Missionaries, like everyone else, have situations in which it’s difficult for them to determine what they should do: a predicament, if you will. There may exist two good options — or two bad options — or an infinitely entangled and complicated array of options. I would suggest that, for the Christian, these predicaments often present themselves as a result of the clash between the culture in which one lives and the culture of the kingdom of God.
For instance, American culture says to amass wealth and save lots of money for your future; Christian culture says (or should say) not to amass wealth, to store treasures in heaven instead of on earth, and to use what resources you have to help those who are less fortunate. This brings conflict:
“Do I tear down my barn and build bigger ones by putting money into Roth IRAs, bank accounts, and mutual funds? Or do I give away a great portion of that money in order to help those who don’t have enough to eat or are dying of diseases because they lack money for medicine? But doesn’t God expect me to use my intellect in such a way that I’m good steward of his blessings and can give my children a decent college education? What do I do?”
I don’t mean to belittle the predicaments of Americans living in the U.S., but for my purposes, I’ll suggest these situations, while extremely challenging, are slightly less complicated than are those predicaments which arise while on the mission field. (I am oversimplifying for clarity’s sake, but…) Missionaries grew up in one culture, are attempting to fully adopt a second culture, while all the while living in a third culture. Take me, for instance. I grew up in Alabama, accepting without realizing it a particular culture and worldview. [I know… some of you are saying, “What?! But Alabama has no culture.” Bear with me, and pretend that we do. Or just imagine that I had said I grew up in Virginia.] When I became a Christian, I became a citizen of another kingdom, and that kingdom has it’s own worldview and culture, outside of any other. And I have since been witness to many an altercation between the two cultures.
Now, let me be clear. I believe my old man was put to death, and a new man was born in Christ when I entered into the kingdom of God. But it was sin that was put to death. My new man still must exist in both cultures, though he is charting a new course in his orginal culture — seeking to live kingdom life in American culture; dead to sin, but his new life displayed on Alabama soil. Many would argue we should live in the culture of kingdom, and in no other. But that’s impossible, for (right now) kingdom life must be lived out in an earthly context. The kingdom is here, but not yet in its fullness. Only after earthly death, and in our glorified state, will we experience a single culture and worldview — that culture and worldview which God has intended for us all along. Think of Jesus, who exhibited a kingdom life while wearing Jewish clothes.
So we’ve got this Alabama boy who loves God — and he’s arguing with himself about how to navigate American culture as a disciple of Christ. But then… wait for it… he moves to Tanzania, where there is a third worldview thrown in the mix. Now, he has grown up thinking one way, is currently having his mind transformed by the Spirit to be like Christ, but is being forced to live that out among a people from a third, and completely different, culture. Conflict. Contradiction. Confusion.
Today I’m starting a new post theme on my blog: Missionary Predicaments. Occasionally I will attempt to explain some recent (or ongoing) dilemma that stems from this clash of cultures. And I’ll ask you guys what you think the proper Christian response would be. Then I’ll do whatever you say. Well… maybe not. But I figure I’ll at least get some interesting advice, and be forced to think through some possibilities that haven’t yet occurred to me. And you, in exchange, will gain:
- a better understanding of the plight of the missionary.
- a chance to make fun of me for over-analyzing things and making them more complicated than they should be.
- ever-useful training for the mission field to which God may call you.
- the occasion to boss me around make a valuable contribution to a missionary in Tanzania.
- an introduction to other cultures.
- an interesting way to waste time during commercials in between portions of Lost.
- the opportunity to examine your own attempts at living Christ into a particular culture.
- entry into a drawing for a cash prize — 1000 Tanzania shillings!
The first “missionary predicament” should be coming soon.