by Samuel Rowen
The International Conference on Missionary Kids (November, 1984) was held in Manila. Through workshops and plenary sessions the needs were analyzed and solutions offered.
The needs of missionary kids have gained a good deal of visibility recently. The International Conference on Missionary Kids (November, 1984) was held in Manila. Through workshops and plenary sessions the needs were analyzed and solutions offered. One question that needs serious consideration is whether there are significantly different needs among MKs and their peers in the sending countries.
The things that trouble kids-and how badly these things trouble them-are the themes of a scientific journal title, "Feeling Bad: Exploring Sources of Distress Among Pre-Adolescent Children" (reported in the "Detroit Free Press," September 2, 1984). The research was done by a team of researchers at the Health Sciences Center of the University of California at Los Angeles. The study was based on interviews with 2,500 fifth grade students.
The children were asked how bad things made them feel and how often they confronted these situations. Both badness and frequency were scored on a scale of 0 to 5.
Here is the listing of the top five items ranked in terms of badness:
Having parents separate, 4.09
Peer pressure, 3.72
Having parents argue, 3.56
Not spending enough time with Mom or Dad, 3.49
Feeling sick, 3.37
The following is the listing of the top five bad things in order of frequency:
Feeling sick, 2.96
Having nothing to do, 2.88
Not having enough money to spend, 2.63
Pressure to get good grades, 2.58
Feeling left out of group, 2.52
The only item on the two lists that correlates is "feeling sick." The idea of family breakup is one that is perceived as devastating, but does not happen often within a single family. Differences in the results are noted between boys and girls, whites and blacks and other groupings.
The study is a simple one and could be easily replicated using a sample of MKs. It would reveal there are significant differences between growing up as a MK and as a non-MK. It would help to ascertain whether the assumptions about the ways in which MKs are different are correct. If there is a high degree of similarity, then the needs may be better addressed by looking at some of the creative solutions being advanced in relation to their peers in the sending countries.
What you see is what you get, maybe
The idea of "visual literacy" has been much discussed in recent years in development circles. Educators had failed to recognize that villagers didn’t see what they were supposed to see ("They Can’t See the Point," UNICEF NEWS, 1982/4, pp 26, 27). The problem received little attention until D. Wiseman called attention to it in his work among the Rendille, a nomadic people who herd camels, in Northern Kenya.
The Rendille provide a classic illustration of the problem. Wiseman worked among the people with his mobile clinic in an attempt to bring rudimentary health care services. Wiseman showed the mothers, scarcely clad themselves, a picture of an American black woman taking a shower. They barely responded to the picture. Wiseman then showed them a picture of a mosquito enlarged several hundred times. The Rendille mothers recognized it as the aircraft which brought the doctor. Next he showed them a picture of a cow with the background removed. They recognized it as a particular breed of cow in Iceland.
Encouraged that the Rendille were more "visually literate" than he first thought, he showed them again the picture of the woman taking a shower. Their reaction this time was to run over to a urinating camel and wash their heads.
Visual literacy is often the first step toward the acquisition of other literacy skills. "By ‘visual literacy’ is meant the individual’s capacity to extract information from a photo or illustration. The famous expression: ‘One picture is worth a thousand words’ is only true if people have the perceptual abilities to absorb a thousand words’ worth of knowledge from the picture."
In rural homesteads and villages there are no pictures to view. The lack of exposure to visuals and any form of education to assist in interpreting them make it difficult for them to realize that there is anything to learn from pictures. "Evidence suggests that visual education may also help illiterate people understand the advantages of an organized information exchange." Visual literacy education appears to be the foundation of effective written literacy programs.
In Zambia the children’s magazine Orbit has a circulation of 28,000, and a probable readership of three times that number. Researchers have found a definite improvement in visual literacy among children who have had contact with this comic.
The idea of "visual literacy" suggests several things for the effective communication of the gospel. First, the effective use of visuals (pictures, drama, puppet shows, etc.), along with assistance in interpretation, will greatly enhance the communication process as well as contribute to the long-range development of the people. Second, uncritical investment in technology may not produce the desired results. "He or she doesn’t need a multi-media show with fade-ins, dissolves, and a stereo track. He or she need simple direct messages conveyed to them through media that they can comprehend and relate to. Or else, like the Rendille, they will treat the message with amused and even disgusted disdain."
Recruiting missionaries? Try the cities
One of the criteria for selecting a new missionary is that the individual has a close walk with God. A prevailing myth is that one can get closer to God in the country. This romantic notion is so strong that the opposite is also accepted. The city is the place where God is most absent. However, recent writing by theologians have pointed out that the city is the symbol of God’s ultimate redemption. It is the New Jerusalem that embodies the biblical vision of the final consummation.
C. R. Creekmore ("Cities Won’t Drive You Crazy," Psychology Today, January, 1985) states, "Many Americans agree with this stereotype and believe firmly that the dirty, crowded, dangerous city must gradually destroy an urbanite’s psyche. This belief has a corollary: Rural life has natural purity, wholesome values, the spirit of self-reliance, and is the wellspring of physical and mental health."
In the classic study on the subject of the effects of urban living on mental health, sociologist Leo Srole (Mental Health in the Metropolis: The Midtown Manhattan Study) compared mental health statistics in Manhattan with those in small towns. He concluded that small towns have a slightly higher rate of mental illness.
This doesn’t mean that cities are easy to live in. It’s not a bad environment, just a complex one. Gerda McCahan, chairperson of the department of psychology at Furman University, says, "An effect of living in the big city is that with time people learn to insulate themselves in a psychological sense. They learn not to allow a lot of stimuli to impinge on their consciousness. They sift out things that do not concern them." The saving grace of living in big cities is superior adaptability.
Stress is in the mind of the beholder. The crowding of the city produces stress. It can create aggressiveness. Studies suggest that if an individual is already feeling aggressive, the density of population will increase the feeling of aggressiveness. However, if an individual is already feeling good and cooperative, density will also intensify that. One recent study indicates that under the right conditions, population density can actually improve relations in a neighborhood. "As population density increases, some environmental resources diminish and people start to compete for limited space, ease of movement, services and other resources. The competition leads to a cooperative adaptation. It is possible that the increasing of density actually enhances social ties."
The enhancement of social ties is critical for people to deal with stress. Many of the social ties are not the next door neighbor, but a whole new complex of interpersonal relationship networks. New friends come slowly in the city, but they tend to be more intimate and highly valued than those in nonurban settings.
Cities provide ties that help inhabitants handle stress better than people in rural settings. David Imig of the University of Missouri studied the impact of stress on 37 rural and 64 urban families with similar economic and educational backgrounds. He discovered that when families suffered unemployment, money problems, illness and divorce, people from the city suffered considerably less disruption in family relationships than did rural families. The major difference seems to lie in the support systems that influence people’s perception of stress. People in the city operate within a wide range of secondary relationships. Rural families usually limit their support networks to a few close primary ties.
In addition to the spiritual, the next criteria for selecting a new missionary revolve around the ability to cope in a new social or cultural setting. At an Urbana conference around 20 years ago a Latin American church leader said to me that he thought that the best missionaries come from the city. He said, "They have already had to learn to relate and adjust to a variety of cross-cultural situations." The city may provide the best environment to learn the lessons important to the new missionary. The city is not only for those planning to work in urban mission, but also for those who need to learn the lessons of handling the stress of cross-cultural ministry.
Spreading the good news ethically
Technology has increased the capacity of the church to mediate the message of the gospel. With the increased opportunity has come the increased responsibility to use the media wisely and ethically. For years a debate has been going on in the UNESCO and in other circles as to the right use of the media in the contemporary world. Ethics must ask whether the use of technology manipulates people, or respects their freedom and dignity as image bearers of God.
An international conference on Media Ethics and the Church was held under the sponsorship of the International Mass Media Institute (IMMI) in Norway in May, 1981, to respond to these issues.
John W. Bachman ("Biblical Criteria for Christian Perspectives on Media Ethical Issues: Toward Maturity in Community") states that ethics is the critical study of moral behavior. William Barclay has said, "It tells us how we ought to behave." The assumption by some Christians that since the end of proclaiming the gospel is good, the need to reflect on the means is of little consequence. An uncritical pragmatism has adopted an "ends justifies the means" ethical standard.
Bachman by contrast tries to engage in the difficult task of delineating a set of ethical criteria by the process of theological reflection. He lists the following two criteria as a starting point for developing a Christian ethical approach to the media.
1. Does exposure to the media respect or even enhance the listener/viewer’s opportunity to fulfill the divine intentions for personhood?
2. Does media exposure contribute to a sense of community among all persons?
Each of the papers in Media Ethics and the Church (Internasjonalt Masse Media Institutt, Postboks 650, N-4601 Kristiansand S., Norway) is important for any missionary involved in the media. The interesting outcome of the study is that the ethical issues are not limited to the media. Some of the same ethical questions apply to the communication of the gospel in every form.
Church planters will benefit from asking the same questions of their approach to missions that the representatives of the media are asking. The ministry of the gospel should both help individuals realize the full meaning of his or her personhood and contribute to the wholeness, not the fragmentation of, the people of God. The sense of community to be realized is not only in the church, but also in the broader dimensions of the society in which Christians are to be salt and light.
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