by Jim Reapsome
One of the great risks missionaries take is to walk blindly into another culture, among Christians who for the most part are too charitable to tell us what we really are like.
"Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion."
I think Robert Burns, author of the oft-quoted wisdom, had the same thing in mind that Jesus did, when he said, "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" It is terribly difficult to see that beam, to see ourselves as others see us.
One of the great risks missionaries take is to walk blindly into another culture, among Christians who for the most part are too charitable to tell us what we really are like. We also come as aliens to the vast populations of non-Christians, who with considerable reason think we are agents of imperialism of one kind or another.
The risk is intensified because we believe that we have something to offer that will make the churches and people in general better than they are at present. What we have may be technology or theology, but obviously it is better, or we would be wasting our time bringing it. The root idea of mission is to go and share something for a good purpose.
But people with a mission rarely are appreciated and understood. Do gooders stand to be rebuffed by the very people whom they are trying to help. With startling suddenness it seems that people all over the world are standing up and saying that they don’t want what we have to offer. Followers of ancient religions are saying that, and church elders and theologians are saying it, too.
Have we reached a turning point that affects the root concept of mission? Is it time to say, "Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you? "Before we answer an unequivocal yes, we must consider those who have not rejected us, as well as how we might adapt ourselves to those who wish we would depart their coasts.
For one thing, some people have not yet had the chance to say no to what we have to offer them. They need to hear about Christ and to decide for or against him. However, they may hear not because U.S. missionaries offer Jesus to them, but because some of their own countrymen do. In many places, the lines are still open for pioneer evangelism.
Quite apart from the needs of the unevangelized, we must recognize that there are millions of people who have had it with the West. They’ve had it with our foreign and economic policies and with our religion. They don’t care to sort out the good guys from the bad guys. What they see on television and at the movies convinces them that the Christian West is rotten. They may hanker for the fruits of Western technology in some places, but even on that score there are distant rumblings of discontent. The West’s technology at present isn’t desired in Iran, for example. Many people put technology, economics, politics and religion in the same bag, label it "West,” and not only reject it but hate it.
We must cope with and adjust to not only that attitude, but also the strong feelings of real independence surging through good evangelical. churches, schools and ministries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. What might the future hold for us?
It holds heightened insecurity. Terrorism is endemic; the world’s economy is fragile. Political upheaval seems the order of the day. Therefore, it might be time for Western missionaries to indigenize themselves in some new ways. For example, they could become citizens of the country in which they serve. They could become employees of a national corporation, church body, or local church. Missionaries can find creative ways to divest themselves of their Westernness, and of those things that make them suspect in the eyes of nationals.
Missionaries will have to prove on the firing line the transnational nature of God’s kingdom. ”And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God," Jesus declared. Missionaries can implement this truth first in the churches and give each nation its rightful control of its church life and its ministries. Missionaries can implement this truth in the spirit with which they take the gospel from the west and the north to the east and the south.
It is not the time to sound retreat, but it is the time to map out new strategies for the new realities that are engulfing the world.
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