Mission Briefing: ‘Missionary’

By Howard Culbertson

People today use the word “missionary” in at least four ways:

– As a description for all Christians;

– As a label for people doing any kind of ministry anywhere;

– As a specialized category for anyone with cross-cultural ministry experience, whether that be long-term or for only a few days;

— As a title for those specifically called and gifted for long-term cross-cultural ministry.

So, which option is better? And, is there a reason to prefer one option over another?

I favor the last option. To me, that usage fits best with how believers are described in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12. Those three passages compare the Church to a living organism.  Like a flesh-and-blood body, Christ’s Church is composed of many different members, each of whom has an important role to play for the organism.

Noting that a body could not function if it were made up only of eyes or ears, Paul wrote that the Church will likewise be dysfunctional if all believers try to do the same job. In this regard, Paul asked some rhetorical questions: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?”  Paul obviously expected a “no” to those three questions asked in 1 Corinthians 12.

At_SKC_0.jpgTo be sure, the word “missionary” is not found in that passage. One reason is that “missionary” is rooted in Latin, a language that only came to be widely used years and years after New Testament times. Notwithstanding, Paul’s metaphor of a body is very relevant to how we use “missionary.” Beginning with Paul and Barnabas, the Church has recognized that God calls and equips specific people to give their lives crossing geographic, cultural, and language divides in order to foster church-planting movements, people such as Milly and Agnes Ibanda and their family (left), who recently were sent out from the church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to serve in Madagascar. Those go-ers are the people for whom the word “missionary” was coined in the 1600s.

Broadening the meaning of “missionary” from its original usage is done with good intentions. However, I do not sense it has infused lukewarm believers with urgency and a sense of purpose. On the other hand, staying with the original narrow usage of “missionary” does aid the Church by:

– Reminding us of the need to be intentional about taking the church to “where it is not yet” (as opposed to having people to say, “We’re doing all God expects of us if we are ‘missionaries’ in our own neighborhoods”).

– Embracing the image of the church as a body made up of members with different functions, one of which is following a divine call to take the Gospel across cultural, language and geographic boundaries to “where the church is not yet.”

– Recognizing that God doesn’t expect everyone to pack their bags and grab an international flight. Some will be “go-ers.” Others will be their “senders.” That represents the meaning of the word “missionary” as it was originally coined.

Postscript: Reserving the title “missionary” for those doing a specific kind of ministry rather than applying it more broadly does not excuse any believer from being passionately involved through prayer, giving, mobilizing or going in BOTH near-neighbor outreach AND ends-of-the-earth evangelism.

This article was originally published at: Engage Magazine

Mission Briefing: Culture Shock

By Howard Culbertson

People often think the feelings arising in encounters with strange foods or customs constitute “culture shock.” In reality, those brief moments of discomfort are not what anthropologists mean by culture shock.

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Anthropologists and psychologists use “culture shock” to describe the confusion, doubt and nervousness common to people who have recently begun living cross-culturally and who are also experiencing one or more of the following:

  • Exaggerated homesickness
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Loss of sense of humor
  • Avoiding contact with local people by spending hours on email, the Internet and social media
  • Suffering psychosomatic illnesses
  • Frequent feelings of boredom or apathy
  • Inexplicable bouts of weeping
  • Eating compulsively
  • Diminished ability to work effectively
  • High level of irritability
  • Hostility towards people of host culture
  • Jingoism or super patriotism
  • Stereotyping of people of host culture
  • Exaggerated attention to cleanliness

Real culture shock is thus more deep-seated than the momentary discomfort felt when confronting strange things to eat or unfamiliar social norms. What anthropologists call culture shock grows out of a long period of coping with unfamiliar ways of doing, organizing, perceiving and valuing things. Indeed, because people experience culture shock symptoms over a period of time rather than in one isolated event, some anthropologists say “cycle of adjustment” rather than “culture shock.”

Culture shock symptoms appear quite prominent in some people and less so in others. Nonetheless, the cycle of adjustment (or culture shock) –– honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance –– is inevitable.  Though culture shock is not a medical condition, the psychological disorientation, the withdrawal and excessive sleeping can be compared to organisms going into physical shock after a trauma.

Culture shock symptoms may come and go over a period of time. Describing her experiences in Senegal, missionary Linda Louw said, “I thought culture shock was something that you got through and it was done, but it just keeps coming.”

The sense of unease and heightened irritability common in the frustration stage can be triggered by small things. The adjustment stage usually does not kick in until a person has become familiar with and increasingly comfortable in a new culture.

Fortunately, the effects of culture shock can be somewhat mitigated. Here are half a dozen coping suggestions:

  • Realize what is happening to you and why.
  • Remind yourself that this happens to every expatriate to one degree or another and that people do regularly survive it.
  • Refuse to succumb to the desire to withdraw from people. Choose instead to engage with those of your host culture.
  • Get involved in a hobby that involves in some way the place where you serve.
  • Be bold about reaching out to people in your host culture to build a support network of confidants, including enlisting individuals to help in improving your language and cultural acquisition.
  • Consciously cultivate your curiosity about the wildlife, geography, plant life, history, literature, foods, social norms, folk tales, children’s stories, proverbs, legends and fables of the place where you serve.

This article was originally published at: Engage Magazine

 

Mission Briefing: 10/40 Window

By Howard Culbertson

About 30 years ago, missiologist Luis Bush coined the phrase “10/40 Window.” He did that to focus attention on a specific area of the world where millions of people have little or no access to the Gospel.

Bush asked believers to draw an imaginary rectangle on the globe, from 10 degrees north of the equator up to 40 degrees north of the equator, and stretching from western most Africa to just east of Japan. Pointing to that imaginary oblong “window,” Bush pleaded with the Church to mobilize prayer, people and resources to evangelize and disciple people in all of the unreached and least-reached people groups in the northern half of Africa, the Middle East, and the areas once ruled by the ancient Babylonian and Persian empires as well as much of Asia including India and China.

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The statistics from that 10/40 Window can be staggering. Two-thirds of all people on earth live in that rectangular area. Almost all of the world’s 55 least-evangelized countries are in the 10/40 Window. Half of the world’s least-evangelized large cities are in the 10/40 Window. The majority of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs live in the 10/40 Window.

Sadly, the 10/40 Window is also home to 8 out of 10 of the poorest of the earth’s poor.

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Many areas in the 10/40 Window are places that Nazarene Global Mission Director Verne Ward describes as “where the Church is not yet.” With just 10 percent of the current global Christian missionary force deployed there, that situation is not changing very rapidly. Unfortunately, almost 9 out of 10 of the people living in the 10/40 Window today remain outside the reach of current evangelistic efforts.

In several 10/40 Window countries, Christians suffer physical persecution and even death for their faith. Due to anti-Christian hostility and stringent government restrictions, many missionaries in the 10/40 Window have become creative in how they evangelize and disciple people. Many of the countries will not give visas to religious workers.  So they have been labeled Creative Access areas. For these and other reasons, Patrick Johnstone, of Operation World, has called this area the “resistant belt.”

Drawing attention to the evangelistic task yet to be done, the visually dramatic 10/40 Window concept has inspired many to offer themselves for missionary service in some of the world’s most difficult and challenging places.

Clearly, the countries of the 10/40 Window are not the only places that need missionaries. So, this is not a call to remove missionaries from other areas of the world and send them all to the 10/40 Window. The 10/40 Window countries are not the only ones in the world with sinners needing missionaries to cross cultural and language barriers to tell them about God’s redeeming grace. However, the 10/40 Window does contain huge blocs of people who, by any definition, are today unreached and unevangelized.

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We must pray that God will call more and more laborers into the countries in the 10/40 Window harvest field!

This article was originally published at: Engage Magazine

 

Mission Briefing: Contextualization

By Howard Culbertson

When believers from one culture introduce the “unchanging gospel” to people of another culture, how do they keep the Good News from being dismissed as a foreign import? The short answer is one word: Contextualization.

When Christianity moves from one culture to another, there is danger that it will be thought of as belonging in the first culture, but very much out of place in the second one. The chances of that happening can be lessened if the Gospel will be proclaimed and lived out in culturally understandable ways. That process of meaningfully connecting biblical revelation to a specific culture is called “contextualization.”

Missiologist Darrell Whiteman said it this way: “Contextualization attempts to communicate the Gospel in word and deed and to establish the church in ways that make sense to people within their local cultural context.”

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Having the gospel “make sense” to people of a culture does not, of course, mean everyone will rush to embrace it. People must decide if they are willing to make the changes necessary for Jesus to be their Savior and Lord. That does not mean, of course, that people must abandon their ethnic or cultural identify to follow Jesus. Authentic contextualization is based on the premise that when people allow Christ’s transforming power into their lives, they will be even better Nicaraguans or Japanese or Bulgarians or Navajos than they were before.

Contextualization does not mean robbing the Gospel of its essence or “watering it down” to make it more palatable. On the contrary, good contextualization renders expressions of the “unchanging Gospel” more faithful to Scripture than they would otherwise be. Holy-Sprit-led contextualization allows Scripture to be as powerful and transformative in each cultural context as it can possibly be.

Proper contextualization moves gospel proclamation past a sense of foreignness to allow each people group to hear God say: “This is my design for you.” Contextualization allows people of a culture to see that Yahweh, Creator of the universe who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, loves them and wants a relationship with them.

In tangible terms, contextualization involves the wording of theological expressions as well as things like sermon illustrations, music styles, artwork, decision-making, lifestyle choices, church programs and schedules, modes of preaching and teaching, the process of discipleship, evangelistic outreach, leadership selection and even architecture.

It must be clear says missions professor Zane Pratt, that the ultimate purpose of contextualization “is not comfort, but clarity.” Thus, authentic contextualization does not involve the softening or white-washing of Jesus’ radical commands. Indeed, contextualization enables the Gospel to be offensive to each culture for exactly the right reasons. Whiteman has said that good contextualization makes sure that the Gospel “engages people at the level of their deepest needs.”

Authentic contextualization must travel on two rails. One rail is an unwavering faithfulness to Scripture. The other rail is that of communicating and living out the Word of the Lord in ways that are familiar to people in a particular cultural context.

This article was originally posted at: Engage Magazine