In 1976, a missions organization sent me around the world to investigate their ministries to see if they were doing what they said they were doing. Because this organization wisely refused to send Westerners to oversee all its operations but instead chose leading people in each country to fulfill the vision, I had come to call it an "incarnational" type of ministry. I will use this term often so I must now define it:
DEFINITION: Incarnational Ministry - A ministry in which you try to put yourself in someone else's shoes to understand his feelings and circumstances before you act. A ministry that protects the dignity of the recipient. A ministry to equip the recipient rather than establish dominance over him.
Because of the attitude this missions program had established, I was treated to unusual honesty from its workers in foreign countries. This honesty shocked me and confronted most of my mission misconceptions. I did not know then how valuable and useful that information would later be.
In 1978, an interesting twist of events, resulting from my classroom teaching on the nature of Jesus, caused me to be invited to what was then Rhodesia to speak at a national renewal conference. Though Rhodesia was deeply segregated and in the midst of a civil war, this conference was to be an integrated one at least as much so as their situation and understanding would permit. Since this would be my first experience before such an audience of Africans, I asked an evangelist friend from Kenya to hear what I planned to say and tell me if it would be appropriate.
After listening attentively, he said I would be the first white man they had ever heard say this and they would love me. He proved to be correct. Rhodesia was a flashback to extreme segregation days in the USA. It seemed that every racial attitude that I had heard expressed in the deep South of the United States thirty years ago was given extreme form in Rhodesia. While there, it dawned on me that the stance taken by the white Rhodesians (and anyone else in a prejudicial racial stance) placed their eyes, ears and brain in a form of bondage that I call "White Think." Since I will use that expression again, it must now be defined:
DEFINITION: White Think - Thinking that judges others only through one's own culture or skill or race. (Note that the color in this definition can be changed.)
Being a firm believer that I am a member of the Kingdom of God before I am a member of anything else, it seems to me that all forms of thinking (imagining?) must be brought into submission to the nature of Jesus, especially if I am to cross cultural lines so that the message is not destroyed by the messenger. That belief, along with my travel experiences and my strong adherence to the nature of Jesus as basis for all actions, has brought me to some observations that I feel are almost indispensable for the mission-hearted person. These observations and the resulting principles have been tested and affirmed by Third-World or developing-country leaders.
You may disagree with these premises and some who minister in Third-World countries may say they are unnecessary, but I can assure you that this understanding and practice can save you time and protect the future of the Gospel wherever you go. I believe the desire to go overseas represents genuine mission concern and the raising of funds for a missions tour is a valid expression. Thus, hopefully, the points to follow will make your involvement profitable.
Assumption #1: I can find my ministry in a foreign country.
If you have not developed your capabilities and proven your ministry here at home, do not expect that you can do so over there. To be a tourist and observe might be appropriate, but to go to another country to "find" your ministry is to become an instant burden to them. First of all, your thoughts are inward as you still develop and find yourself and you are unable to be truly others-centered. Second, you absorb their energies as they try to figure out just what to do with you without hurting you. Just because you are white does not mean that other countries welcome you with open arms. Most countries will not give you a long-term visa unless you have skills that are needed and in short supply. The Kingdom is not in short supply of people trying to "find" themselves.
Assumption #2: I can evangelize the Third World.
The problems? First you must learn the language. Most of the world speaks a language and writes a script very foreign to the average westerner. To learn the language becomes a gargantuan task and you will not likely ever be fluent enough to effectively preach in the language. (It can be done with proper commitment.) Second, the sheer time required to prepare and move is a precious commodity unnecessarily lost. Third, you must still learn the culture and learn to incarnate effectively. Fourth, you must overcome governmental and cultural resistance to "Americans." Fifth, you must somehow overcome the circus caused by your white skin. Sixth, you must raise about $70,000 to $100,000 a year to support yourself as an American. These are all unnecessary (for the most part) problems. For what it costs to send one American, 50-100 native workers can be supported and they already know the language, the culture and have managed to have the correct skin color. So, if I go overseas, I may be able to help someone else evangelize the country but I will not likely be able to do so myself.
Assumption #3: Third-World people are ignorant of the Scripture.
This may be true in many cases, but to assume the people are ignorant will cause you to treat them in a patronistic way and will quickly shut their hearts away from you. When people go with me overseas and ask me what they should preach, I tell them to preach the best sermons they would to their own congregation--to teach the finest lessons they have available. They should simply adjust them by taking out all slang and idiomatic expressions or references to things specifically Western. If God has given you a special message for your life, go prepared to share that. Your studies should be completed before you go. The places where absolute ignorance exists will not likely be the places of your ministry. Most of the world is not open to our evangelism, however, they are open to our teaching their leaders and equipping them to do the work.
Assumption #4: Third-World people are ignorant, period.
It is true that many things we know are not part of their education, but they are as intelligent and learned as we are in their own way. Once again, to see people as ignorant savages (consciously or unconsciously) is to treat them patronistically and to shut the doors of their hearts to us. In our brashness, others often wonder why we are so ignorant of what seems to be simple courtesies and how helpless we are without our house full of technologies.
Assumption #5: Our technology and prosperity make us better than others.
Arrogance and racism seem to be part of the natural fallen state of man. We automatically assume that because we have more automobiles, better roads, working telephones and a multitude of technological gadgets that there must be something inherently better about us or that God has given us "most favored nation" treatment. A truck driver once shared some wisdom with me that I have not forgotten. He said, "Education doesn't make someone a better person. Education will not keep you from killing someone; it will only keep you from eating him after you have killed him." If we understand that technological advance has enabled us to sin with greater skill, then we are more likely to appreciate the relational skills of the less technologically advanced and be more likely to learn from them.
I have heard Whites put Black Africans down because they would not try to "get ahead" in life. They (the Whites) would say that the Blacks might plant more corn but they would then let their hungry relatives collect from their fields and thus could not store up a lot for themselves. The bottom line in this thinking is that they would never have a bank account or own a TV set at that pace. Until one is in a different culture whose values are shaped by different expectations, one cannot fully know his own prejudices. When we begin to get perturbed or outright angry at other cultures because they don't have what seems to us to be obvious efficiencies, then we have come face-to-face with our values. We who say we are citizens of the Kingdom and students of the Bible discover quickly that we are also bondslaves to American prosperity and efficiencies.
True, we have prospered in the United States--some say by divine right and blessing although their theology doesn't seem to explain the prosperity of "non-Christian" countries. But prosperity is a dangerous and deceptive state. It quickly places us apart from others making it easy to violate the "no reputation" approach of Jesus. We fail to sense the sacrifices that people make just to entertain us. Frankly it makes us a bit arrogant when we discover that we make more money in half a day than the average Third Worlder makes in a month.
What values would a person develop in the absence of money? A foreign trip helps one assess these values. Also, you discover, in the absence of the gadgets of prosperity, just what is necessary to happily survive. One must, if he is to be honest in his Christianity at all, devote some time to the study of the teachings of Jesus about money and prosperity and the direction of the heart before visiting a poorer nation. One must also clearly hear the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:1, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." I have yet to be able to correlate with scripture the belief that a Christian is a better Christian because he has money or because he drives a posh car or because he has a sophisticated stereo or because he can direct dial his mother.
Assumption #6: Third-World people should submit to us when we go to their countries.
Again, this is an arrogant and unChristian attitude. Before we go to a foreign country, we should ask ourselves a basic question: "Just what is it that I am going to share with this country?" Am I going to teach them about American football? Do I want to teach them about how to date like American lovers? Do I want to teach them how to build buildings our way? Or, hopefully, do I want to teach them about God and His Word?
If I say that I want to teach them about God and His Word, then I must carefully peel away all tendencies to teach them something other than this. It is a devastating experience to take the time to compare my own values with those of the Kingdom of God. Most Westerners go to foreign countries because they have been contacted by another Westerner in that country. The traveler then submits his schedule to the Westerner in the foreign country which endows the foreign Westerner with additional power--making others have to ask him for the services of a "desired" traveler.
A breakthrough came when I decided that in the white-run country of Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe, I would submit my schedule to a Black church leader. Since Blacks constituted the vast majority of the population, I knew that true Kingdom values would be better understood by a Black man. I told him that he understood the country far better than I and that he would have a better grasp on where I could go to bless the Kingdom. If anyone wanted to have me preach at his church, he must go through the Black leader. Sad to say, some white leaders who wanted me to speak for them approached me privately and asked if I couldn't come to them. I said that I thought the time was available, all they had to do was ask the Black leader since I had submitted my schedule to him. Some were unable to bring themselves to ask a Black man for the services of a White person.
To submit yourself to the local church and its leaders is one of the most affirming steps and relationship building actions you can do. Let me say also that I fully agree with the late professor Tom Brewster about how we should arrive in another country. He states that going to a foreign church is like being born into another home. Coming out of the airport is like coming out of the womb. A certain imprinting occurs, a bonding, to the people who welcome us out of that womb. If we choose to have Westerners meet us, then our bonding will not be with those to whom we will minister. Our ministry will simply be forays from the Western home into the other culture. We must be met by the local people or our ministry will always have a taint of "us" versus "them" to it.
Assumption #7: Americans can easily learn the truth by observing or asking questions.
Most people who have lived under a colonial system or a system where they were governed by white strangers have learned to say to powerful people the things those powerful people want to hear. If you watched "Roots" on TV you probably noticed the things slaves learned to do to cope with their owners.
That same spirit still exists: "Tell the white man what he wants to hear, but above all, protect yourself." Consequently, the white man, who loves to hear what he wants to hear, has great difficulty finding the truth. This is why Rhodesians, when their country changed to Black rule, were totally shocked when Mugabe was chosen as Prime Minister. The Whites wanted a man named Nkomo to be elected and the Blacks knew that was what the Whites wanted, so the Blacks assured the Whites that Nkomo would be elected while overwhelmingly electing Mugabe.
The intimidation of our wealth and position to a Third-World person is stronger than we can understand and overcoming that wall to hear the truth is not an easy thing. For instance, some "fact-finding" trips to South Africa by a very conservative newsman to investigate the scene there produced predictable results--a white man's conclusion about the black man's condition. They were either woefully unschooled about interracial communication or else had something to prove rather than to find. Even a white South African who was staying in my home took offense at their conclusions.
When I first went to Rhodesia in 1978, the White people were constantly telling me how the Blacks felt about things. When I managed to make some inroads into the Black mind, I discovered that the White people were almost totally wrong about what the Blacks thought.
The first reason for that was that the Whites were more interested in control than they were in information. I discovered that White people never actually talked to Blacks and especially never listened to them. Questions by the Whites left room for only one answer. For instance, they might ask, "You are going to vote for Nkomo aren't you?" Obviously, the only safe answer to that question would be "Yes."
In order to deliver the truth, the person questioned must feel totally safe in your presence. He must feel that you have some understanding of and sympathy for his situation. He must feel a positive regard from you. He must know that you are not going to be blabbing his answer to everyone else who might wish to question him. He must know that you have no vested interest in a particular answer.
There is no easy way to achieve a truthful situation except to adopt the "no force" or "gentleness" aspect of the Nature of Jesus. First one must study the situation of the person you are questioning. Second, you must put yourself in his shoes and understand what it would be like for you. Third, you must pass the test of close observation in your conversation and actions and exhibit a consistency in your action that lets him know you are not just using words to your benefit. He will watch to see if you ever defend his race as well as your own. Truth is a precious commodity. I am amazed at how seldom we have it.
Assumption #8: Third-World churches should adopt Western customs and buildings.
Often we take such care to be precise in our theology and are so careless in our practices. I have seen men far prouder that something "American" was happening than that the Word was being preached. To what am I alluding?
Where in the Bible does it tell us that churches should be organized like the United States government as some churches in this country are? Yet we often are not satisfied until such occurs.
Where does the Bible tell us that churches should be built like churches in the United States? Again, we are not moved unless we recognize that the building going up in a foreign country looks like a "church."
Where does the Bible tell us that we should be ruled by our wristwatches? Yet we cavalierly jest at "Mexican" time or "African" time, etc.
Where does the Bible tell us that Western clothing speaks spirituality? Yet we are morbidly enslaved to formal ties and suits and rest not until we have bound our poverty-faced brethren to such expensive but "clean" chains.
Where in the Bible does it tell us that our Western musical sounds are the norm by which all hymns must be judged. I often cannot believe my eyes when I read the magazines of evangelists and others who claim that they only feel the Spirit when our type music is used in hymns, this being adequate "proof" to them that all other musical sounds must be demonic. Incredible! What is the source of such arrogance? Is the fruit of the Spirit arrogance?
Then what is the action of one who understands that he is a member of the Kingdom of God before all other memberships including citizenship of his country? Let me answer that by relating a conversation I had with Ezekiel Guti of Zimbabwe.
I had just finished reading Eternity In Their Hearts by Don Richardson. Still deeply moved by what I had read, I approached Guti with questions about its accuracy and applicability. He listened as I explained Richardson's thesis and he quickly agreed. Guti said that the missionaries came to Africa and told the African that all things African were bad. Of course, the corollary is that all things "missionary" or "Western" were good. This immediately established a superior/inferior relationship and made it necessary for one to cease being African once he became Christian. This had been a major complaint also in China during missionary days. It was said that every time Christianity gained a convert, China lost a son.
Guti related that when he went to Israel for the first time and learned ancient Jewish customs, he realized that the customs of Zimbabwe--the ones that were supposed to be so wrong--were amazingly similar to those of the chosen people of God. He was glad to make this discovery but angry that the missionaries had not informed him. He felt that evangelism in southern Africa would be nearly complete now if these similarities has been affirmed rather than attacked.
What then is our goal of action? We must go with a heart that affirms more than it seeks to correct--even if our ways may seem more efficient to us. Efficiency of time may be a terrible steward of relationships, and Jesus seemed to be on the side of relationships. It is far more important to communicate love than technology. Because Third-World people have come to think of themselves as inferior to us, affirmation from us is of greater impact to them and more quickly welds relationships. Even actions that seems humorous to us may fulfill a real need to them and we should not mock it.
Their phones and other "conveniences" frustrate our direct-dialing fingers, but it is their proud best. We damage the Kingdom when we speak ill of what they have or joke of their idiosyncrasies especially in their presence, but also in our private conversations. Once we adopt, even in private, a jocular stance about them it spills over into our dealings in dangerous ways.
Assumption #9: Third-World people cannot be trusted with money or leadership.
This assumption has caused much pain in our relationships with other peoples. When it comes to money, we quickly fall into the heresy of thinking that there is an "American" church and there is an "Indian, African, Etc." church. We begin to think that it is our money going to their church. Not so!
We are the body of Christ and members of the Kingdom of God and we are one. It is all God�s money�kingdom money. While it is true that other peoples are not accustomed to handling large sums of money as we prosperous Americans are accustomed to handling, it does not follow from experience and honest observation that we handle such large sums any more spiritually than they would. We tend to use God's funds to build monuments to ourselves rather than to meet the needs of people and of evangelism and when such funds are used for people, we feel that it has been wasted.
The fact is that our job is to equip people to do the work of the ministry. That, by its very nature, means teaching and trusting people with that precious commodity that tells us "in God we trust." The problem that I have observed is this: We get quickly corrupted by the power we wield when we go, with our wealth, into a people of poverty. For $30.00 to $50.00 we can buy a person's services for a month. That is a paltry sum to an American, so he discovers that he can buy and control a number of people for a small amount of money and thus send pictures back home of his success.
What does this do to the local people? First, it corrupts them as much as it does us. Often (No! More than often.) a person who may have been won to the Lord by some other ministry and is being equipped by them is lured away from the fellowship they should be in by the seduction of other funds. So, by our acting irresponsibly with our money, we teach them the same irresponsibility and corrupt the church. Then we complain if they use money like we do.
When I discover the amount of "control politics" we have played with our excess funds, I get disheartened. This is one reason why the word "missionary" has become an insult in many countries.
So, what is the answer? Simply to work along side the people God has sent us to in order to equip them and quickly turn the reigns of power (money) over to them to do the work. Of course, this means also to teach generosity so that the work will not be dependent on our funds forever.
On the subject of leadership, let me build a scenario to show the inherent problem of cross-cultural ministry. A missionary goes to a foreign country. When he leaves his own country, the missionary is a poorer sort, perhaps on the poverty level by American standards. However, when he arrives at his destination, he discovers that he is at the top of the elite with his income. He is now the rich man. His funds give him power and he is held in awe and treated with the deference that any rich man would have anywhere.
Also, since money is dominant, why shouldn't English also be dominant as a language? So, the locals are taught (if colonial, they are required to learn) the English language so they can communicate with the missionary. Church leadership naturally goes to those who learn the English language best, since English is the focus anyway. The locals know that the best English speaker is not necessarily the true spiritual leader, so corruption has immediately begun.
Another scenario has the person among them who most successfully adopts the American style of leadership as the one chosen by the missionary as the church leader. This immediately ties Christianity to the United States and restricts its success to the feeling of the country toward America. I suppose the fact that we have so much trouble discerning who the true spiritual leaders are in our own country would naturally mean that we wouldn't know how to teach discernment in a foreign country.
So, what is our response? To incarnate ourselves into their culture, discern and equip their leaders, then affirm them in their leadership by submitting ourselves to them.
Assumption #10: They are as happy to see us as we are to be there.
We often go to foreign countries simply because we can afford the trip. The church in those countries often takes care of us simply because they can't afford not to. What do I mean by that? The first statement is obvious and needs no explanation. The second is less apparent. The Third World Christian operates in an information vacuum. He knows less about us than we might know about him. When we arrive, he often has no way of knowing just who we might represent. If he thinks we represent supporters of his or are friends of those supporters, he may be afraid to limit entertainment since that may be more costly to his support than the destruction of his schedule is to the present work. Once, several years ago, I visited with a national Christian leader in a certain country. His work was very effective but also very hectic. He seemed overloaded to me, so in my efforts to "help" him, I asked him what job of his took the most time in his schedule. His answer left me subdued: "Entertainment. You are the fifteenth foreign visitor I have had this month."
Sometimes, keeping an American for a period of time places a pastor under surveillance by the police or other authorities or shackles him with a reputation that might be damaging in his circumstances. In India, a worker was hesitant to take us into his slum ministry area because it would identify him as being supported by Americans�knowledge not to his benefit.
I have decided to always assume that I am a burden and do everything that I can to lighten that burden. Don't go unless invited and pay your way at the front end of the stay, not at the end. Often I have seen Church leaders thrown into disarray by the insistence of Americans on some convenience that the Americans considered basic but that the local leaders were totally unable to provide. A sensitive heart will assess as quickly as possible what can and can not be done, and even more important, what should be done.
Assumption #11: The United States government is the best and the most honest.
To, paraphrase a couplet by Alexander Pope, "Tis with men's cultures as his watches. None runs alike but each believes his own." I have learned that, to be effective, one must go to a foreign country as a member of the Kingdom of God and not as an American.
You will discover that foreigners have a different view of our greatness and honesty. It is true that our wealth causes every Third-World person to dream of coming to the USA, but it is also true that we have not always worked in the best interest of other countries. Do not make assumptions that all people should be happy with us and do not be upset when you find strongly negative articles and editorials about the United States in foreign newspapers. Read them. It will give you a better perspective on the whole world scene.
Actually, if we objectively read our own newspapers as if we were visitors in our own country, we might be humbled a bit about our own corruption.
Assumption #12: Communism is the greatest threat to the world.
Though this is a bit outdated now, it seems to me that when the word "communism" is mentioned, an American's eyes glaze over and he loses his capacity to think. He now only reacts. Many Christians once got worked up by energetic anti-communists and gave more to fight Communism than they gave to spread the Gospel. Am I opposed to Communism? Certainly! I am very glad to live in America with the freedoms available here.
However, I fear materialism and its effects on the Third-World far more than I fear Communism for them. Once the availability of "things" locks onto greed, the church is in greater danger than from persecution. I have observed the corruption that money has brought to churches and it breaks my heart. I also notice that persecution seems to purify the church. So, my conclusion? It is the Kingdom of God that is the most important, not the spreading or fighting of anyone's government.
Assumption #13: A raised hand means a conversion.
Desperate for results or for egos to be massaged, we become prime targets for misunderstanding and even fraud. In naivete, we do not know that hands are raised out of kindness to us, or because they know that to raise the hand will keep the money flowing to their country. But at least it blesses us and we get to show pictures and be excited.
I was once invited to a certain country to conduct crusades. Although I am internationally unknown and was certainly unknown in that country, the inviter asked me what size crowd I wanted to preach to. Whichever amount I wanted could be delivered to me. I came away from that conversation a little wiser in the ways of the world.
In one country, I know that a "crusade" goes on all the time and is designed to dupe unsuspecting "supporters" into thinking that their contributions are producing great results. I have also learned that "instant orphanages" have been produced to pry loose the American dollar. How can we know that what we see is true? It is not easy. The only way I know is to find a national ministry with integrity and let them be your eyes and ears and don't do anything to subvert their authority or findings.
Now that I have shared my reactions to this set of assumptions with you, I must record some
observations that will, I believe, make any short term foreign missions trip more profitable.
Observation #1: A camera is a wall.
Every tourist wants to return with good photos of the trip and that is fine, but when you are dealing with people, a certain dynamic enters that you must take into account. A camera makes performers out of people and makes them self-conscious. A camera traps people in a human zoo and you are the visiting observer. A camera also removes the photographer from participant to observer.
Suppose you are in a church service with local people and you have joined them in their fervent worship of God. When you take up the camera to record the event, you are no longer a worshiper and you distract them from their concentration on God. If you choose to photograph worship times, be sure that the people in charge are comfortable with it and work hard to be invisible.
Keep in mind when you ask for permission to photograph that the answer will probably be "yes" even when they mean "no." Learn to ask questions in a way that will get you the truth such as, "When people take pictures of you, how have they used them and have they ever been a problem to you?" "Do you wish you could put some controls on photographers and what kind would you like to put on them?" A sensitive listener will get much information in the answers to this type of question.
Remember also that a camera is an instant testimony of wealth. The average camera that we go overseas with is worth several months salary to the person we are photographing.
One other comment about photography: I have observed white missionaries taking photos of the ministries of native workers and coming back to the USA to show these as ministries of their own and using them to raise money for themselves. When the news got back to the native workers that this had been done and they knew the missionary had nothing to do with their work, the very appearance of a camera represented exploitation to them. One who photographs needs also to be very wise.
Observation #2: Giving your address to anyone who requests is not wise.
On the surface it would seem that to share your address with a person in the Third-World would be an act of friendship and, of course, it can be, however, be very sure that the relationship you have developed with the person necessitates the exchange of addresses. Normally, when you give your address to someone simply because he asks for it, you will be regularly sent letters asking you for funds. Of course you will have no way of verifying the need or the wisdom of sending such funds and you have placed yourself in a dilemma. You may end up not answering the letter while your foreign correspondent pays a day's wages writing to you.
So what can you do? Since you are likely to be in that foreign country under the auspices of someone from that country or some specific organization, ask the person who wants your address to send any letters to you through your local contact or through the organization. This serves two functions. It makes any letter you receive by that route a serious one (You will not likely receive any letters this way) and it does not subvert any authority structures that might be in place.
Observation #3: Purchasing gifts to take home can be a damaging act.
If you are buying a group of small symbolic gifts that represent the country to take back to people who have an interest in your trip, then it should work fine. Often I will bring back a number of small representative gifts to give to people to remind them to pray for the country. But, you will discover that bargains do abound in some countries and you feel that you cannot pass up some costly purchase that would be exorbitant in the USA and now you can get it for half price or less.
Here is the problem: a purchase of $600 would represent a year's salary for most of the people you would be with. To flaunt that kind of purchase could seriously affect their view of you and of the Kingdom. It could be a source of discouragement to them. So, what can we do? First, be very judicious in our buying. The Kingdom of God is not made up of bargain buying. Keep the good of the people and the country in mind first. Large purchases, if they must be made, should be made as privately as possible and not flaunted in any way. If you are taking small things back to help people remember to pray, it compliments people to know you are doing this.
Recently, I ran across another problem in gift buying. Most Third World markets thrive on the bargaining process--a process we Americans are unfamiliar with and largely uncomfortable with. We simply hear a price and decide yes or no. Bargaining with purpose in a foreign market can be a fun event and a creative part of the trip to give you the flavor of the country.
However, if you are looking for native crafts and you ask local coworkers to bring you something made by Christians, be prepared to pay the asking price--you are no longer in the marketplace--and be prepared to at least buy something even if you feel the cost is beyond your plans. An example of what I mean: Some visitors noticed a certain type of very useful craft work of the local people. They asked their hosts where they could get such an item. Informed that it was all handmade and that women from the local church made them, the visitors asked to have some brought to them for purchase. The lady who handmade the crafts left her job the next day and by bus and walking delivered a number of the craft items to the visitors. The visitors, upon hearing the price, looked the items over as if they were at a garage sale and decided they didn't want any of them and walked away.
Here are the things they didn't understand: The materials to make the crafts were costly in that country though they could have been purchased for less here in the USA. Second, they cost the person a day on her job which they were willing to sacrifice just to bless the Americans. Third, these were more than a mere product, these were items made by a committed Christian and faithful supporter of the Kingdom. Fourth, by knowing the story of who made them, these items would have become even more valuable and a prayer and contact point for the country. Fifth, they were saying more with their brash rejection than they realized.
When I saw what was happening, I quickly bought almost all of the products that had been brought, ensuring the worker that I was deeply grateful for all the loving work she had put into the items. Seeing the tension of the scene, I knew immediately that the money spent would be small compared to the damage the rejection to this fine Christian would cause.
Observation #4: Western customs can be offensive and vice versa.
A discovery often made too late is that dress codes of the USA are much too lax for most Third-World Christians. If you are a woman, be prepared to wear only dresses or skirts--slacks and jeans are unacceptable. Men, be prepared to wear slacks and ties or suits except in casual circumstances when open collars are acceptable. In some areas, jewelry, including rings, are offensive and one should be alert to that possibility.
Many forms of Western humor are lost with other cultures, but one must be careful of humor anyway. Most humor is hostile in that someone must be the brunt of the story in order for it to be funny. Third- World sensitivities do not permit the casual put downs common to the American scene, so smile a lot and avoid jokes and most humor unless you are putting down or laughing at yourself. People appreciate it when Americans confess and laugh at their own foibles.
Male-female relationships are universally more structured in other countries than in the Western world. Usually it is inappropriate to have public shows of affection. Dating is taboo in almost all places, so teaching concerning dating would be offensive. Husband-wife relationships are often differently structured by custom, so one must be quite careful about his teaching about marriage-careful to use Biblical teaching and examples rather than American examples. Men and women often sit on opposite sides of churches in developing countries and do not talk to each other or touch in public. Do not assume that because hugging has found growing acceptance in the USA it is equally acceptable in foreign countries--especially when men and women are involved. Do not attempt to shake hands with a woman or even touch her unless she reaches out to you.
In many cultures, eating with ones hands is the standard and acceptable way. Almost always, one would eat with his right hand, because the left hand is reserved for personal cleanliness functions. This "right hand" usage has some other effects. When giving or receiving gifts one should always offer and receive with the right hand. This may mean nothing to you, but it often does with others and it is easy to be alert to this practice.
In some countries you will see men walking together holding hands. This will grate upon the sensibilities of the American male, but in those countries, it does not have the same meaning that it would in the USA--it is only a mark of friendship and is completely acceptable. So, men, if you succeed in building friendships, be prepared to hold hands.
Observation #5: Wasteful duplication is common in missions.
Every denomination that I know of seeks to establish only its own programs in a given country rather than to know what is happening in an area and support it or enhance or complement it. Instead, if there is a Bible school with fifteen students in a community, another denomination (often with almost identical doctrine) may come in and start another school right beside it. Wisdom and stewardship would make us careful not to further duplicate ministries in the Kingdom.
Sometimes (no, often), ministries run by Americans will "buy" workers away from local situations just so they can tell how many they are supporting and thus get more funds from America. For instance, if someone is only making $25.00 in his current position (which might be quite enough by local standards) it is relatively easy for us to offer him $30.00 so that we can say he is ours. We neither won him to the Lord nor trained him, but now he is ours by purchase. Usually this will neutralize him in the eyes of his own countrymen and cost him years of ministry once he has discovered that we are not always dependable. I am amazed at how carelessly we hold people hostage with our wealth. Obviously this is corrupting and damaging to the Kingdom.
Observation #6: Americans are often loud and crude.
I talk too much and listen too little. I try to deliver too much information to too many people. I subvert the local leadership by trying to make contacts and develop relationships with people I should not. Having a friend in the West, especially one who sends or brings you things you requested, is a powerful thing and to develop such a relationship without being sensitive to how it affects the authority of the local leaders is dangerous.
Because we might feel comfortable with a probing investigation style in the USA, we will probe into a Third-Worlder's personal or financial affairs in the presence of other persons. You will find yourself being avoided thereafter.
I have seen money held back until buildings were built to Western style or painted in colors pleasing to the Western eye or monies accounted to Western standards (without the benefit of computers or training). We hold people hostage in more ways than we know. In fact, a little-known way we hold people hostage is in paying their way to conferences around the world.
Suppose, for instance, we are going to have a pastor's conference or some regional international Christian gathering. We benevolently decide that we will pay the way of a person from each developing country since we know that they cannot afford it. The next question is, "How do we decide who that person is?" Much bitterness has grown in these countries, because we tend to choose some white missionary in that country to tell us who we should pay for and the missionary will choose someone obligated or submitted to himself rather than a true representative or leader from the country.
Observation #7: To find a ministry of integrity and effectiveness is finding pure gold.
There are so many paper organizations and phantom orphanages and invisible evangelists that we can easily fall prey to deception. To carefully check and verify a ministry and to build proper relationships and to thoroughly prepare yourself for foreign ministry is like finding the mother lode of a gold mine. When you have found a ministry of integrity and the Lord moves you to participate in it, pray for it, support it, give yourself to it and then dip into the incredible joy of watching the Kingdom of God grow--knowing that you had a part in that ministry.
Observation #8: We can be too self-sufficient and not let them serve us.
As a tough American male, I can carry my own luggage and know how to fix my own breakfast and mow my own lawn. In my first intimate encounter with a developing country, I almost fought with the people to carry my own bags only relenting when it was obvious that I was going to lose. People would even rush up to me and take my Bible from my hands to carry it as I walked along. Finally, after one of my attempts to carry my own things, I was gently informed by a leader that I was keeping them from having the blessing of serving if I didn't let them help me. I don't know why I had not thought of that.
On another occasion, when I was ignorantly complaining about the vast difference between White and Black salaries, I declared that if I were living in the land I would not hire someone. I would do the work myself rather than pay them such a low salary. Again, a leader gently informed me that if I did so, I would be considered stingy by the local people and they would wonder why I wanted to deprive them of a job. Embarrassed by my lack of understanding, I resolved to listen harder and think clearer.
What can we do?
First, we can travel to learn and be more sympathetic and understanding and supportive. Second, we can profitably be involved in individual conversations. Third, we can share our knowledge of the Bible and certain practices with their workers. Fourth, we can have our "white think" prejudices confronted and brought into submission to the nature of Jesus. Fifth, we can, by being people lovers, help change the concept that people have of some bearers of the gospel. Sixth, we can, by our affirmation, increase the confidence of local workers and thus improve their ministries. Seventh, we can return and help enlarge the vision of the evangelization of the world in the hearts of our friends. Eighth, we can give. While we are prosperous and have the funds, we can give. This day of prosperity in the United Slates is not a time for stinginess, it is a time for generosity. Ninth, we can earnestly and capably pray once we have seen the mission scene. Tenth, if God has definitely said for us to "go," then we must go, but go with full knowledge and humble hearts so that our missions efforts match the Nature of Jesus.
I recommend: Don't Go Overseas Until You've Read This Book by Neil Gallagher, Bethany Fellowship, Inc, 6820 Auto Club Road, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55434, Copyright 1977, paper, 123 pp.