by Jim Reapsome
More than 30 years after they arrived in Brazil from Africa, so called killer bees have defied our American experts and moved into south Texas.
Baseball broadcaster Red Barber, who die last year, for many years made his home in what he called the catbird’s seat at Brooklyn’s Ebbetts Field. He left behind a rich legacy of integrity and wholesome use of the language. He called his broadcasting booth the catbird’s seat because from there he surveyed the drama of the game and called it as he saw it. This column aims to do something similar for the fans and players in world missions.
More than 30 years after they arrived in Brazil from Africa, so called killer bees have defied our American experts and moved into south Texas. Thanks to a lot of frightening tales, the inexorable march northward of these Africanized honeybees has provided fodder for the press and stirred up conflicts among the people who were supposed to keep them out. They have achieved notariety, not for their prodigious honey-producing ability, but for their meanness and gang-stinging (sometimes fatal to humans and animals).
As the bees swept into Mexico, the U.S. decided to draw the line in the sand (actually, the Rio Grande River), but the bees paid no attention to our line, and we couldn’t bomb them with Cruise missles. Having lost the battle, our government’s experts fell into retreat and siad they could mitigate the impact of the bees on farmers and people in general. Never mind that beekeepers from Brazil to Mexico have figured out how to handle these bees and prosper from their hives, some of which produce 300 pounds of honey a year, compared to 30 pounds before.
What intrigues me about this story is the arrogance of our American policy makers. Brazil has had more than 30 years of experience with Africanized bees. Some 25 Brazilian Ph.Ds are studying these bees, but will the American’s pay any attention to their research? No. They are trapped in their search-and-destroy routine. Most U.S. authorities are locked into the doctrine that the Africanized killer bee is, without qualification, a bad bee.
Here I see the parable’s meaning for American missionaries. You can see it in the way we too often assume that we have all the answers, especially for believers, pastors, missions leaders and theologians in other parts of the world (the "bees," if you please). Such arrogance easily creeps into our entire Western missionary enterprise, from our churches to our schools and seminaries, to our missiologists, mission board leaders, and missionaries themselves.
We, too, can lock ourselves into dogmatic certainties about what’s good, what’s bad, what will work, and what won’t work. We presume to pronounce what’s best for the "bees" when we’ve never handled them, let alone been stung by them and survived.
One out-of-step American scientist said, "You have to get a feel for these bees, because they are different bees. It’s a question of living with Africanized bees awhile and getting to know them and gradually learning what to do and what not to do. The best teachers are the bees themselves."
If that’s true, why are we so reluctant to take seriously the ideas of pastors and scholars outside the U.S.? You see very few of them at our consultations. You see even fewer of them preaching in our churches and teaching our classes. When was the last time you saw a non-American on the platform as the featured speaker at a church missions conference?
The solution to our arrogance is, as the scientist said, to live with the bees and learn from them. But that’s not the American way. Too often in world missions we give the impression that our sisters and brothers really aren’t worth listening to, let alone learning from.
The parable of the bees goes right to the heart of what we profess to believe from Scripture: "The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’" (1 Cor. 12:21).
We in American churches, schools and missions headquarters desperately need the worldwide community of faith to come and "sting" us a few times, and shock us out of our smugness that only we really know what’s right and best for the churches all over the globe.
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