by Samuel Rowen
The use of psychological knowledge in the cause of missions is a fact of life.
The use of psychological knowledge in the cause of missions is a fact of life. For many years psychological testing has been a prerequisite for acceptance for missionary service. Several institutions have offered psychological testing and counseling for missionary candidates and furloughing missionaries. The appearance of a special issue of journal of Psychology and Theology (Fall, 1983, Vol. 11, No. 3) devoted to "Psychology and Missions" demonstrates the increasing interest in the application of psychology to missions.
Included are empirical studies, literature surveys on specific topics and articles that pull together the experience and insight of the author. The lead article raises the question of the appropriate use of Western psychological knowledge. Al Dueck ("American Psychology in Cross-Cultural Context") asks whether "psychologists may be insensitive in applying their insights in cross-cultural settings, because of the implicit Western bias in their knowledge base."
Dueck assumes that knowledge is culture-specific. If so, it is dangerous to use psychological knowledge uncritically because that may be the means of moving traditional societies toward modernity. Dueck refers to two kinds of social existence: Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society). "The Gemeinschaft is communal with common beliefs, rituals and goals. Face-to-face association is frequent and homogeneity in the community is obvious. The Gesellschaft is more an aggregation of individuals and a plurality of self-interest groups. In the Gemeinschaft, kinship ties are strong, village life is central, and the sharing of resources is common. In the Gesellschaft . . . social ties revolve around education and profession. Folkways, mores, and status provide a sense of order in Gemeinschaft, but the legislation of laws does so in the Gesellschaft."
He points out that "modernity as Gesellschaft is the context of contemporary psychology." Therefore, this kind of psychological knowledge is inappropriate in communal settings. The experience of the author in Mexico reveals the problem. He went to a university bookstore to find books by Mexicans on psychology. All he could find were translated texts of Western authors. There were a few introductory texts by Mexican authors, but even they were reflections primarily on American experiments.
American society emphasizes the individual, and American psychological knowledge reflects that emphasis. By contrast, traditional communities assume the priority of the community over that of the individual. Dueck quoted Brandt approvingly: "The science of psychology is largely a result of the American way of life."
Dueck lists the following implications:
1. If American psychology is in part an expression of Western ideals, those who use psychology’s theories and techniques in other cultures may well be socializing individuals into the modern world.
2. Conflict may result where the vision of the ideal society in the host country clashes with the one contained in the imported psychology.
3. A sociology of psychological knowledge raises the question of the "good society" and the process of its definition.
If psychological knowledge is culture-specific, then the great need is for it to be contextualized. It would be helpful to take a look at the courses on pastoral counseling in our North American Bible schools, colleges, and seminaries. The simple carryover of those courses may mean that we are saying that accepting the Good News brings with it the modern (North American) way of life.
The application of psychological insights has helped many missionaries to make the adjustments needed for working productively in Gesellschaft. However, the passing on of those insights, may prove to be counter-productive. Missionaries doing cross-cultural counseling need to take into account the issues Dueck has raised.
David W. Shenk ("Interpreting the Bible Missiologically," Mission Focus, March, 1984, Vol. 12, No. 1) relates a conversation he had with a Japanese businessman, a Buddhist. He asked him if he ever considered becoming a Christian. The businessman, without hesitation, said No! He had "investigated the Christian faith, but that sadly, Christianity has nothing whatsoever to say concerning his relationship with ancestors."
Borrowing from his experience with African preachers, Shenk referred to Ephesians 4:8-10. "I shared the good news that when Jesus Christ was crucified he went into the regions where the ancestors were and proclaimed redemption to them. All those who were people of faith, people who longed for righteousness, were invited to respond to the good news of redemption. When Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, he took hosts of the ancestors with him. Today they are in heaven with Christ pleading and awaiting the salvation of the living. We are blessed by their gifts, probably especially the gift of their prayers."
An intriguing question is then raised by Shenk: "Was my response to the Japanese businessman an appropriate biblical hermeneutic? I am not sure. . . . Our hermeneutics must perceive of the gospel as good news to the questions which people are asking."
In responding to his own question, Shenk looks to Abraham’s call and pilgrimage as a prototype to the biblical view of revelation. In contrast to the static view of revelation in Islam, revelation in the Bible is dynamic. Therefore, the gospel can become good news to people in their own context. The call of Abraham is crucial to our understandings of the interaction between call and the person-in-culture. Abraham’s call becomes a paradigm of all calls.
1. Abraham was called in a feasible moment. Abraham began his pilgrimage after the death of his father. Many times at moments of change a person or people will become responsive.
2. Abraham was called to leave his country. "The entire biblical drama is an ongoing repetition of that call to leave in order that we may become."
3. As Abraham left, he became a blessing to the nations. "Although the pilgrimage of faith is often disruptive to culture and oftentimes calls for radical discontinuities with the past, nevertheless, something about the nature of the pilgrimage is a blessing."
Building upon the idea of calling as pilgrimage, Shenk discusses worldview and culture. Here we see the essence of his hermeneutic at work. A "collision in perceptions takes place whenever the Bible is shared with people." We can borrow from the local culture. For example, "Some of the psalms which are included in the Bible were originally hymns written to the pagan Baal." Yet there is a clear-cut break between the worldview of the Bible and the world-views of the surrounding nations.
By applying this approach to Scripture, Shenk comes to grips with a practical issue like polygamy. He says that in the traditional African worldview, progeny are a guarantee of tranquility in this life and the life to come. Therefore, children are soteriological. On the other hand, the biblical revelation radically challenges that view. The Scriptures show that salvation is not contingent on progeny. The essence of marriage is the concept of one flesh and not the birth of children. Polygamy is, therefore, incompatible with the biblical perception of marriage.
The Bible is a missionary book. It is a book of the acts of God for the redemption of his people from sin. The idea of interpreting the Bible missiologically should not be a surprise. The only surprise is why it takes so long for us to recognize it.
We owe Shenk an answer as to whether he was correct in his response to the Japanese businessman. Nevertheless, we can agree with him when he says, "Interpreting the Bible missiologically becomes … a life-giving experience, an experience in which we sense profoundly that we stand in continuity with the men and women of faith who, like Abraham, have been called to leave Haran and go to a new land. The gospel calls all of us into that kind of pilgrimage in all of its variegated forms. That is the richness and the blessing of mission."
In recent years mission agencies have emphasized continuing education. A recent survey indicates that most mission agencies make provision for missionaries to enter into a continuing education program eityher on the field or while on furlough. Some missions have separate funds to assist in this project, while others allow the funds to be deducted from ministry accounts funded by the individual missionary.
Sometimes mission executives feel frustrated because some of the people they would most like to see take further training are the most disinterested or resistant. In adult education, major studies have been conducted to indentify the "motivational factors" that affect adult continuing education. The limitation of the studies is that, although being quite helpful in understanding why adults study, they did not help in predicting which adults would actually take the time to do it.
Building on the motivational factors, Craig S. Scanlan and Gordon G. Darkenwald ("Identifying Deterrents to Participation in Continuing Education," Adult Education Quarterly, Spring, 1984, Vol. 34, No. 3) move in a new direction. They identified six "deterrent factors" that predict whether a person will actually pursue continuing education. In short, they say that even though there is appropriate motivation, there still may be factors which deter adults.
The study was done with only medical personnel, but their insights should be applied to missionaries as well. The six categories of "deterrent factors" are:
1. Disengagement. Low levels of activity, self-discipline, and orientation toward the desirability and importance of learning was the greatest deterrent.
2. Cost. Four of the top 10 items identified as deterrents were in the category of cost.
3. Family constraints. Familial roles and role-expectations (a majority of respondents in the study were mothers with careers outside the home) deterred many. Some expressed a sense of guilt for neglecting the family by both working and studying.
4. Lack of benefit. They questioned the relative worth and need for participation in organized continuing education.
5. Lack of quality. Some respondents said they were dissatisfied with available programs.
6. Work constraints. Time constraints related to work were the least cited deterrent.
With the exception of item 6, all of the factors emerged as strong predictors of participation. If the only significant constraints are those created by the work environment, the person will find a way to study.
Missionaries will be, strongly encouraged to improve their skills and knowledge. A look at the mission-oriented magazines, like the Evangelical Missions Quarterly, will convince anyone that the push is on. The advertisements from schools indicate not only that the opportunities are there, but that missionaries are presently a good market for specialized training programs.
Missionaries can take extension courses that pre-enroll them in the program for when they are on furlough. Mission executives, can help their missionaries to make wise decisions about continuing education. Simply giving the information about the availability of programs will not help some people. Careful counsel, using the six deterrents above, would help many to overcome the obstacles that might otherwise keep them from using their furlough time in a creative, productive way.
Although the romantic view of missionary life still persists, actual experiences of missionaries differ greatly. Dorothy Gish studied 547 missionaries, using a 65-item rating scale, to identify the causes of stress in missionary experience ("Sources of Missionary Stress," The Journal of Psychology and Theology Fall, 1983, Vol. 11, No. 3). The five major sources of stress are:
1. Confrontations. The need to confront others is a source of high stress for the majority of the missionaries in the study. The need to confront was significantly more stressful for women than for men.
2. Cross-cultural communication. Over half the respondents found this stressful; another 25 percent found it extremely stressful. As is to be expected, the degree of stress was related to the degree of contact demanding cross-cultural communication. Support personnel experienced less stress in this area.
3. Support maintenance. Time and effort required to maintain a relationship with donors was extremely stressful. Of the three groups studied (i.e., denominational missionaries, Christian school personnel, and interdenominational missionaries) those required to raise their own support identified this area as a source of great stress.
4. Work overload. The ability to meet personal and organizational work expectations proved to be highly stressful.
5. Work priorities. Decisions about work priorities, insufficient progress on work, and having too many decisions that affect the lives of others were identified as stressful.
Gish states that the "most striking thing about these results is that those sources identified as producing the greatest amount of stress are all causes which can be to some degree alleviated by training." She suggests that ‘learning about confrontation and conflict resolution is fine, but how much better to have an on-site workshop where one has to practice those skills with the same fellow workers with whom one has conflicts."
This advice is supported by the results of the on-field workshops conducted by Duane Elmer of Missionary Internship. The missionaries consistently said that training in interpersonal relations and conflict resolution done in the field setting was better than the prefield training. The complementary nature of the pre-and on-field training is important, because it provides the opportunity for personal development over time.
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