intro to missionary predicaments

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.



Filed under missionary predicaments

11 responses to “intro to missionary predicaments

  1. Zee

    looking forward to the “missionary predicaments” posts. as a kid who grew up around missionaries (there’s quite a lot of ’em in Ukraine), this should be interesting.

  2. Pingback: missionary predicament: bible supply « aliens and strangers

  3. Steve Ker

    Brett, your predicament is really not too different from the ones we Christians living in North America face every day. Everything we see and hear says to save for our future, and amass healthy retirement accounts so we don’t spend our retirement in poverty, fill our cupboards with food and clothes and every gadget that comes along, because we deserve it.
    But we see and hear of needs every day in our communities and through E-mail of needs around the world that we should attempt to supply resources for.
    I for one try to meet some of those needs while still keeping some for my self. I do not really feel that I have ever sacrificed to give. Not even sure if God requires me to sacrifice, or if it is just the marketing of organized religion that tries to make me feel guilty if I am not sacrificing. Have you ever had those feelings, and have you resolved them?

  4. steve, i agree that our predicament is not too far from that of those in north america. but it does become stressful when:

    – my upbringing says to save and hoard and take care of my future.
    – my faith says to store treasures in heaven and help others.
    – and my new culture says basically that all money gained is to be spent immediately. and if you can’t spend it yourself, you should give it to someone close to you who needs it, or at least is able to spend it. and immediate needs always take priority, regardless of any other factor.

    the first two are hard enough to wade through. but now i have a third group of people looking in at me seeing any saving i do as arrogant and selfish, and seeing use of my excess on anything that is not an immediate need as foolish.

  5. as for helping others while keeping some for myself, i have no problem with that. i do believe God expects me to sacrifice, but not necessarily in the way we usually assume. i’ll try to explain, though it’s jumbled in my mind:

    i think we’re required to die. that is our sacrifice. a death to my old self. it may mean death to how i would have spent my money in a given situation — but more a death to the person i once was.

    i think too often we try to make sacrifices along our life journey, believing this will lead us to a life of sacrifice. it doesn’t. because sacrifice involves a different journey altogether. a new one. not giving while on the same one.

    so i think i can die to self, and still be blessed by God to have heaps of money. if i have sacrificed self, and continue to daily, then my new journey will simply include cash — and it may very well be enough to help others, send my kids to college, and still have a bunch left over. but it’s the journey that i’m on that’s important. not the individual gifts of cash to poor people.

    at least, i think.

  6. Elle

    My daughter, who served for 3 months in Haiti and is planning to do world missions, is reading a book called “Giving Wisely” by Jonathan Martin. She mentions how it has to do with giving in a way that keeps on giving. You alluded to this in one of your posts (
    Anyway, maybe you would find this book helpful.

  7. Pingback: missionary predicament: hospitality and rest « aliens and strangers

  8. Pingback: hospitality and rest: answers to a missionary predicament « aliens and strangers

  9. Pingback: missionary predicament: purchasing musical instruments « aliens and strangers

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