by A. Wingrove Taylor
Over fifty years ago several U.S.A. based younger churches established missionary churches in the Caribbean. Others did so since then; and over the years, almost all have sent many missionaries and given much money for the growth and development of these overseas churches.
Over fifty years ago several U.S.A. based younger churches established missionary churches in the Caribbean. Others did so since then; and over the years, almost all have sent many missionaries and given much money for the growth and development of these overseas churches. Those were the days when colonialism was still a force in the world of nations. Incidentally, I remember quite vividly Empire Day celebrations. Joining school children in the British dependency of Nevis, I innocently waved the Red, White and Blue, and lustily sang patriotic songs, such as,
Rule, Britannia, Britannia rules the waves! Britons never shall be slaves.
There was an unenlightened sense of pride and of belonging in noting on a world map the many countries colored in the red which distinguished British rule, and in lisping the slogan, "The sun never sets on the British Empire."
The tender years, the marked immaturity, the limited resources, and particularly the colonial environment of the Caribbean church make it easy to understand how it came to be established on the principles of missionary paternalism. The last two or three decades, however, have brought dramatic political changes. The vast and powerful British Empire has ceased to be; and today, the lords and the lads sit together as adults, if not altogether as brothers and equals, in what is often the tense atmosphere of a sometimes strained and questioned Commonwealth relationship.
In the English speaking Caribbean, this change is even more recent. Jamaica and Trinidad became independent nations in August, 1962; Guyana, in 1965; Barbados, in 1966; and in 1967 almost all of the other British dependencies became semi-independent when they were made associated states of the United Kingdom. The Dutch, the Spanish and the U.S. islands have experienced similar forms of political change, so that nationally, the Caribbean of the 70’s is vastly different from that of the 30’s, or even of the 50’s.
To these debutant nations and states many hands were extended, including those of communist bloc countries. The emergence of Communism, I think, particularly in the Republic of Cuba, first shocked the missionary orientated church into seriously considering the possible spread of this ideology, and the consequent forced withdrawal of missionary personnel. The Caribbean church, too, was maturing; and there were signs of concern, particularly about the leadership of missionaries who were less mature or capable than native churchmen, or less naturally prepared to understand local customs, thoughts, and needs. The growth of national pride, unwholesome as well as wholesome, also contributed to setting the stage for a new type of relationship between missionary boards and mission churches.
In the light of this crucial change, the need for indigenous development became more and more apparent, and denomination after denomination started to move in this direction. The overseas church began to bear increasingly greater financial responsibility; national pastors were appointed to urban churches once shepherded only by missionaries; national brethren were elected to wider and wider spheres of leadership; and in a few cases, autonomy was effected on the Caribbean regional level. In some instances, this transition was planned and smooth and given; while in others, it was accidental, less smooth and requested. In some instances, there was agreement and goodwill, and understanding and acceptance of what the Continuing role of the missionary would be; while in others, there was disagreement and tension, and misunderstanding and doubt concerning future missionary service.
MISSIONARY ACTIVITY IN THE ’70S
(1) Open Doors
Communism has not spread throughout the Caribbean in such a way as to demand the withdrawal of missionaries. Nationalism has not taken a widespread turn unfavorable to missionary presence. The young church has no arbitrary desire that missionaries go home. Besides, indigenous status has sometimes come out of circumstances which forbade waiting until forethought could make adequate plans for the most satisfactory establishment of a self-governing unit. The indigenous church is therefore not so completely indigenous that it can supply all of its leadership needs. The doors of opportunity and need are still ajar, and still are inviting non-national missionaries to enter.
(2) The New Environment
To take full advantage of open doors, and to offer the help which the Caribbean church still needs, missionaries should appreciate that their service is to be given, no longer in the subservient atmosphere of colonialism and paternalism, but in the dominant environment of political and ecclesiastical nationalism. Basically, some missionaries seem to find it too difficult to adjust to the change from being looked up to, to being hooked across at. Others find it almost impossible if this change is accompanied by even the mildest being looked down upon.
Actually, the new environment may be even more challenging. In the church there may be reserve; and in the world, rejection. Once, in simple innocence, West Indians saw halos around the heads of missionaries, whom they loved, respected, and virtually worshiped. Now there has come what Dr. Paul Rees calls the great "reversal"; and today, some West Indians see not halos, but horns perhaps. Now the missionary is faced with the stern test of earning live and respect, or even of overcoming hostility.
Although it may be harder to adjust to and overcome rejection where there was once widespread acceptance, I earnestly point out to missionaries that they must come to grips with a situation similar to the one some of us overcame, or at least appreciably neutralized, when we studied in the U.S.A. Please permit this personal reference. I began my sociological sojourn in the U.S.A. with eating dinner standing in a garbage lane at the back of a restaurant. Possibly, only my sincere and disarming lack of offense gained me this privilege. Had I been overcome by this unnerving hostility, which was entirely new to me, and which I encountered in varying degrees throughout my five-year stay in the truly greatest country on earth, never would I have received the rich benefits for which I shall be forever grateful, nor, incidentally, would I have ended my stay with being elected president of my graduating class.
Some of my compatriots failed to run the gauntlet of discrimination successfully and dropped out embittered. In the light of such failure, I used to say how glad I am to be a negro, so that I might demonstrate to negroes how to react sweetly to white prejudice and to rise above it. There is no thought of disparagement nor of discouragement here. Rather, there is hope that these observations regarding the new environment may be an encouragement to accept this rugged, but not hopeless challenge; to rejoice that you area white missionary, so that you may demonstrate to white missionaries how to react sweetly to black hostility and hatred and convert it to love. Hatred can be converted to love, if the missionary genuinely loves the native-loves him on the basis, not of condescension, but of equality. It can be overcome by understanding it rather than resenting it-by understanding the history and the circumstances that contributed to its birth.
It may be best overcome by the missionary’s experiencing what might be called psychological and sociological integration. May I illustrate what I mean by giving another personal experience. In the early months of my stay in the U.S.A., a faculty member took a white couple and me to weekend services in a mid-western city. The couple and I had become fast friends, and had organized ourselves as an amateur singing trio. We had wonderful fellowship over the miles, and at our destination, we wire entertained in the home of a local pastor. Towards the end of this visit, the pastor confided that I was the first negro to be entertained in his home; that naturally he had experienced some apprehension; but that, after carefully observing behavior patterns, he lead come to the conclusion that I was a "white" black man. In the spirit of understanding I accepted his compliment, though it fell short of the fullest meaning in that it lacked the significant supplement of subjective feeling which would have led him to add to his conclusion, that he was a "black" white man. Similarly, the missionary’s adaptability to the Caribbean social context should be such, that (reversing the adjectives for pointing up richer and truer integration, or for demonstrating the superficiality of pigmentation) native West Indians should have cause to exclaim with delight that the missionary is a white "black man." Indeed out of such a wholesome relationship, West Indians should come to the supplementary realization that there is no need for revolutionarily posing as "black" black men, and should proclaim, with equal delight, that they themselves are black "white men" – or "brown men," or "yellow men" for that matter.
Before moving on, let me add that as I found many kind, friendly and genuine white Americans, so the missionary will find, in the midst of this traumatic Caribbean social change, many gracious and loving black West Indians. I would suggest, however, that he accept no advantages on the basis of his being a foreign missionary, but rather on the basis of his being a fine man-because only by truly overcoming may the missionary successfully serve the Caribbean in the 70’s.
(3) Specific Present Roles
Because of the crying need to understand, to communicate with, and to interpret the native, as well as to neutralize the reaction against missionary hierarchy, it may be wise, wherever possible, to use West Indian administrators to provide the social atmosphere in which missionaries may share their knowledge and skills. The missionary role in theological education may then be that of academic dean, divisional chairman, or faculty member, rather than that of president.
Teachers are needed for all subjects, but perhaps there is greatest need for lecturers in the fields of psychology, philosophy, classical languages, library science and music. Sabbatical and inter-term professorships would be fruitful areas of service, especially if, with improved libraries, Caribbean colleges could be extension campuses where highly professional scholars may prepare West Indians for graduate degrees.
(4) Special Qualifications
A word should be said concerning academic and dispositional qualifications. British education is concentrated and radical; the American, inclusive and less exhaustive. Examinations in the British system cover considerably more text material than examinations in the American system. The lower failing grade in the Brutish system does compensate, in some measure, for this extensiveness, and in-depth selectiveness; it is nevertheless generally accepted that the difficulty level of British education is higher than that of American education. Owing to these differences, missionary teachers have often been unable to challenge West Indians educationally. One young man who failed to pass five subjects in one sitting to earn what was the Cambridge High School Certificate, found Bible college educational experience, so boring; and the lecturer, this student’s presence so embarrassing, that the student was assigned to pioneer a church during the final year of his three-year ministerial program, after which he was recalled for the pomp and circumstance of full graduation. This is a singular example, but it does highlight the many cases of academic dissatisfaction.
Let me hasten to say that it is with joy and admiration that we have been noting marked improvement in the academic preparedness of foreign missionary teachers; and to remind that any West Indian of modest academic background is sensitive to lack of genuine academic flair, and is stirred by challenging academic goals-even in examinations and in grading. If by preparation and by orientation, missionary teachers can reasonably wed the best of American education to the best of British education, all will be well with missionary teaching service. Almost well, that is, for there must be added to such academic qualifications helpful dispositional qualifications or abilities.
The missionary should possess the disposition to adjust to slower paces. The pace of America is so fast; the pace of the Caribbean is so disturbingly slow. If the missionary cannot bring himself to slow down to the narrow, winding, left-side-of-the-road West Indian patterns, and insists on maintaining, culturally and socially, inter-state highway speeds, I assure you that sooner than later he will have a tragic personality accident which may necessitate the premature termination of his otherwise promising term of service. He should have the disposition to avoid superimposing non-essential North American culture: to avoid, for instance, the passionate and almost troubled desire to introduce U.S. dating customs, or to press the application of other text-book ideas foreign to the West Indian context.
He must also be disposed to master overlordship. It may be constitutional for peoples of the Old World and the New World to exude superiority, but it hardly commends them to the peoples of the Third World. A beauty technician’s remarks about the; latest Miss World, a West Indian, forcefully, if not fittingly, illustrates the point. The technician, a man having obvious national advantage, and considerable international experience referred to her as a raw beauty, who knew little about conversational and dressing skills, and who was awkward in the company of celebrities. He then continued, her poise and attractiveness were so heightened after his wife had given her lessons in the needed skills, that he walked one day into a room where she was sitting and hardly recognized her. This account appeared in a daily newspaper under the caption, "Miss World’s Capacity for Improvement Praised." How much kinder, more becoming, and more effective it would have been had the benefactor said merely that the Caribbean winner’s ability to profit from advanced beauty and personality culture was such, that her beauty, always outstanding, is now unbelievably beautiful!
In his poem, "I Would be True," Howard Arnold Walter points the way to the graciousness which counters the superiority complex. The relevant stanza reads:
I would be friend of all-the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love, and lift.
Coming from a larger and more advanced environment, the missionary should have much to contribute to the development of his friends, or his fogs, in emerging countries; but he can do so only as he is humble, only as he genuinely and sincerely looks up, and laughs, and loves. And I would dare to add to Mr. Walter’s fine thought of giving and forgetting the gift, the finer nuance that the missionary give and forget even the giving.
FUTURE PERMANENT ROLES
The leadership needs of the Caribbean church will decrease. It is however the fervent hope of some missionaries and West Indian Christians with whom I have discussed this subject, that even when doors of special need are closed, doors of love and choice may open ever wider; that even in this new environment, West Indians and missionaries may establish such pleasing interrelationships that instead of becoming a narrow national church, the indigenous church may become an international church-or better, as the Rev. Harold Alexander nobly corrected, a supranational church using the right man to do the right job without being limited by the surplusage of geographic or ethnic inheritance.
Surely, the missionary professor, broadened by mental as well as spiritual discipline, ought to be chief among missionaries in helping to forge such interrelationships, to give birth to such a church, so that we shall be considering the role of the missionary (who will then share with the native a common appellation) not only in the 70’s, but in the 80’s, or until the earthly task of the church is done.
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