Sunday, March 20, 2011

Possessions, Culture and Missions

This post has been accumulation of my thoughts...tonight, taking the subway back home, I was reading Transforming Culture: A Challenge for Christian Mission by Sherwood Lingenfelter.  The book is about the dangers when sharing the Gospel to another people group we sometimes inevitably include our own culture.

One particular experience struck me....
..a missionary complained bitterly to him about the time he had to spend on maintenance at the station.  He said, "I spend 90 per cent on maintenance and 10 per cent on ministry. I am deeply frustrated! Please carry the message back to our churches of how desperately we need maintenance help." 
The missionary described how disputes about property had alienated him from his African neighbors. Complaining that they had no respect for private property, he described how hostile neighbors frequently cut the plastic water pipe that brought water from his storage tank. 
Neither the pastor nor the missionary considered the possibility of forgetting the maintenance and getting on with the ministry.  The maintenance of the property was of higher priority than the ministry of the gospel in that missionary's life.  He would not say this with his words, but he clearly showed it by his actions."

Earlier today, a friend sent me a story about a doctor in Singapore...

He could have made it big as a doctor, earned a lot of money, settled in a home with a car. All he ever tells us medical-missionary wannabes, is never to buy a house or a car in Singapore, because as soon as we do, the asset will have too great a hold over us. He even tells us about when to have kids, because if they are not timed well, going to the field will be put off. Many of his batchmates are outstanding ministers of parliament, rich doctors and famous professors. He chose a different route, lived in a small flat in China and bought a simple bicycle to ride to hospital every day. 

I am currently taking a course on Christian Missions in a Global Context.  In this week's class, a student who come back from Nepal made a comment how when the local Christians wanted to become a missionary, they wanted to have a car, a cell phone and a laptop.  The rational was that all the foreign missionaries had those assets and that became a necessity in order to share the gospel.

Earlier in the book, Transforming Culture, the author asked:

Is it possible to bring a truly transforming gospel, or are we always limited to reproducing our cultural reflections of Christianity wherever we carry the message?

The book outline a series of different aspect of culture we need to be aware of.  I just finished reading the chapter on wealth and possessions.  I remembered the times when I see R on the street.  I often wondered how he can live on the street with nothing but a few bags hanging from his wheelchair.  I could never live like that.  Tonight, as I was reading this book, perhaps because I am seeing him from eyes of a rich man.

When I was in Cambodia, I became very aware of my own necessities.  It was very interesting because things which I thought were luxuries for me became necessities.  My bed, for example, I never thought much of it.   In Cambodia, I longed to be back in my bed.  I longed for the comfort of back home.

Before Hudson Taylor went to China to become a missionary, he tried very hard to live with nothing and to learn to rely on faith.  That was the sacrifice he knew he had to make.  Had he brought a lots of possessions, he would inevitably spending more time on maintenance than ministry.

If there is anything I learn from my previous years, to be effective in ministry, especially cross cultural and to those who have less than I have, I need to lighten my load.  I need to travel light.  I also have to become careful to not impose my own set of cultural expectations, in this case, wealth, upon the people group I am sharing the Gospel.   Last year, I gave up triathlon in order to focus on God.  This year will be a year to learn to live lightly.

Property begins to own the missionary instead of the missionary owning the property.  Preservation becomes a matter of preserving self-identity and well-being, as well as fending off disorder. 
Jesus admonishes us to not fear these things. He calls us to a life of pilgrimage...The most important strategy is to adopt a simplified lifestyle.  The less property we own, the less energy we will have to expend to prevent disorder.  By simplifying their lifestyle Christian workers remove the temptation to hang onto the social values of their home culture. 
Missionaries must also relinquish independence and become more dependent (at risk) on nationals.  In Central Africa, for example, many women would be happy to earn money by carrying water for missionaries. While the men would need to learn to do maintenance work, they would be delighted to have jobs.  If missionaries learn to accept less precision and be open to alternative ways of accomplishing things, they will probably find the national workers can take care of most of the maintenance that must be done.  Further, the mutual relationship between missionary and national worker can become a means of discipling new believers. 
To help us change our attitudes we may challenge one another with the question, Whom do we worship: God or the creation of our hands?  Reviewing Scripture passages such as Isaiah 44 can help us come to terms with the issue of false worship.  Only when we are willing to surrender to Christ all that we have are we free to enjoy all that He gives us.  Jesus reminds us in the Gospels that if we struggle to save our lives we are certain to lose them.

 He cut down cedars, 
   or perhaps took a cypress or oak. 
He let it grow among the trees of the forest, 
   or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. 
15 It is used as fuel for burning; 
   some of it he takes and warms himself, 
   he kindles a fire and bakes bread. 
But he also fashions a god and worships it; 
   he makes an idol and bows down to it. 
16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire; 
   over it he prepares his meal, 
   he roasts his meat and eats his fill. 
He also warms himself and says, 
   “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” 
17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol; 
   he bows down to it and worships. 
He prays to it and says, 
   “Save me! You are my god!” 
18 They know nothing, they understand nothing; 
   their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, 
   and their minds closed so they cannot understand. 
19 No one stops to think, 
   no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, 
“Half of it I used for fuel; 
   I even baked bread over its coals, 
   I roasted meat and I ate. 
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? 
   Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” 
20 Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; 
   he cannot save himself, or say, 
   “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”
Isaiah 44:14-20

 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 
 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Luke 9:57-58 

No comments: