minister, and if you don't have anything to talk about with a lost person, you're to blame.


Anonymous said...

The church we attend has Home and foreign missions - strong believer in the CP, LMC and AA, yet still giving to local non-SB missions! BUT, there are few who DO missions. Locally and internationally. We go out each summer to help folk with their media needs and most people idolize us! Just using our skills for God. BUT, the average member doesn't reach out to his neighbor, even to invite them to a special concert. And, in the middle of a southern state, we look around at the Muslim women cashiering at Walmart, the Indians who run the motels. As someone said, the 1040 window is here!

Publius said...

Hmm, you've been on this 'vocabulary' theme for a while. I share your frustration, for what it's worth.

Here's a take on home 'missions' vs. cross-cultutal 'missions.' My problem, here in the SBC-dominated Bible belt, is that we have an all-too-clear idea of what it is to be a Christian, be a church, do missions. When I as a Baptist tell someone about Jesus, they infer a thousand other things about me because they're already familiar with the culture of Southern Baptist Christianity. I have to spend time getting people to understand I'm not who they assume I am before I can ever break through enough to talk about Christ in the context of their own lives.
And when you actually work in a church here it's doubly difficult (to get at your What IF? post). Because there are so many deeply ingrained expectations, from Baptists themselves, of what a Baptist minister (or home 'missionary') looks like, that only serve to reinforce the cultural stereotypes we work under.
But when you're working cross-culturally to begin with, (I imagine, since I'm not there yet myself), you're already weird, already different. It's a lot easier to establish common ground, I think, with someone who doesn't feel like they already know you.

Anonymous said...


Haha. You love sliding in those comments like, "ummm,'missions.'" I do not believe for a moment that the work here (overseas) is different than in the states. The job is the same.
Maybe I speak a different language...maybe I have to drive really fast to stay alive...maybe I get to eat funny foods or learn new customs..but the job of the believer is the same. When we become Christ followers we are going to have to work to intentionally intersect the lives of others.

I think one of the big breakdowns is in evangelism. We, as baptist, have come to think of it as a program. For instance, if we all go through F.A.I.T.H. training then there will be one million baptisms this year! Living in a way that we intersect people with the gospel takes just as much effort in the states as is does here.

I am sure we are not even close on this issue. That's ok. I want to throw out a question to you---this is one where I am really struggling because it seems that I am the only one alive that is having issues with this...issues that it seems will guide me, in the near future, in a different direction. Church? There it is. I asked it :-) It seems that we are all about simple church, cell church, house church---whatever you want to call it. I agree. This is fantastic. However, I do not buy for a second that everything else is bad...or ineffective...or not culturally relevent in W.Europe. It seems to me that we are having great community, fellowship, and even a little Bible study...which is all great...but that is not all there is to church..the same expression of church that produced me and you and thousands of others that write about why very small reproducible communities (that have not been reproducing) is 'The Way.'

I have a book full of thoughts on this one...but I really want to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for writing! Tis great to talk about this stuff!

Anonymous said...

All right guys, M in Central Asia has a something to say on this. I was a pastor for four years before coming overseas and I was frustrated. I knew I was called overseas but I needed to do time in the US first. A friend of mine (m for 37 years now retired) said hey man, the gifts for being an M are totally different than being a pastor. That was totally freeing for me. Paul was called to the gentiles. Sure he spoke to Jews all the time but his authority and calling from God was to the gentiles- and not all of them as he was not allowed to go to asia. We need very badly to allow God to equip us for all the different ministries that He wants done. People who stay home have an important ministry that they may or may not be doing well or at all. M's overseas have an important ministry that they may or may not be doing well or at all. These are not the same. We have to stop making them the same so that we can be free to become the laborers He needs us to be. Enough said? Probably not.
Your friend in Central Asia.

GuyMuse said...

Even though I have lived 31 years in my "host culture" I still feel I am a foreigner here. True, I likewise feel even more like a foreigner when we go back to the States (even more so.) I do know a lot about this culture and can identify and appreciate the culture probably better than most foreigners living here.

But even so, they realize I am an "outsider" and I KNOW that I am an outsider. The best I can do is share who I am with the people and give them the best that I have. They take what I give and contextualize it into their reality. Most of the time, I can see elements of what I have shared mixed with their own ways of doing things.

I am reading right now one of the most interesting books on this subject entitled, "End of the Spear" by Steve Saint. I haven't seen the movie but the book is a fascinating study into this very subject. I can hardly put it down. What makes it so interesting is that we think our own culture and values are so superior to everyone else's. Yet as Steve points out so well, even the killing, stone-age Waodani have much to teach us.

I agree with you, we must be constant students of the cultural context around us. If all else is failing, stop what you are doing and begin to simply listen. Ask questions. Observe behavior without judging. And what will really do the trick if at all possible, live a spell in their world the way they do, eating and drinking, working, conversing, suffering, being sick, etc.

Doug said...

We went to SE Asia as ISCers in 1997. The board gave us 2 weeks orientation (1 week language and culture, 1 week evangelism), then off to our assignment. A national church planter was our on-site supervisor. The nearest IMB missionary was thousands of miles away. I have lived in several areas of the US (NW, Mid West, South, and North). I have never experienced shock like we did in SE Asia. However, now that I am a prison chaplain, I am an outsider to my congregation in one way, and hope to stay that way!

Anonymous said...

and here I thought every Christian is a missionary...maybe we have a problem here because Baptists are afraid to use the word, dare i say it, "apostolic".