Saturday, June 27, 2009

Using Critical Tension for Outreach

This past week I have been reading term papers from students of my doctoral class in Bangalore. I always enjoy reading these papers as it gives me insight on culture and, of course, allows me the opportunity to learn about the different ministries my students are involved with.

Many of the project papers are well researched as I push students to study their people groups in the context of their history, family, socio-economics, networks and religion. A typical paper gives me a lot of “what people are like,” but many times does not tell me “why they do what they do.” Rare is the paper that actually creates a new strategy on how to reach people with the Gospel beyond, what I call, standard program methods (programs that are meant to attract people through film, picnics, seminars, etc.). The church seems to be stuck in the attractional model of ministry rather than using the findings of their research to creatively looking for ways to meet the needs of the people they are working with.

In their research students also do a good job in identifying critical tensions within culture, i.e., alcoholism, poverty, depression, loneliness, materialism, interpersonal problems or family tension with husband/wife, children/parents. However, rather than working with these critical tensions that student/church/church worker can use as a means to develop relationships, they usually ignore them completely and revert back to standard ministry programs.

Many years ago I met a guy in Cleveland who has a campus ministry at a local university. Unlike the big organizational campus ministries, his is kind of a “mom-and-pop” ministry that he and his wife started where they actually interact on a personal level with foreign students, primarily, though not exclusively, with Chinese students studying in the U.S. What Tom has done is not just identifying the critical tension of people who live in a strange land, but seeks ways to befriend those who are lonely, displaced and need a helping hand. Yes, they do have standard method programs like pizza parties and movie nights, but these programs are a part of the relationship building process, not their main outreach. Tom and his wife live in Chinatown, they know the culture, the on-going struggles of family tensions, the feelings of isolation and the barriers of language. Through personal involvement, their ministry deals with critical tension as a bridge to build relationships and, ultimately, sharing the love of Christ.

The key to any effective ministry is not just knowing ABOUT people, but how to apply that knowledge to meet their needs. Christ is often revealed through critical tension. We are not called to solve the tensions but allowing those tensions to reveal the One who has answers to all the questions of humanity.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

South of Dafur

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hierarchy of Trust

Last week one of the regular readers of this blog asked me about working with, in her words, a trustless culture. She went on to describe how that people in which she works does not trust anyone. From a Christian perspective, she argued, it is very difficult to work with such a culture as one of the foundations of Christianity is trust and she wanted to know, from an anthropological point of view, how to deal with a non-trust society.

My first thought is a class of deaf missionaries I worked with several years ago. In learning about their culture I was introduced to a “hierarchy of trust.” Without going into detail, their levels of trust is (1) other people born deaf, (2) CODA’s – children of deaf adults, (3) hearing who learned sign language and (4) hearing. Likewise, in the culture where she works there is a hierarchy of trust; starting with the family, then extended family, caste, others. All cultures have a hierarchy of trust, it’s just manifested in different forms. The key to building trust is to understand the trust structure.

My second thought is from Marvin Mayers (Christianity Confronts Culture) who was the dean of missions when I was at Biola University. He had an axiom he called the PQT, which stands for Prior Question of Trust. The PQT states, “Is what I am saying or doing BUILDING or UNDERMING trust?” Great question and one I tell my students often. Learn the questions of culture and one that is vital is the PQT.

My last thought is that trust and reciprocity are very similar. When dealing with economics and culture I use the levels of reciprocity: general reciprocity, equal and negative reciprocity, as an example of how people interact through exchange. General is favor or money returned about the same level, but not calculated. Some societies see favor as a means of exact exchange and calculate every favor, loan or act of service precisely. Negative reciprocity is trying to get something for nothing, which many of my African friends practice. Perhaps this would be true in the hierarchy of trust as well?

Sherwood Lingenfelter, in his new book, LEADING Cross-Culturally: Covenant Relationship for Effective Christian Leadership, he reminds us who are in charge of leadership training that trust is the cornerstone of building trust, not the agenda.

“Instead of giving first priority to attaining vision, meeting goals, and productivity, they must rather give highest priority to the formation of a community of trust and then to doing the hard ‘body work” of creating both community and trust.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Keys to Communication - Lessons from James Carter

“Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?” LAPD James Carter yells at Inspector Lee in the movie Rush Hour. Of course Lee (Jackie Chan) understood Carter (Chris Tucker), but he played coy that he didn’t understand English, as he was amused with Carter’s antics. “Why is this guy screaming at me” he must have wondered? “I’m not deaf.”

James Carter, like so many people, are clueless as to how to communicate effectively and especially when communicating cross-culturally. Some people think if they raise the volume of their voice somehow people will understand!

“Oh, now, I get,” they listener is expected to reply, “Thanks for yelling at me, things are so much clearer now!”

Communication are not mere words, they are symbols of meaning. But it helps to know the right words within context. In Swahili, “nyanya” can refer to either grandmother or tomato. If you said to someone their “nyanya” looks plump and delicious, you’d better be looking at their garden!

Speaking of tomatoes, a friend of mine on Facebook asked how our garden was doing (my wife planted 46 tomato plants) and if we had tomatoes coming out the “wazoo.” A student in India asked me the meaning of “wazoo.” I had to transliterate its meaning rather than give the literal translation.

Want to communicate cross-culturally? Make sure you know the meaning of both your words as well as the words of others.

Monday, June 08, 2009

When The World Moves In Next Door

Last Sunday I taught the first of a four-part series on cross-cultural missions at the Temple Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas. I am particularly pleased with this opportunity as, for once, I will be able to speak and explain missions in a broader framework than what is the norm. Most of the time when I am asked to speak in churches it’s usually just for a Sunday morning, a half-hour talk, perhaps one hour if I am speaking to the early morning Bible class. In that limited space of time there is not much one can do in terms of information and the best I can do is to introduce who I am, where I work and a cursory description of what I do. Most of the time people expect inspiration from the missionary speaker, not education. However, with a fifty-minute class for four consecutive Sundays at least people will have a better understanding of the dynamics of cross-cultural communication and how cultural anthropology can be a tool for ministry.

The key to my teaching, and indeed all-good teaching, is relevance for the audience. Springdale is a city of less than 70,000 people. Thirty years ago it was a farming community made up of White Anglo Saxons. Today the Hispanic population is over 20% (locals are convinced they are much more), a large immigrant population from the Marshall Islands as well as people from India, Thailand and other parts of the world. For some locals they see the change in their little town as a threat to their way of life. Understandable. For many more, they accept the reality of change but wonder what they, individually as well as a corporate body of believers, should do about this shift toward ethnic diversity. My illustrations on working with the tribal people of Kenya or pastors in Ukraine aren’t worth the effort for them to sit and listen to a missionary four straight Sundays. However, if I can help them connect the dots on how they can develop friendships with “foreigners” (a term I loathe but referred to when every time I leave the U.S.) and how they can be a bridge in communicating the Gospel through these friendships, it will be time well spent. If I can help some just get over the animosity they feel for those who are now a part of their community I will feel I’ve made a huge contribution in my service to the church.

My only regret is that this format of information is not used more in local churches - not just for the American church, but for every congregation throughout God’s created globe.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Casting The Vision For Ukraine Missions

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