Sharon Beougher and Mary Dorsett
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” [Romans 10:14-15]
In the book Ministering Cross Culturally, Sherwood Lingenfelter recounts the first decision faced by his family when they arrived on the tiny South Pacific island of Yap. A local Yapese man showed the young American two locations where he might build a home. One location would be considered the American dream—a gorgeous beach location with lots of nature and privacy. The second lot was located in the midst of a noisy, littered, local village. Not surpris-ingly Lingenfelter preferred the beach setting, but his local guide urged him to reconsider. “If you want to learn to speak our language, the other place is better for you,” he explained. Realizing the wisdom of these words, the Lingenfelter family built their home in the midst of the village which proved to be as public, littered and noisy as first predicted. However, the family all quickly learned the language and soon became immersed in the culture of their new surroundings.1
Cross-cultural ministry has been defined by Lingenfelter and his co-author Marvin Mayers as “any ministry in which one inter¬acts with people who have grown up learning values and lifestyle patterns that are different from one’s own.”2 Using this definition, an American who leaves home and goes to live and witness to the truth about Jesus in Tibet is a cross-cultural minister, but so would be the suburban Anglo-American who decides to live and work in the midst of Laotian refugees living in an inner city in the USA. Reaching across language or cultural boundaries is not easy. By nature, most people prefer to live in an environment which is similar to their own cultural and linguistic group.
II. THE THEORETICAL AND BIBLICAL BASES FOR CROSS-CULTURAL MINISTRY
A. What is Culture?
Culture has been defined as “the anthropologist’s label for the sum of the distinctive characteristics of a people’s way of life.”3 From infancy on, each of us begins to absorb the culture of those around us. As babies and small children, we quickly learn what brings pleasure or discomfort. The way we relate to our primary care givers and those who surround us each day provides a pattern for us to follow and teaches us what to expect from others. Culture is naturally and automatically imprinted into our being as infants. We grow up learning to watch for clues that will help us to refine our understanding of what will be required of us in different situations. In most societies parents model acceptable behavior for their children. For instance, a child of parents who are openly affectionate will usually respond to loved ones in a similar fashion. If a society or family never shows affection, even in private, the children will likely grow up and repeat similar behavior which they will accept as the norm.
Because culture is so infinitely varied and unique to each people group and locality, it presents a major hurdle when we are ministering cross-cultur¬ally. Anyone involved in such an outreach must be willing to become like a baby and relearn the new culture’s guidelines for acceptable behavior. This is not an easy task. It re¬quires patience, humility, and humor.
Although some readers of this chapter will feel called to spend their lives in a foreign country, most will not. Nevertheless, the opportunities to reach out to someone of another culture surround us. For instance, more than sixty different languages are spoken in the greater Chicago area, and even more can be heard in the greater Los Angeles area. Most colleges and universities have a sizeable num¬ber of foreign students. Furthermore, businesses are increasingly viewing the world as their marketplace. Opportunities to reach out cross-culturally are endless in our increasingly cosmopolitan world.
B. Definitions of Cross-Cultural Evangelism
Just as culture contains many variations and differences, so does the ministry of evangelism within the cross-cultural realm. Dividing the evangelistic outreach into four “E” levels helps both author and reader to be more precise about the task at hand, and most people who work in this field use the following definitions when attempting to explain it to others:
E-0—the winning of nominal Christians in a similar culture to personal faith and commitment.
E-1—evangelism within homogeneous groups.
E-2—evangelism of geographically close and culturally or linguistically related groups.
E-3—evangelism of culturally distant groups in which the evangelist is separated from the people to be evange¬lized by monumental cultural distances.
Obviously E-0 evangelism is the easiest and E-3 the most difficult. E-0 evangelism takes place within the local church setting. Many people who fill the pews of American churches have no real understanding of what it means to be a Christian. If quizzed, they might tell you that “real Christians go to church every Sunday” or “contribute ten percent of their money to the church,” but they have no understanding of the person and work of Jesus in their lives. These sincere but misguided nominal Christians need to be intro¬duced to a Savior who is very much alive and who desires to have a deeply personal relationship with them. E-0 evangelism is considered the easiest because the recipient is not only culturally similar to the evangelist, but is normally open to the claims of the Gospel.
E-1 evangelism occurs when persons with similar cultural and linguistic backgrounds discuss the claims of Christ. A young mother who explains the Gospel to another new mother in the neighbor¬hood engages in E-1 evangelism. Neither E-0 or E-1 evangelism is considered cross-cultural.
On the other hand, both E-2 and E-3 evangelism require a cross-cultural dimension. The suburban college student who spends her summer working in an inner city ministry engages in cross-cultural evangelism. The American family who adopts an interna¬tional student or family and attempts to introduce them to Jesus also participates in E-2 evangelism.
To be an E-3 evangelist, one must leave her home and travel great distances to reach a people who are distinctively different in culture and language. E-3 evangelists are what most people would consider to be true missionaries. The task would be almost impossible if it were not for the example of Jesus (who is the role model for all who want to participate in cross-cultural evangelism).
C. The Incarnation—God as Cross—Cultural Evangelist
When Jesus chose to become a baby, He provided the ultimate example of cross-cultural or E-3 evangelism. The Creator became the creature, and He took on all the limitations of human nature. Rather than just burst into the universe and take the world by force. Christ became a helpless Jewish baby who learned language and culture first from His parents and then from the rabbis and teachers. The Incarnation provides the cross-cultural evangelist with the supreme example to be emulated. Jesus, who is God. willingly laid aside His rights to deity to become a completely human man. As such, He accepted all the limitations that human nature placed on Him. This voluntary relinquishment of rights allowed Him to enter perfectly into the culture of His people and thus convey the love of God for all humankind.
D. The Need to be 150% Persons
Lingenfelter and Mayers propose that the successful cross-cultural evangelist will become a 150% person. Looking to Christ. they observe that He was a 200% person-100% God and 100% man. Such a complete identification with a foreign culture is not possible for us, but we can strive to set aside much of our cultural and national identity and seek to identify with the country to which we move. So deep is the imprint of culture that one can never totally shed it, but one can adapt to a new culture in such a profound fashion that even nationals accept the newcomer on an equal basis.
Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Amy Carmichael felt called to minister in the south of India. Leaving behind family and Mends, the young woman sailed to India in 1895 and never returned—even for a furlough—to the home of her childhood. At her death in 1951, she was known and loved by thousands in her adopted country as “Amma” [Tamil for “mother”]. During her more than fifty-five years in India, she never forgot her primary goal of bringing the Gospel message to all who would listen. For most of her life, she worked tirelessly to rescue orphans who would otherwise have lived a life of degradation and extreme poverty. She became fluent in the Tamil language, dressed like a national, learned to think like an Indian woman, embraced the cultural distinctives of her adopted district, and often referred to herself in print as a Tamil. She is an outstanding example of a successful cross-cultural evangelist. By the end of her life, most of her Tamil co-workers and friends thought of her as one of their own; yet to the end, Amy Carmichael could also relate to and identify with the western culture of her early years. The goal of the E-3 evangelist, then, is to become 75% the child of the new culture while recognizing that she will always remain 75% the culture of her youth. Amy Carmichael is an excellent example of the 150% person.
E. The Goal of the Cross-Cultural Evangelist
The cross-cultural evangelist must be constantly aware of the need to accommodate the host culture in all areas that do not contradict Scripture. Nonetheless, there can be no compromise when it comes to the Word of God. Scripture is, and always will be, the highest authority for Christians.
When an American woman enters the Muslim world, there are many cultural differences that she must learn to observe, if she is to be effective. For instance, the standards of dress are much more rigid than those found in the States. Even a very modest pair of bermuda shorts would be considered indecent public attire in Pakistan. Fur¬thermore, there is very limited contact between the sexes, and a woman needs to be very careful about her behavior in the presence of men. The easy familiarity so common to Americans would often be greatly misunderstood by an Islamic man.
It is important to recognize differences such as these and accept the standards as set by the host country. In cultural issues, the evange¬list needs to be the one willing to do the compromising.
However, the Christian can never compromise the truth of Scripture. John 17:17 quotes Jesus as praying to the Father and asking that God “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” In 1974, devoted Christians from all six continents met in Lausanne, Switzerland to discuss the great task of evangelizing the world. One outcome of the Lausanne Conference was its statement on Scripture which declared: “We affirm the divine, inspirational, truthfulness, and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written Word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” A follow-up document, The Willowbank Report, brought further clarity to the issue by pointing out that those who accept that Scripture is “without error in all that it affirms” need to fulfill three require¬ments when dealing with God’s Word:
1. The essential meanings of Scripture must be retained.
2. Cultural forms may require changing for communication purposes but even so, a normative quality must be attrib¬uted to them because those forms were the ones chosen by God for purposes of His communication. (For example, in primitive tribes who have never seen paper, the translation may indicate that God wrote on “banana leaves” or “pot-tery” rather than on “scrolls” or “parchment.”)
3. Each fresh formulation and explanation in every genera¬tion and culture must be checked for faithfulness by refer¬ring back to the original.4
III. THE URGENCY OF CROSS-CULTURAL MINISTRY
In 1950, there were 21 non-Christians for every believer in the world. Forty-two years later, Ralph Winter of the U.S. Center for World Missions in Pasadena estimates that the gap has narrowed to 6.8 non-Christians for every believer. This phenomenal growth should be an encouragement and a challenge. These statistics underscore the possibility of reaching the world by the year 2000 (the goal of many mission groups), but success will not be possible unless more committed Christians are willing to forsake their comfortable lifestyle and relocate to the mission field.
To put these statistics into a more understandable form, Winter suggests dividing the world into ten portions. One of the ten would be a Bible-believing Christian. Two of the ten would best be called ‘nominal Christians.” These are people who go through the motions of faith, but have never formed a personal relationship with Christ. The third group represents 1.6 billion non-Christians who live in close proximity to Bible-believing Christians. They can be reached with much less effort than the last group. The last four of the ten are the unevangelized. Winter says that there are approximately 2,000 peoples or nationalities in which there is not yet a vital, indigenous church movement…. There are now about 12,000 such unreached people groups within the 2,000 larger peoples, so that the task is not impossible. Yet at present only 7% of all missionaries are engaged in this kind of outreach, while the remaining 93% are working in the already evange-lized half of the world. If this imbalance is to be redressed, a strategic redeployment of personnel will be necessary.’
The challenge is clear. World evangelization is possible by the year 2000, but it will require each of us to be fully committed to the Great Commission.
IV. HOW TO BEGIN? THE PRINCIPLES INVOLVED
A. The Call Should Come from God
Speaking to the topic of “Evangelism and Missions,” former missionary, Elisabeth Elliot, attempted to answer the basic ques¬tion that plagues so many Christians when they think about mis¬sions: “how do I know if I’m called?” According to Elliot: …a call I believe is first of all, a desire. And then a conviction. And then a commitment…. The shep¬herd is much more interested in getting the sheep where they belong, than the sheep are in getting there themselves… He’s not going to make it impos¬sible for you to find out what He wants you to do, provided He has your heart. Provided you have set your face like a flint to do what He says, no matter what it is, and you don’t ask Him ahead of time to give you a blueprint.6
Melody Green, co-founder of Last Days Ministries, took this challenge in a slightly different direction when she asserted her belief that “God gives us the burden as we go, as we allow Him to stir our hearts.” Recounting the lessons learned on her first trip overseas, she remembered that her concern for missions first became real and then increased as she was exposed to the people and the needs in various parts of the world. In the midst of the trip she recalls feeling the presence of God nudging her to respond to the deprivation she had encountered.
Confronted by the spiritual, emotional, and material poverty of much of the world, Green found her heart wonderfully softtined. “And it wasn’t out of guilt. It was because God had genuinely moved on my heart in compassion and I thought, ‘This would be … really difficult to live in,’ but I could sense the reward in my spirit and God brought me to a place where in each nation that I went I loved the people there. You know, it wasn’t scary.” Like many missionaries, she had discovered that love for people comes when you get to know them.
The command to go has already been issued by Jesus. Our job, then, is to figure out where He can best use our labor. Every Christian has a talent which God can utilize to further His kingdom. Some will be called to foreign fields while others will work nearer to home, but we all need His vision and direction. In his pamphlet, -Who’s Calling?” Robertson McQuilkin, retired president of Colum¬bia Bible College and Seminary, reminds all Christians that the first step in any Christian ministry begins with complete surrender and obedience to the commands of Christ. McQuilkin quotes George Murray, General Director of the Bible Christian Union, who “for years … was ‘willing to go, but planning to stay.’ Not until he became ‘willing to stay, but planning to go’ did God move him out to Italy.”7
Having spent most of his life preparing missionaries for the task, McQuilkin cautions that many on the field today have forgotten that our first task is to make converts and incorporate them into the Body of the Church. Teaching nationals to read, healing sick bodies, or building sanitary wells are noble vocations, but they should never be the primary focus of the missionary. God is calling His people to the mission field, but many have no ears to hear because we are preoccupied with the desires and goals of our own hearts. Our view of God has dwindled so much that we limit Him to what our finite minds can comprehend. Furthermore, we ignore the clear teachings of Scripture and most Christians have only a feeble prayer life. With such neglect, McQuilkin does not find it surprising that many who are called to the mission field fail to hear the summons.
In an attempt to clarify some of the confusion that surrounds the concept of “a call,” McQuilkin explains that some will receive a specific “call” from the Lord which will make it crystal clear that He wishes them to spend their lives on the mission field. For others, the “call” will come through the guidance of Scripture, the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the counsel of more mature Christians, and the circumstances of their lives. In this latter case, the person becomes increasingly convicted and assured of God’s direction as all indica¬tions point to a particular ministry. Although this type of leading lacks the dramatic elements of a heavenly vision or voice, it is nonetheless a call from God to a specific form of ministry.8
B. Recognize the Power and Leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Once again, the supremacy of the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be underestimated. Unless He prepares the heart and mind of our hearer we will labor in vain, much like a farmer who tries to harvest a crop two months before it is ripe. The fruit of a person who tries to spiritually harvest without the guidance of the Holy Spirit is equally underdeveloped and worthless.
C. Test the Soil.
In the parable about the four kinds of soil in Matthew 13, Jesus teaches that not all people will be receptive to becoming His follower. Merely hearing the good news about Jesus does not mean that one is a Christian. Christ instructs those who will sow the seed to look for prepared soil where the crop will yield many times what was initially planted. Practically, that means that we need to look for a person or people group who displays a favorable reaction to our message. If after repeated attempts to share the Gospel mes¬sage there is no interest or response, the evangelist needs to pursue the leading of the Holy Spirit actively and perhaps look in another direction where people show interest in finding the truth about Jesus.
In India, for instance, Christians have found that in general they have much greater success when they work with the poor rather than the rich. Therefore, it makes little sense to spend most of the limited time and resources on the rich at the expense of the poor who are spiritually hungry and eager for the truth. In the States, this might mean caring for children or youth in the city (who desperately need someone to take a genuine interest in them), or to homesick and lonely international students.
D. Seek to Imitate the Incarnate Son of God
The need to imitate Jesus cannot be sufficiently emphasized. When God chose to communicate with His people, He acted in a way that could be readily understood by all of humankind. He became one of us. No human can ever completely understand God and His love for us; but in His Incarnation, Christ gave to the world a tangible demonstration of God’s love. Our human limitations and difficulties were readily embraced by Christ that He might more fully communicate His message to us. Anyone seeking success in cross-cultural ministry must adopt Christ’s selfless attitude and willingly put aside preconceived notions about culture and indi-vidual rights.
E. Consider a Short-Term Assignment on a Mission Field
Many churches and mission-sending agencies have opportunities for short-term involvement. The time period can be as short as a few weeks or as long as two years. The opportunities are endless, especially if you have a specific skill to offer.
Short-term assignments serve to acquaint people with the needs of the world and also enlarge the heart of the missionary. No one can spend time ministering to those in need without being changed. Short-term missionaries usually return home with a new and enthusiastic dedication for the task of world evangelism. Some go on to make a lifelong commitment, but all will find their world view to be greatly expanded.
If you would like to know more about opportunities for short-term missions, consider writing to one or more of the following agencies for information.
Latin America Mission/Spearhead, P.O. Box 52-7900, Mi¬ami, FL 33152; (305) 884-8400. Opportunities for summer or up to two-year internships are available working in Latin America. Applicants must be committed Christians be¬tween the ages of 19 and 30, and they must be willing to work and live with families in the community where they are assigned. Costs range from $695 for a summer to $500 per month for longer assignments.
Operation Mobilization, P.O. Box 2277, Peachtree City, GA 30269; (404) 631-0432. OM has opportunities for work in most areas of the world and primarily attracts young people for its short term (1-2 year) and summer ministries. Appli¬cants must be at least 17 years old and have been a Christian for at least one year. OM does provide training for all who are accepted. Summer teams are primarily involved in evangelism. Long-term applicants need $700 per month living expenses, and summer applicants will need between $1600-2200.
Wycliffe Bible Translators, P.O. Box 2727, Huntington Beach, CA 92647; (714) 969-4600 or 800-388-1928. This well-known agency has opportunities for Christians of all ages on five different continents. The length of service varies from a few weeks to a lifelong commitment. Costs and training vary depending on the assignment.
Youth for Christ, P.O. Box 228822, Denver, CO 80222; (303) 843-9000. Youth For Christ seeks to reach young people around the world with the message of the Gospel. Applicants for a two-week project will receive two days of orientation. Project Serve teams work in local communities doing a variety of tasks. Applicants must be high school age or older and will need between $300-2400 in funding, depending on location and length of service.
Youth With a Mission, P.O. Box 4600, Tyler, TX 75712 (903) 882-5591. YWAM works in over 400 centers located in 120 nations. Both short- and long-term assignments are available. YWAM provides training for all of its programs and offers a variety of opportunities for those interested in missions. Short termers are primarily involved in evange¬lism or mercy ministry, and costs vary depending on the location of the assignment.
The above names and addresses represent only a tiny portion of the agencies and possibilities available to those who are inter¬ested in missions. For additional information and a more complete list of agencies, write for a current copy of The Great Commission Handbook. It is published by:
Berry Publishing Services, Inc.
701 Main Street
Evanston, IL 60202
F. Decide on a Strategy.
The veteran missionary, John Robb, sharing with evangelists from all over the world at the Amsterdam ’86 Conference, under¬scored the need for including strategy into the life of the evangelist. Defining strategy as “a careful plan, more specifically, the art of devising or employing plans to reach a goal,” Robb went on to stress that “good strategy, therefore, is related to long-range planning and foresight.”9
Without strategy, Robb and others fear that we will lose our way and end up working for something other than the salvation of lost souls. It is important, for instance, to teach people to read, but education should never become the ultimate objective for evange¬lists. Furthermore, strategy helps to keep our focus sharp and enables us to avoid many mistakes that might undermine the goals we are striving to achieve.
To illustrate his point, Robb told of a mistake that he and other missionaries made when they were working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After hearing reports of success with the “I Found It” in other cities, the pastors and missionaries adopted the program and invested much time and effort into bringing it to Kuala Lumpur. They enjoyed a moderate response from young people who under¬stood English, but few of these went on to become committed disciples. Far more demoralizing than the lack of lasting fruit, the Muslims in their town (50% of the population) felt personally offended by the campaign’s “culturally insensitive approach.” Upon reflection, the workers involved concluded that had they: …thought strategically and exercised foresight in visualizing the probable impact of the campaign as far as the likely number of disciples that would be made and the adverse reaction by Malay Mus¬lims, we would not have employed this standard prepackaged approach to our unique culturally diverse city. We would have developed long-range evangelistic strategies for each of the distinct social and cultural groups, that took into account their uniqueness as groups.
When we busy ourselves with evangelistic activi¬ties without taking the time to do long-range plan¬ning, we are applying tactics without strategy…. Strategy informs and guides tactics so that each tactical action counts. 10
The failure of the “I Found It” campaign in Kuala Lumpur lay not with the program itself; it had been a great success in other cities. It failed because the leaders had not properly assessed the spiritual needs of the community within the context of its own unique culture. Strategic planning would have given them a clear vision of their future goals for the city and then enabled them to plan wisely for reaching their aims.
1. Make certain that you know your focus.
If God leads you to minister in India, you will need to decide whether you want to make your focus the Hindu or the Muslim people. Both groups desperately need a Christian witness, but the odds are very much against one person ministering successfully to both peoples (because they do not normally get along well).
If you attempt cross-cultural ministry nearer to your home, you will need to make some similar decisions about your focus. Do you want to reach out to internationals, to lonely children in the city, or an immigrant ethnic population (to name just three choices)? Each of these groups has enormous needs that no person can fulfill alone. Scattering your energies among several projects, no matter how important they are, will result in severely reduced effectiveness (and often discouragement) on the part of the worker. On the other hand, choosing one area for ministry will enable you to keep your focus and resources concentrated and applied to your goal.
2. Establish a clearly defined evangelistic goal.
We sometimes laugh at the person with the “one track mind,” but keeping the goal of evangelism ever before our eyes should prevent us from getting sidetracked or distracted to secondary issues. Our goal needs to be clearly defined rather than vague; and it helps to write it out, even if no one else ever reads it. Committing our goal to paper helps us to plan logically and concretely. The goal can be reviewed at a later date and an accurate assessment of progress or failure established.
If, for instance, you decide to get involved with an international student, your goal might read: “Get to know at least three interna¬tional students at Local Community College before the end of September. Establish a more intimate friendship with at least one in order to have the opportunity to share the gospel by Christmas at the latest.”
3. Set specific goals that meet the physical, as well as the spiritual, needs of the person(s).
Even a cursory reading of the Gospels underscores the holistic ministry of Jesus. Without a doubt, He knew that spiritual needs were of primary importance; but even so, He consistently taught, fed, and healed those with physical needs. From the raising of his dead friend, Lazarus, to telling Peter that he would find the money for the Temple tax in the mouth of a fish, Jesus showed an unwavering interest and concern for the physical and material needs of those with whom He came into contact.
Now it is our turn. The Master set the example and the world waits to see if we will care as He did. Often it takes a while to build enough trust into a relationship so that people will see that you live what you teach. If you have spent time, energy, and resources caring for the physical, material, or emotional needs of your new friend(s), you can expect that they will take you far more seriously when you share your concern for the state of their spiritual lives.
Do you live in a cold part of the country and did your new international friend come from a hot climate? If so, your advice about dressing for winter will be invaluable, especially if you know garage sales or thrift shops where a student can get a good buy on a warm coat. If you are working with an immigrant family, consider their needs for tutoring or for someone to drive them to the doctor or other appointments. Do the kids need help with school work? Inner city kids need tutors, coaches, and friends who will make a firm commitment to them. Watch your new friends and look for clues about their culture. Go to the library and check out materials that will help you better understand their homeland or ethnic background.
Again, set some specific goals. In our busy world, it is easy to let good intentions get lost in the maze of daily events. Written goals help us to avoid this pitfall. Let us say you decide to minister to an immigrant family. Sit down with your personal (and family) calen¬dar and write your new friends into your schedule. For instance, a three-month plan might look like this:
• Visit weekly with the mother and the small children at home and establish a friendship.
• Invite the family for dinner at least once during the first month.
• Assess the tutoring needs (if any) of the older children.
• Take the mother and small children on outings that will acquaint them with facilities that can meet their needs—that is, medical centers, food stores offering specialized products, government offices.
• Learn about the religious heritage or background of the family.
• Include the older children in an outing with your older children.
• Try to identify areas where the family has the greatest need for assistance.
• If possible, find a project that can be worked on jointly so that your friend can share a talent or skill with you.
• Continue to deepen the friendship through regular visits.
• When it seems natural, discuss spiritual beliefs with your friend—seek to tell her about Jesus in a context that she can understand (be prepared to do this at any time, but resolve to bring the spiritual element into your relationship by month three at the latest).
• If she seems open, invite her to a women’s Bible study or ask if she would be interested in doing one with you.
G. Communicate clearly.
Communication is of primary importance, whether you are involved locally or overseas. There can be no relationship without communication. We tend to think of communication primarily as verbal, but nonverbal communication sends equally important messages to the one we seek to reach. Both verbal and nonverbal communication are important when one is seeking to represent Jesus, especially in a foreign culture or to one who is unfamiliar with our ways of relating.
1. Nonverbal Communication
Body language, attitudes, behavior, and dress all play a part in our nonverbal communication. In a culture where the sexes do not freely mix, a woman giving a man a hug or even shaking his hand can easily be misinterpreted as a sexual advance. Similarly, many countries have expectations about how a person will dress. The wise evangelist studies these differences and adapts to them.
In the same way, remember that your attitudes toward your family or fellow missionaries will be minutely scrutinized. How you treat a fellow co-worker or family member will often speak far more clearly than your words. Jesus respected all persons. If we want those around us to see how much He cares for them, they need to first experience our care for them. In most cases, our first lesson or sermon will be based on our actions, not our words.
Finally, do you treat all people with the same respect that you accord to those from your own culture? In other words, does your behavior convey to those you are trying to reach that you think bringing the message of the Gospel to them is a privilege that you value? Do those you are trying to reach feel respected and accepted by your words and actions?
2. Verbal Communication
a. Use simple language.
Numerous books and articles have been written about the importance of the spoken word, but most authors and lecturers on the subject will agree on several points. First, it is important that the communicator use clear, simple language that is easily understood by the audience. It is theologically accurate to speak of God as “immanent” or “omnipresent,” but such terms would undoubtedly confuse most illiterate, nomadic peoples who have not had the opportunity to formally study theology. Likewise, a foreign student struggling to learn English will usually find such terms difficult to comprehend. It is far better to speak of God as “wanting to have a relationship with every person” or describe Him as being “every¬where at the same time.” Theological concepts are often difficult for people to grasp. It is vital, then, that we use the clearest words possible to convey the truth as accurately and simply as possible.
b. Listen for feedback.
Even with simple language, it is still crucial to use feedback to discover whether the audience has accurately perceived the truth which the evangelist has presented. More than once a grave misunderstanding has occurred because of such an error.
Okot p’Bitek, an unbeliever, describes missionary efforts to find points of contact with the Luo ofEast Africa. They asked, “who created you?” The Luo did not hear the word “create” the way the missionaries thought it, and decided that the missionaries wanted to know who molded them. That was nonsense, since they had all been given birth by their mothers. They replied, “We don’t know.” Pressed for a better answer, one of the elders remembered that although a person may be born normally, when he is afflicted with tuberculosis of the spine, he loses his normal figure and gets “molded.” So, the old man said, “Rubanga is the one who molds people.” This was name of the evil spirit believed to make the hump on the back of those afflicted with tuberculosis of the spine. The missionaries were satisfied and began preaching that Rubanga was the God who created them.”
Difficulties also arise when a missionary attempts to explain a concept that is not found in the vocabulary of the people. For instance, Elisabeth Elliot speaks of the problem of teaching the Auca Indians about abstract ideas such as “love,” “sin,” “faith,” “redemption,” and “salvation.” The Auca language did not contain words or phrases that could be employed to explain these basic Christian truths. During her two years in their villages, the people would usually respond in a favorable manner to her teaching, but the young missionary wisely recognized that their polite agreement did not necessarily indicate a real understanding of what she attempted to teach. From their responses, she surmised that they were only saying words that they hoped would please her. Given the feedback that she received, it would have been a fatal error to assume that their apparent agreement actually constituted a real understanding of these basic doctrines.”
c. Build bridges.
Most missionaries—either foreign or home—do not consider themselves engineers, but they should. They need to be vitally concerned with building bridges, especially in environments where Christianity is not acceptable culturally. What are the problems that new Christians will face from their families, friends, or community? If becoming a Christian is unacceptable, how and where will the new believers find the support that they need to maintain their commitment to Jesus?
Although it is not always possible to win the support and encour¬agement of every family and community, the cross-cultural evangelist must seek opportunities to demonstrate to the community that she is one to be trusted. By looking for ways to present in love what is being preached, the missionary lays the foundations for sturdy bridges. For instance, if you plan to work with inner city or ethnic youth, get to know their parents as well. Look for ways that you can encourage, help, or otherwise display the love of Christ to them.
d. Pitfalls to avoid.
1) Do not mistake a point of contact for one of agreement General revelation comes from those things that we can see observe, or discover using our natural abilities. The beauty and complexity of the earth usually leads people to conclude that there is a creator who is greater than they are. Even though this assump¬tion points them in the general direction of God, it is not the same as knowing the work of God the Father as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. A person from another culture may agree with you that there is a God, but this is only a point of contact. However, it would be a point of agreement if that same person acknowledged the Triune God.
Sometimes in our great desire to see the souls of others safely harbored in God’s kingdom, we look for points of contact rather than points of agreement. For instance, most people will feel some guilt if they deliberately hurt someone else. However, a guilty conscience does not automatically mean that the person will also recognize herself as a sinful person who needs the atoning death of Jesus. Guilt may be a universal human reaction, but it does not automatically follow that guilty persons recognize their need for redemption in Jesus. Points of contact should only be viewed as ways to begin or as a base on which the evangelist can build.
2) Recognize that some people would rather seek truth than find it. Most people in the world today are willing to seek spiritual knowledge, but they do not necessarily expect or want to find it. In some cultures, the pursuit of spiritual understanding is seen as the great goal for life. They mistakenly believe that truth is elusive and cannot be discovered in any absolute way. Such thinking will not readily accept Christ’s assertion that He “is the way, the truth and the life” [John 14:6]. In such a setting, the temptation will be to engage in endless philosophical arguments. Nonetheless, our goal, to introduce them to the Living Christ free of our cultural trappings, needs to remain central.
The Bible tells us that as early as the Tower of Babel, people were seeking knowledge about God, but Christians know that God seeks relationships with people .13 Christianity differs from the other religions of the world because we understand that in Jesus, God sought to bridge the gap brought by sin that separates us from Him. Because of Christ’s death, we have immediate access to the throne of a loving God. Our goal as cross-cultural ministers is not to introduce people to another philosophical concept of God, but to the person of Jesus.
Now if you haven’t already done so, listen to cassette tape #5B in the series featuring Evangelism and a World Christian View by Melody Green. Also on the tape are excerpts of messages from Marilyn Laszlo and Colleen Townsend Evans.
1 Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and M. K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), pp. 15-16.
2 Ibid., p. 11.
3 Ibid., p. 17.
4 Stephen E. Talitwala, “Cross-Cultural Communication (I)” The Work of An Evangelist, edited by J.D.
Douglas (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1984), p. 455.
5 Ralph D. Winter, “Rejoice” (a mini-poster) published by WCL, Pasadena, CA, 1992.
6 Elisabeth Elliot, talk given at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, April 23, 1991, pp. 7-8 of transcript.
7 Robertson McQuilkin, “Who’s Calling? An Exploration of the Missionary Call,” Columbia Bible College & Seminary, 1984.
9 John Robb, “Evangelistic Strategies for the Evangelist,” The Calling of an Evangelist, edited by J. D.
Douglas (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1987), p. 338. 10
11 Talitwala, “Cross-Cultural Communication (I),” p. 457.
The above article, “Cross-Cultural Evangelism” was written by Sharon Beougher and Mary Dorsett. The article was excerpted from their book, Women & Evangelism.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”