Eddie has recently posted a series of three thought-provoking articles asking if there is still a role for western missionaries going overseas. While we may be tempted to give the easy answer that there is, we must stop and take the question seriously. Yes, God does call his church to bear witness to him around the world, but

we should not make the mistake of assuming that sending missionaries is the same as bearing witness to Christ and making disciples. We are very apt to confuse our own cultural expressions of the Christian faith with the deeper reality of the faith itself and this is a case in point.  The modern missionary movement is one response (among many) from the Church to God’s call to serve him. read more

In a previous post Eddie suggests that we must continually re-evaluate whether our attitudes towards cross-cultural mission are actually in line with the Bible and the way Jesus came to serve us. If our lives are to be consistent with the message we are supposedly bringing, we must engage with people humbly, with a servant-heart, and an attitude of learning and receiving as well as humbly giving. We cannot simply walk in to a new situation, assuming that we have the answers without sitting down, listening and learning…

One of the features of the Western world is our belief that we know what is best for the rest of the planet: our form of democracy, our view of free trade, our concept of development… The same attitude is often apparent in Christian mission: we come with our solutions, but do we have a real understanding of the problems that people face? This sort of thing is seen at its starkest in some short-term mission programmes, where groups of well intentioned Westerners come to an area to do building work or some other social project – not realising that in the process they are rendering local builders and painters unemployed and distorting the whole economy of the area. read more

He concludes that yes, there is a role for western missionaries, but that role may be very different to that which our stereotypes or cultural conditioning may lead us to believe. I would really recommend reading all three of Eddie’s posts on this theme:

This afternoon I picked up Culture, Communication and Christianity by Charles Kraft from the library for an essay I’m writing, and was interested to see his thoughts, written in 1971, on the same subject.

The day of missions is not over in Africa but the day of the kind of missions we have known for so long may well be. The day of the missionary is not over in Africa. But the day when it was considered sufficient for a missionary merely to have a call and a knowledge of the Bible is gone.

Today’s missionary to Africa needs to be more highly trained in cultural studies than in theological. He must be trained to the point where he realizes that he knows virtually nothing of the cultural world of the people he seeks to reach. He must be trained to the point where he will sit and listen to and learn from the people he seeks to reach. He must be conditioned to realize that the texts for his vocal witness to these people must come, as Christ’s did, from their life and experience, not from his own. He must meet them where they are, not demand that they meet him where he is. (pp175-176)

In this respect we might do well to remember that Jesus himself came and spent time with people, listening to them and asking them questions. We can easily forget that his three years of ministry were preceded by thirty years of living with people, observing and learning from them, and identifying with their everyday life. May we not be too quick to give answers before we have really taken the time to sit down with people and hear and understand their questions.

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