Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Cultural Identity

To follow up on the last post, how followers of Christ from another religious background is important.  The extraction model proposes that converts walk away from their cultural identity to a new identity.  I understand the Apostle Paul did indeed say that, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Cor. 5:17). However that in an inward transformation, not a doing away with culture.  Paul was always a Jew and he identified as a Jew.

I recently read a rather dated article (2013) about this issue of identity.  Below you will see a survey of Muslim believers from East Africa and how they navigate their faith (click on image to enlarge).

No matter the context we work in, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Catholic environments, this survey helps us think about how we can help new believers find their identity in Christ without losing their cultural identity.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


In my last post I stated, “Identifying oneself as a Christian is not necessarily wrong, in the right context.”  Some people have asked me to clarify right context, so here it is. 

Almost any place in America (pay attention to almost) I would freely and happily use the term Christian.  Even an American pagan would understand the word Christian and not see it as a loaded political issue.  However, if I were working with Muslims in Detroit the term “follower of Isa” may very well be a preferred term.  To the ayatollah in Iran, to the ISIS fighter in Syria, to the Muslim in the boroughs of New York the word Christian does not conjure up the face of Jesus by the Sea of Galilee but American interventionism. 

To the average Westerner, Islam is not the religion of fasting, praying five times a day or taking the Hajj (what’s that?), but religious outsiders encroaching on the values and lifestyle they cherish.   

To a Hindu a Christian is that Western religion brought over by the colonialists.  However, to the every-day secular, post-Christian or to the average nominal believer, the label Christian is very appropriate. 

To those rattled by me making a case for not using the word Christian to describe myself, two points.  (1) Christian is used only three times in the scriptures whereas the term the Way is used five times (referring back to Christ description of Himself – Jn 14:6). (2) In many situations people qualify their term by adding on that they are “evangelical Christians,” Bible-believing Christians,” “Spirit-Filled Christians,” “Born-Again Christians,” and a hundred other qualifiers. 

The three maxims of real estate are location, location, and location.  The three maxims of communicating the Gospel are context, context, and context.  In my class I make it very clear, it is the context that gives meaning, not the word.  Even God's word has no affect if not put into context.  Know your context and you won’t have a problem identifying yourself in Christ.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

I am Not A Christian

Identity in Christ is important.  But does one have to call themselves a Christian to be in Christ?

In a 2013 article in the International Society for Frontier Missiology the issue of identity was presented. Can one be a Hindu/Christian, a Muslim/Christian?

Awal, a Middle Eastern man made this statement,

A while ago my daughter asked me, “Dad, what am I really?  Am I a Muslim or a Christian?”  I said, “You’re a Muslim that follows Christ.  Our Muslim identity is written on our identity cards, it’s our extended family our heritage, our people—but we follow Christ.“

We are not Christians.  We are Muslims.  I no longer care what Christians think.  I care what Muslims think.  However, even if our president asked me, “What is Christ to you?  I would tell him my faith.  I will not compromise Christ—ever, but I am not a Christian.

The ending “-ian” means “belonging to the party of”; thus “Christians” were those of Jesus’ party.  For over two thousand years people of faith have referred to themselves as belonging to the party of Jesus.  Agrippa asked Paul if he was trying to convert him to the Jesus party (Ac. 26:28)?  Identifying oneself as a Christian is not necessarily wrong, in the right context.  In fact, being a Christian has served the cause of Christ well in many parts of the world.  But in the wrong context being a Christian is an obstacle.

In discussing religion with my Hindu landlord years ago he said, “You were born a Christian, I was born a Hindu.”  I quickly corrected him and replied, “I was not born a Christian.  I became a follower of Christ.” 

In another situation I was walking in a Muslim district in New Delhi.  A man who couldn’t figure out why I was in that area (actually I was there to get a haircut) asked me straight up, “Are you Muslim.”  My answer both was both unsatisfactory and confusing when I replied, “I am a follower of Isa.”

To those of us who serve are followers of Christ, whether it be to the Muslim in Detroit or Dakar, to the Hindu in Nepal Kansas City or Kathmandu, recognize that the words we use can be a bridge or an obstacle for those we talk to.  Indeed, in some context’s it’s okay to say, I am not a Christian.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Online Missionary Training Enrollment

Classes will begin in January for a ten week course on Missionary Anthropology.  Students enrolled in this class presently are from the Burkina Faso, Spain, Russia as well as missionaries in the U.S. preparing to go to Japan and doing cross-cultural ministry here in the states.

To learn more, click here.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Just In Time Learning


Why Pre-Field Training?

It’s a hard sell.  Missionaries are trying to get to the field.  They’ve been approved by their denomination or sending agency, they’re raising support and to stop in the middle to attend a three-day, one or two week training session seems to be a waste of time and money.  But is it?

The Long Road Less Travelled

What is the process for getting to the mission field for a career missionary?  Consider the chart below, an arbitrary time scale to be sure, but a guide nevertheless.

1.     Discovery could be an introduction to missionaries in Sunday School to a mission conference where one is introduced to everything from Hudson Taylor to orphanages in Haiti.

2.     Interest is the dipping the toe into the water by attending an Urbana conference, a short-term mission trip or taking a Perspectives course.

3.     Commitment is answering “the call.”  It’s that defining moment when one says, “Here am I Lord, send me.”  But how do I get there?

4.     Preparation may include going to seminary, an internship in a local church as well as filling out application to a missionary sending agency.  This period time could easily be five years or more.

5.     If one perseveres to the point they are approved to be a missionary, they begin the funding process, which is between six months (rare) to three years (sadly, not unusual).

How prepared is a missionary really for cross-cultural service? Their cultural anthropology class was six years ago and they have no clue why the study of kinship has anything to do with being a witness to a Hindu.  True, they did spend two weeks in the Dominican Republic participating in vacation Bible school, but did they learn what it takes to set up residence in Serbia?  They may feel called to serve in the Philippines, but exactly what is the need in that country, which has had the Gospel four times longer than they have been alive?


Just in time (JIT) training is that period of time, about six months to one year before being fielded, which can make all the difference in the life of a missionary family.

First, it sharpens their focus.  If a missionary is 50% into fund raising , JIT will actually help the missionary raise the most difficult period of support raising because their focus will be on what they are going to do and who they will be working with.  A clear focus not only motivates the missionary, but also those who listen to their plea for support.  Hazy goals will produce hazy results.  Clear goals will produce realistic and attainable results.

Second, JIT means that when a missionary does get on the field six months later they will have a head start on what needs to be done and the process on how to achieve their goals.  The missionary will actually understand that contextualization isn’t just a word they learned ten years ago in an obscure classroom, but a reality in the context they now find themselves.

The reality is, many missionaries are woefully ill equipped before launching out in cross-cultural work.  Just-in-time training is not only practical, it could very well be the defining moment in the life of that missionary.

To learn more about JIT in KC August 23 - 25 go to this link.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Friday, December 18, 2015

Cultures of Shame

Of the three characteristics of culture, guilt, fear and shame, the latter fascinates me the most.  Shame cultures are most dominant in many of the places I work in  Asia and some parts of Africa. 

I just finished reading Shame, by  Jasvinder Sanghera, her story, who at the age of 15 rebelled against her parents who had arranged her marriage to an older man who she had never met.  Running away with a low caste boy, she was ostracized the rest of her life because she had brought shame to her Sikh family living in England.  Jasvinder’s story gives insight on how shame cultures control the lives of the community, be they Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist.  Jasvinder’s story brings to light shame based violence that is still quite prevalent in many parts of the world.

The author’s story is brutally honest and in my culture, where vulnerability is seen as weakness, I was intrigued with her openness, not only about the Sikh community but also her own personal failings.  The sub-plot is a person who was looking for love in all the wrong places. 

As a westerner working in shame cultures I learned a long time ago that the primary reason people do not listen to the message of Christ, much less embrace the Gospel, is not because they reject merits of Jesus, but because they are forbidden to as a community to entertain any notion of faith beyond their own.  To become a Christian would be as shameful as to marry someone of a different caste.  Jasvinder’s six sisters dutifully accepted the arranged marriages of their “mum,” even though it was not their choice.  They accepted the abuse of their husbands and husband’s family so that they would not bring shame on the family or community.  To become a follower of Christ would bring about the exact results. 

A strength overused can become a weakness.  The strength of collective society like the Sikhs has many advantages over individualistic societies, like America, where the breakdown of community and family has led to their own path of looking for love in all the wrong places.  The weakness of collective societies is they become isolated and closed.  To anyone working among shame cultures I recommend this book.  Not only will it give insights of the community they may serve, it will help in knowing the struggles they face in many areas of their life. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Training Nationals

I have been asked to give lessons on how to teach/train cross-cultural workers in Bulgaria next year.  The classes will be to North Americans serving in Eastern Europe as well as national leaders.  Here are just ten tips in training cross-culturally.

1. It’s All New – Most nationals (and many N. Americans) have never been introduced to cross-cultural concepts.  Don’t overwhelm the student.  Keep it simple.  Define your terms.

2. Time is Relative -  In some cultures time is a suggested concept.  Don’t become unhinged if class doesn’t begin on time.  If the class is habitually late, inform the students that the sessions will overrun to make up for time lost.

3. Holistic Versus Linear – People get lost with,

Section I
   Heading A
        Subheading (a)
            For analytical thinkers, it might seem to make the lessons flow.  But for holistic thinkers if the subject doesn’t have meaning they get confused on how the segmented parts fit.

4. Make Applications Relevant -  Contextualization is a word, a concept.  Applying the concept within the context is key.  Example:  Functionalism is theory on how cultures work.  Bride price is an economic function for the father of the daughter.  Dowry is an economic function of for the father of the son.

5. Interaction is Slow -  Many students in other countries are to be seen, not heard.  Don’t expect many questions or comments in the class sessions until you have been with them at least two weeks.

6. Don’t Give Essay Exams -  In many parts of the world students learn through rote memory.  If you give essay questions you are likely to get three pages of quotes from the notes, which may or may not be close to the answer.  I prefer to give multiple choice, true/false and fill in the blank questions.

7. Quizzes -  The student may say she understands the class subject, but does she really?  Give a ten question quiz after one week to make sure the students really do understand the class.

8. Post-Class – Another way to make sure students understand the class and concepts, give half-hour for group discussion on the lesson.  Those students who understand the class will help those who miss some of the concepts.

9. Kinesics -  Learn the rules of culture  as it relates to eye contact (in some places the answer is, you don’t do it), standing (no hands in the pocket) and hand gestures.  A respectful greeting in Korea is an obscene gesture in Russia.

10. Titles – Don’t refer to yourself as Bob or Mary.  It’s either Mr./Mrs., professor, teacher or doctor.  At the same time don’t be obnoxious about your title.

Do you have other suggestions?  Let me know.

Friday, December 04, 2015

The Letters

My wife drug me out of the house today to do some shopping…which is as enjoyable as my mom making me eat a plate of lima beans when I was a kid.  Trying to salvage the day, I trolled what was playing at the local cinemas.   I was actually looking for Hindi movie; always fun and they have subtitles!  Nothing looked that great but one movie that came out today caught my eye – THE LETTERS.

Anyone who is remotely familiar with the life of Mother Teresa cannot help but be impressed.  A nun from Albania, she worked in India for 50 years, serving the poorest of the poor and the dying in the slums of Calcutta. 

Her letters to her bishop revealed that her life, while rewarding, was also one of loneliness and feelings of abandonment.  The loneliness that comes with a missionary leaving ones homeland, possibilities of marriage and family and spending countless hours in solitary prayer; the feeling of abandonment from God at her lowest moments.   Ironically, she felt that these two burdens of her soul were also that which motivated her to serve others.  “The greatest suffering is to fill alone, unwanted, unloved.”

The movie is a bit slow and I didn’t find the acting particularly good, though Juliet Stevenson portrayed Mother Teresa well.  Perhaps because of my association with India for over twenty years and having visited the grave of Mother Teresa, my attention remained just by the sheer familiarity of what was on the screen.  If I had directed the film I would have included clips from her life, her death (she died the same day as Princess Diana) and State Funeral (unheard of except for heads of state).  

What I gleaned from THE LETTERS, was a woman who lived by faith, prayer and selflessness.  In one scene, Mother Teresa refuses to move on a decision until God reveals His will and she would pray until the answer came.  Coincidently, it was the same thing I read about this morning in J. Hudson Taylor’s, A Retrospect: The Story Behind My Zeal for Missions.

The life of Mother Teresa has many critics, and for some her theology is enough to keep them from watching this film.  For me, I am captivated by anyone’s dedication to Christ and the discipline they are willing to embrace to serve Him.  Especially in the day we live in, i.e. the feelings of entitlement as well as the refusal of inconvenience (Suffering? Forget about it!).  I am guessing that I came out of the theater more enriched spiritually that if I plumped down eight bucks to watch Creed or Love the Coopers.  I’d give THE LETTERS 2 1/2 stars as a movie,  3 1/2 stars for my soul.