by Gwenyth Hobble
At the East Asia Christian Conference meetings in 1964 in Bangkok it was unequivocally stated that, “inasmuch as theresponsibility for in-service preparation rests upon the receiving Churches, it is essential that they accept this responsibility fully. They must provide for adequate language study and also for general orientation.”
At the East Asia Christian Conference meetings in 1964 in Bangkok it was unequivocally stated that, "inasmuch as theresponsibility for in-service preparation rests upon the receiving Churches, it is essential that they accept this responsibility fully. They must provide for adequate language study and also for general orientation."
In a number of countries in Asia the churches have not progressed very far in shouldering this responsibility, but in others they have. For example, the Presbyterian Church of Formosa has had for a number of years a Personnel Committee, set up by the Assembly of the Church, and of which the officers and the majority of members are Formosan. A few missionaries sit on that committee, but they are there as members of the Presbyterian Church of Formosa and are appointed by the Assembly of the Church. That committee is responsible for the reception of a new missionary, and it decides what language he shall learn, what length of time he shall spend at language school, and where he shall live while he studies the language, perhaps in a missionary house, or in a rented apartment or house in an ordinary residential area of Taipei. That committee decides where, after the period of language study, the missionary is to work, and who is to guide him in his new work and be his senior colleagues.
That committee used to appoint a Formosan and a missionary to have a special relationship to the new missionary and to be those to whom he was free to turn for help and advice. There is no question in my mind that that church regards itself as responsible for all new missionaries.
Other such examples could be given. For example, there is an article in the April, 1964, issue of The International Review o f Missions, "The Church’s Responsibility for the Missionaries it Receives," by Pastor Jean Kotto, the General Secretary of the Evangelical Church in the Cameroons. I recommend that article as an example of haw a responsible African officer of an independent church can speak of the church’s relationship to its new missionaries. I quote a few sentences: "The missionary is no longer the master who takes it upon himself to give instructions and to look into everything. He is under the direct authority of the church which employs him. The authority is a fact, but it must be marked by brotherliness, and it must be spiritual."
The key of course is to recognize that the in-service preparation of missionaries is the primary responsibility of the church and not of the missionaries. That is a false dichotomy, I know, for the missionaries are essentially part of the church, but they must not assume that they have to make the plans and decisions and do it all, but should be ready to encourage and help the church to organize it as the church, and to set up the necessary machinery for so doing.
In that task the church may ask the cooperation of some of the missionaries, but that is a very different matter from the missionaries’ automatically assuming the responsibility according to the patterns of the past. A church committee carrying this responsibility might, for example, decide that a new single woman missionary should, during her period of language study, live in the dormitory of a university or college, with women students of the country, and not in the house of a senior single woman missionary according to the patterns of the past. That senior woman must not be affronted or offended, or feel that she has been done out of one of her privileges!
In 1965 in Nigeria I talked with five Nigerians who frankly said to me that the missionaries would not like it, if they as church leaders started taking this responsibility and saying that it was no longer primarily that of missionaries. I felt no cornpunction whatever in encouraging them to go ahead, even if there were some missionary protests, for those five Nigerians included an Anglican bishop, a university professor of linguistics who was also the secretary of the Methodist Conference, the principal of a union theological college, and the Baptist secretary of the Nigerian Christian Council. They were men with varied experience and training, obviously well able to share and carry this responsibility, and men who themselves ought to be contributing directly to the in-service preparation of new missionaries in Nigeria.
First-term missionaries should look to the people of the country for their orientation and have an expectant attitude in all their relationships with nationals. For example, they should go for at least one service of worship every Sunday to a local congregation of the church with which they are to serve, and not go only to an English-speaking congregation because of their limited knowledge of the local language. There is considerable experience to show that if a young missionary at language school goes regularly to the same local congregation, the folk there recognize his intention of really belonging to the Christians of the country, and so take him under their wing, help him with language and invite him to their homes. He may also have the opportunity of getting into the group of young people in that congregation, who may be willing, after a while, to accept him as one of themselves, and talk fairly freely with him about themselves, their jobs, the use of their leisure and their thinking about life, their nation, etc.
New missionaries should, as far as politeness allows, avoid letting other Americans provide all their social life. The little time that can be spent away from language school should not be spent solely at American supper parties, etc. But there is more than this. These new missionaries should seek out, if they are not given to them, the people of the country who can be their friends and counsellors, to whom they can turn with their questions and problems, which may range from small matters of etiquette to larger matters of Christian ethics and Christian witness.
Now I want to discuss more systematically the content of in-service preparation. I want to divide it into two parts, language study and orientation, and to subdivide the orientation into formal and informal.
There is, I believe, pretty general agreement with the principle that every missionary should learn at least one language of the country in which he is serving and be given adequate time so to do. The principle is sometimes, alas, "more honoured in the breach than the observance." When missionaries are urgently needed to fill emergency vacancies their preservice training can be cut short, and so can their time for language study. In fact, if they can get by in their professional jobs without the local language, language study may be omitted altogether.
I remember a pathetic letter I received a few years ago from a Danish nurse in what was then Tanganyika. She was approaching the end of her first term of service. English was the language used in the hospital where they were short-staffed and where for the first time they were putting in the African nurses for Government examinations, which had to be taken in English. She had, therefore, through that whole period of three or four years in Africa been working under very great pressure in training nurses in English and in the general running of the hospital, and she had been given no time whatever for study of the African language. She said that she felt it was terrible to have gone to Tanganyika as a missionary of Jesus Christ and still not to be able to speak to a single African in his own language and always to communicate with her nurses in a language which was not her mother tongue or theirs.
If a missionary is to speak to men and women of the things of God and of His love revealed in Jesus Christ, it is essential that he be able to speak at least one language of the country. Over and above the ability actually to speak the language of the people, great insight is to be gained by study of a language into the thought processes, cultural inheritance and outlook on life of the people who speak that language.
A paragraph from the Toronto Statement reads: "He should reach a level of proficiency in using the home language of the people among whom he is to live, so that he is able to enter fully into the life of the people and to communicate with them concerning the Christian faith. He should not cease language study at the point of proper pronunciation, reasonably good grammar, and a useful vocabulary, but he should steep himself in the language so as to enter into the thought-life of the people."1
Dr. Eugene Nida make a further point: "Real language facility not only enables one to make one’s message relevant to the life of the people and to avoid anti-social behavior, but it also helps to prevent those serious maladjustments and breakdowns which threaten the missionary’s ministry. The deep frustrations which many missionaries experience may be traced in numerous instances to poor language orientation. Being cut off from the sustaining social experiences of home and family are serious blows to one’s personality integration, but if one fails to establish other vital links through free and intimate communication, sooner or later the personality tends to disintegrate or to find outlets which are meaningless or destructive to the Christian witness."
Where and how does the new missionary learn? We have to recognize first of all that some languages are much more difficult to learn than others and require much more time. Some missionaries in the Far East are spending as much as two years in language schools, but nothing like that length of time seems necessary to learn some of the more primitive languages.
In a number of countries there have been in existence for many years missionary language schools, which have been the responsibility of the mission boards, and not of the churches of the country. In the past some of these schools have done an excellent job in giving new missionaries a thorough grounding in the required language, and many missionaries would readily acknowledge their debt to them, but some of them, we know, have been working with out-of-date textbooks, by out-of-date methods, without modern equipment.
A number of the existing schools are not up-to-date and need a retraining program for teachers and perhaps considerable capital outlay on modern laboratory equipment. These schools must begin to do an adequate job so that missionaries can have the opportunity to learn the required language or languages without the awful sweat and tears with which some missionaries have in the past struggled through years to attain not fluency but a partial mastery. I sometimes marvel at the patience and understanding of the national colleagues of such missionaries, as they have to live day after day hearing their mother-tongue murdered by these foreigners! So, if missionary language schools have to be, they must be good and able to teach by modern methods in the shortest possible time.
Many of these schools are run on an interdenominational basis, but even if there is a good language school which is the responsibility of one denomination, its services are usually made available to missionaries of other churches. I was talking in Rome to one of the White Fathers about the Swahili language school which they have in Tanzania, and which I understand is very up-to-date. He and I agreed that it would be good if that school could be used by Protestants as well as Roman Catholics. A language school has often proved in the past to be a place of excellent ecumenical training, where those of Protestant mission boards, which normally have little dealing with each other, have worshipped and learned ‘side by side, and have consequently come to recognize each other as brethren in Christ. Some of those friendships have lasted through the years.
It may prove, however, that in certain countries missionary language schools are no longer necessary, for universities are offering language programs which missionaries may join on arrival in the countries of their service. This will probably mean that missionaries can study in a well-equipped school and have the advantage of being in classes with the people of the country and of other countries (government and commercial personnel for example). They would then not be removed from a missionary situation into a small Christian enclave during the period of their language study.
In Africa there have been comparatively few missionary language schools, because the large number of African languages made it impossible to run a satisfactory school in any one area; teaching has often, therefore, been by the unsatisfactory method of using either a national who has had no training whatever in teaching his own language to a foreigner (which is a highly specialized art), or another missionary who may pass on to the new missionary his own mispronunciations and grammatical errors, or even his Scottish accent!
Now it has been proved possible to teach a number of languages in one school. For example, Donald Larson started a school in Manila in 1961 and with nationals on his staff taught six languages of which he himself knew none. However, it looks now as if it may not be necessary for missionary language schools to be set up in Africa, for African universities may in the future supply all that is needed. I have referred to that Nigerian professor of linguistics, and I have a growing feeling that the day must come when missionaries needing to learn Yoruba will go to Ibadan University and will not learn the language from any individual teacher or in any missionary language school.
The University of Zambia is to have a language department in which it will be possible to learn a good number of the many languages spoken in Zambia. It is hoped that the money for the equipment for the language laboratory will come from a European government. An old student of mine is in this country at the moment learning more about modern methods of language teaching with a view to joining the language department of that university. She told me recently that all missionaries going to Zambia ought in the future to be able to get adequate language teaching in that university. She also gave it to me as her opinion that it need not now prove impossible for anyone, however dull, to learn a language by these modern methods!
Some universities like the University of Hong Kong and the International Christian University in Japan are already offering language courses. Among the people at Toronto who were most enthusiastic about missionaries learning language in universities of the country were the Latin Americans, and I understand that one of the American mission boards has sent two couples as "guinea pigs" to study Portuguese in a university in Brazil, and not at the missionary language school at Campinas.
Another question, however, is being asked today with increasing frequency. Must language study always be part of inservice preparation, and not of preservice preparation? The only preservice language training that has normally been given in various Western countries has been a good course in linguistics. However, more and more universities in this country are developing language departments that are teaching languages that missionaries need to learn, not only French, Spanish and Portuguese, but languages like Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Tamil, and are using teachers who instruct in their own mother tongues, and use up-to-date equipment. It looks as if a number of missionaries may in the future do at least the first part of their language-learning in their home countries and have the advantage of being able immediately on arrival to speak the local language, even if falteringly.
One of the old arguments against such a procedure used to be that one learned a language better if one were in the area where it was spoken, but modern conditions of language teaching seem to be able to make up for that. A church leader in Hong Kong, who had as his assistant a missionary in his first term, told me that he personally would like all missionaries coming to Hong Kong to take their first year’s language study at Yale, as this man had done. Ire told me that that fellow was much more fluent in Cantonese than most of the missionaries who had come out, knowing none, a year ahead of him. There are many pros and cons to this, and much discussion is going on, but it is good that there is some experimentation, for that is the only way to find out which method is better. It is not just a matter of argument, and it is certainly not a matter to be decided on the basis of the vested interests of any group.
It is, however, not a matter to be decided by mission boards alone. There must be a decision in which both receiving churches and sending boards are responsible partners. For example, if the United Church Board of World Ministries thinks it would be good to make the experiment of sending one or two missionaries appointed to South India to a university in the States for at least one year to learn Tamil, instead of the language school in Bangalore, it must propose this to the Church of South India in which the missionaries are to work and discuss each case with that church. I would also hope that the authorities of the language school of Bangalore, in this case the Board of the United Theological College (for the school is a language department of that college), would be involved in the decision. There must in these matters be no unilateral action by Western mission boards.
Language study does not, however, exhaust in-service preparation. No matter where language study is done, there will still be a need for orientation to the country of service. If language is being studied in the country of service, orientation can be, and often is, combined with language study, and some authorities of language schools are more and more taking seriously their responsibility to arrange lectures, visits, reading, etc., all of which help the missionaries to get inside the life of the whole country, its culture and customs, its social and political life and its economy.
In other places it seems wise not to leave the orientation courses to the language schools, and special orientation courses have been arranged for new missionaries, either interdenominationally or by the church. If they are done interdenominationally, there is likely, at any one time, to be a big enough group of missionaries to warrant putting on an actual course; otherwise the same end must be achieved in a more individual manner.
Such courses have to my knowledge been held in India, Japan and Formosa. Those who have given the lectures and conducted visits have in the main been nationals, not only leaders in the life of the churches, but also civic and national leaders, businessmen, university professors, social workers, etc., who were perhaps not Christians but experts in their own areas.
May I quote some words of a missionary to Japan: "I was a long time arriving at an esteem for the practices and customs of the Japanese because I was a long time in understanding them. I had to learn their language well enough to read their newspapers and books, to appreciate their jokes and stories, to talk with the man on the street. I had to read many books and to make many mistakes. And practically no one helped me systematically-or, I might add, intelligently. Quite a number of my fellow missionaries, on the contrary, passed on to me their own misconceptions and prejudices, frequently based not so much on antipathy as on ignorance. Very few of the missionaries with whom I lived really understood the better side of the Japanese people, the meaning of their characteristic customs, the explanation of their twists of character and of thinking, the economic structure of the Japanese nation. Some of them had read a bit in these subjects and thought they understood much more; but they really had mistaken or incomplete notions of what they thought they knew so well. A little knowledge is quite often a dangerous thing. I soon found out that even a long residence in a country does not of itself necessarily produce a well-balanced or sympathetic understanding of a people. I believe that in order to appreciate the practices and customs of the people, the missionary should be taught their meanings and historical origins. Well-rounded knowledge should beget at least sympathy and at best esteem. I believe that an accurate knowledge of the sociological, political, and economic history can hardly be overestimated in instilling appreciation and esteem for what is good in the native culture, and tolerance and sympathy for what appears strange or contrary."
Another part of orientation which is the responsibility of the leaders of the churches is the introduction of the new missionaries to Christians of others parts of the church than their own, so that in a country where Christians are a small minority the new missionaries know those who are in the mission of Christ with them, though marching under other banners.
All that is what I call the more formal orientation, and there remains the informal. This requires that the receiving church see its responsibility truly to receive the missionaries as colleagues and helpers in its mission in its own country, and to see them as those who have come to belong. But that means that the missionaries must go with a purpose and a desire to belong. They must be those who are, as the Toronto Statement said, "prepared to stay for a long period, even for life if that prove possible and be deemed right."
It is that kind of intention in new missionaries that the leaders of the churches in Africa and Asia have again and again assured us that they want, and some of them have even indicated that they have little use for those people who go for one, two or three years only, unless they go to do a very special job. The missionary, for whom they are asking, is one who is prepared to say, "Thy people shall be my people," and from the day of arrival shows that he means what he says.
Much informal orientation is, as I have indicated, given by a local congregation as it receives the new missionary into its fellowship and life, as it takes him to the homes of members, and as the young people take him with them to visit village churches, places of historic interest, etc. Missionaries learn much about their new country, when they can get into homes for special festive occasions, Christian ones such as Christmas and national ones also.
There is, however, an even better opportunity, for the single missionary at least, of living in a home of the countryperhaps not from the very day of arrival but after a few weeks or months when he has some language and his digestion has been oriented!
At a consultation on "The Role of the Missionary in India Today" in Nagpur in 1961 the group that I was in felt very strongly on that point. They thought that new missionaries lived too much under the shadow of other missionaries and would be better living in the homes of Indian church folks; some of them said that they themselves would be glad to receive missionaries into their homes. When the group’s draft report was being read to us, and the sentence appeared about new missionaries living in Indian homes, an Indian intervened and said with a grin, "Perhaps we should say, suitable Indian homes!" They were sure that there were a number of suitable Indian Christian homes that would be available.
I have known single women missionaries who have had that excellent opportunity in India and in Hong Kong. It is, we must recognize, a part of orientation which is very demanding for both the host family and the missionary, but, as I have known it, immensely rewarding. I remember one woman who had the chance to be for six months in the home of the pastor of the Church of South India, under whom she was learning to be a district worker. She went into that home "as if she were the wife’s sister." By that was meant that she went not as a guest but as one of the family, and she had to learn to carry her share of the household chores, fetching water from the well, cooking on a charcoal fire, sweeping the house with an Indian broom. She had the added advantage of sharing in the life and worship of the family of that wise and deeplycommitted pastor. She learned much and was one of the best oriented missionaries l have ever known.
It was that Indian pastor himself who told me of that experience, and as he told me the story, I could see his pastoral concern for that young woman missionary committed to his care by the church for orientation and training. An essential part of the in-service preparation of missionaries is the care of them as Christian men and women whose spiritual life is being enriched by all the new relationships and new opportunities of fellowship, but which is also being tested, sometimes sorely, by the difficulties of language learning, of adjustment to climate, food, and to a different culture and way of life. Their prayer life may seem to go dead, and they may find themselves in situations where relationships are far more difficult to handle than they were at home, and discover in themselves characteristics and weaknesses which they did not know they had. They must be held firmly and upheld in the community of Christ’s people, among whom they live, not only their fellow missionaries but also the Christians of the country.
The national pastors must more and more be encouraged and helped to see missionaries as part of the flock which Christ has appointed them to shepherd, and not to treat them as if they were of a different spiritual breed. This is not easy for them, but it will be made a great deal easier, if missionaries treat them as their pastors with the respect and expectation with which they would treat their pastors in their home countries.
Some years ago an ex-China missionary, then a missionary society secretary, came to address the students in Carey Hall. Almost in an aside he referred to the Chinese pastor of the church of which he himself had been a member, and he did it in such a way as to make it clear that to him that man was his pastor during the years of his missionary service in that area. It was, as I said, almost in an aside, but it was, I believe, the thing in that whole address that did most for those missionary students. Many of them confessed afterwards that they had never thought of receiving pastoral care from a national of the country to which they were going.
In 1958 I was at the big training center in Kimpese, Congo. It was immediately after the International Missionary Council’s Assembly in Ghana, at which this point about pastoral care had been strongly made by a Burmese pastor. I was asked to speak to the staff of that institution, Congolese and European, and tell them about the Assembly. I made a food deal of this point, though I was not aware until afterwards that the pastor of the local Kimpese Church was present. I was introduced to him by a young woman missionary on her first term of service, and she said to him half jokingly that now as pastor he had to take on all the missionaries as well as the Africans in the institutions. He replied with a laugh that that was a very great undertaking. I heard afterwards, however, that he had from that time on acted much more as pastor to the missionaries and made it clear to them that he regarded them as those for whom he had pastoral responsibility.
Let me add that such care and help is not to be looked for only from those who are official pastors of the church. I always used to quote to my own students that word of our Lord: "There is no one who has given up home, brothers or sisters, mother, father or children, or land, for my sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much-houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and land-and persecutions besides" (Mark 10:29 ) . Having quoted that passage, I used to tell them of an occasion in Kinshasa when two single women missionaries took me to meet a Congolese woman deacon of the church, a woman old enough to be their mother, and they told me that she had indeed been a mother in God to them. She had taught them much through sharing with them of her own Christian experience, of her knowledge of her country and of her fellow-countrymen and women. She had guided them and helped them to understand and see the Christian faith through African eyes and in an African heart. They had prayed together.
I had a similar experience in the Kond Hills in Orissa, when a young woman took me to see an elderly tribeswoman to whom she always went to talk when she had a problem or a joy to share. It was a privilege to meet that woman, radiant and radiating a great sense of peace. She was illiterate, for when she became a Christian she was too odd to learn to read. She could not read the Bible, but she knew much of it by heart and had a great store of Christian love and wisdom, which God was constantly using to many of her fellow tribespeople and to missionaries.
I read some time ago the detailed report of a man, who, employed in the preservice preparation of missionaries in this country, had done a trip around the world visiting former students. He reported on one couple who appeared to him to be the best oriented pair he met on his whole journey, for they had obviously learned truly how to belong. He commented that, more by accident than design, those two had had all their orientation at the hands of people of the country. Then he made an interesting comment. He said that it seemed from the experience of that couple that where orientation is really done by the people of the country, then the relationship exists in which pastoral cage can follow naturally and easily.
I want to sum up this section by quoting a young Indian graduate teacher talking to young missionaries: "You can understand what qualities we expect to see in you. The ability to make friends with your fellow-workers, such an intimate relationship that they will not mind pointing out to you some of your mistakes. The ability to form fellowship groups in the institutions where you work, so that you no longer work as a lonely foreign missionary in a heathen and dark land, but become one amongst a band of disciples obeying the same Master. The ability to share with them the resources of your spiritual life, to acknowledge your mistakes when necessary, no longer keeping yourself apart but revealing a little more of yourself-your inner life-so that you and your fellow-workers can forget the colour of your skin and realize that you all alike stand in need of daily strengthening by Christ’s spirit . . . We do not want clever people in India today. We want great men and women. I do not mean geniuses, but men and women with great faith, broad outlook and deep humility, who will have patience to watch other people making blunders at the beginning and the vision to see that God is great and powerful enough to use every little gift for the growth of His Kingdom."
Finally, I come to preparation on first furlough. In the case of a first-term missionary there should be discussion with him about a year before he is due to leave about the way in which, during the furlough period, he can be better prepared for the job to which he will return. This is happening in some places but is not general. When the discussion has taken place, it is desirable that the officials of the church correspond with the official