One of the best bits of advice that I received in my early days in Africa was that I had to learn to be “blessed by Africans”. At first, that didn’t seem to make sense; I was the person trained to be a Bible translator. It was my job to bless Africans, not the other way round. I soon learned my mistake. I had a huge amount to learn from my African friends, Christian and non-Christian alike.
When we lived in Gouabafla, I’d often spend an hour or so in the late afternoon chatting to people while cleaning up wounds of one sort or another. I treated machete wounds, abscesses, tropical ulcers and all sorts of things. I’m not medically trained, I’m just a bloke who knows a bit about first aid and who (unlike anyone else in the village) had access to basic medical supplies.
More importantly, I couldn’t claim to be in the village to share the love of God through the Bible and yet ignore the suffering that was all around me. I couldn’t do much about the poverty in the village, or the endemic corruption that reinforced that poverty, but I could clean out a dirty wound, treat it with antiseptic and put a clean dressing on while showing people how to treat their own wounds in future.
During our time living among the Kouya, I was regularly called on to preach in church – people didn’t really think that Bible translation kept me busy enough. It became obvious, pretty quickly, that the way I’d learned to preach in the UK wasn’t going to cut the mustard in rural Ivory Coast. The logical three-point (alliterated) sermon gave way to a more narrative form and I soon realised that I needed to be far more overt in talking about the spiritual realm – bush spirits, witchcraft etc., than I would have been in the UK (more of this in a later post).
This is the third part in a series on what those involved in mission to the UK can learn from cross-cultural mission around the world.
When Sue and I first went to live among the Kouya and before we were allowed to start translating the New Testament, we had to demonstrate that we knew something about Kouya culture. We spent a long time chatting to people, doing some informal interviews, and taking part in village life. Eventually we gathered enough information to allow us to write some ethnographic articles about Kouya life and culture. You can find some of them here, if you are interested.
When push comes to shove, there is one basic difference between long-term, cross-cultural missionaries and the average church member. The missionary got on an aeroplane (or boat…) and went somewhere for an extended period, with a particular purpose in mind. Sure, there are lots of other differences in terms of background and experience, but they all flow out of this one decision to get up and go.
A very simple lesson can be drawn from this: if you want to reach people with the Gospel, you have to be where they are. This applies in Bingley, just as much as it does in Bangkok or Bahrain. Let me unpack this a little.
Missionaries are an odd bunch; they talk about exotic places, they swap stories about suffering from strange diseases, they speak foreign languages and they are often rather out of touch with life in the UK. It’s good to have them around, to listen to their encouraging and heartwarming stories, but all too often, what they say is out of touch with the reality of being a Christian in twenty-first century Britain.
OK; that’s a caricature; I know that and you know that, but like all caricatures, it carries a grain of truth.
However, I believe that the skills and experience of cross-cultural missionaries are crucial to the future of the church in the UK, let me explain.
A Smoldering Wick: Igniting Missions Work with Sustainable Practices* by Gena Thomas is a book that should be read by anyone involved in leading or organising short-term mission teams. Let me be blunt, if you are involved in short-term mission and you don’t read book, then you are not taking your job seriously enough!
The print edition is a medium sized paperback with just over 270 pages and will set you back about £10, though the Kindle version costs just over half that (guess which one I read). There is a liberal sprinkling of footnotes and a good bibliography.
There is an advertising blurb on the front which reads,
… a powerful critique of Western charity and short-term missions interwoven with the framework for a more hopeful way forward.
This is the second post in what may become a series on famous sayings about Christian mission (the first one is here). This quote by Smith is one that turns up in lots of missionary writing and at first glance it seems to make sense, but like many things that make sense at first glance, it is actually rather problematic.Read more
The Triune God is the instigator of mission and, through the sacrifice of the Son and the empowering presence of the Spirit, he is also the one who guarantees the success of mission. However, true to his relational nature the Triune God invites us to participate in mission with him. Our participation in God’s work is a gift from Him.
In 1991, David Bosch wrote a book that many consider to be one of the most important theologies of mission of our age; Transforming Mission. In the introduction, Bosch asserted that mission is facing crisis because of massive changes in the church and the wider world. He suggested six ways in which this crisis manifests itself (though he does not claim that the list is exhaustive).
- The advance of science and technology, and the worldwide process of secularisation.
- The slow but steady de-Christianistion of the West.
- The fact that the world can no longer be divided into “Christian” and “non-Christian” spheres.
- Western guilt for racism and colonialism, leading to an unwillingness to engage in mission.
- The increasing gap between the rich and the poor.
- The reaction against over-academic Western theology in many parts of the church.