Monday, November 29, 2010

Anthropology and Missions

The work of a teacher does not begin and end at the doorsteps of the classroom. Even though I am back in the states I am grading final papers from my recent trip to India.

The subject I teach is cultural anthropology but a better title should be missionary anthropology as every aspect of my teaching is focused on reaching the most unreached in every community. There is a perception, unfortunately, that because my fieldwork was pioneer church planting between two semi-nomadic tribes in Kenya that the course subject can’t be much help to those involved in urban, social or ministry outside of tribal work. One only has to read the research papers of my students to know that is false perception. Here is a sampling of how students integrated anthropology and their ministry activities.

An Anthropological Exploration Of Bangalore’s Rock Music Youth Culture: Avenues of Engagement between Church and Culture. This student working with middle-class kids in Bangalore writes, “…the music of a sub-culture ought to be studied and understood within its own context,” and that the proliferation of rock bands is apart of young persons attempt for “achieved status.” He reminds us that music is both a medium and the message, and to reach this sub-culture their place of meeting should be in a neutral environment, not necessarily the church.

Another paper entitled, Anthropological Research Paper on the Garos of Meghalaya, was written by a young lady who from the south and belongs to a denomination not known for their missionary outreach stated, "When the daunting task of world evangelization dawned on me, the Holy Spirit inspired me to break down the shackles of tradition and reach the unreached. “ Going to this unreached people group in the north she states, “Being a woman I think I have a greater access to the women folk than men. Hence I would like to uplift their social condition, which is not satisfactory at present. As I am a Pharmacist by profession, I can bring awareness among the women about the medical facilities available to them and to follow a healthy lifestyle.”

One student, doing research on an unreached group called the Meiteis of the north, boldly suggests that missionaries working with this people should encourage Hindu Yeshu Bhakta’s (devotees of Jesus), which are Hindu followers of Jesus that stay in their Hindu community practicing their Hindustani culture and giving allegiance to Christ and Him alone.

Space does not allow me to share papers on how these students will use anthropology to reach people with HIV/AIDS, the Sha people deep inside Myanmar (Burma), Muslims in Pakistan and even pygmies in central Africa.

Almost every student has written me stating that this course changed the way they viewed ministry in the past. These MA students are not only future of the church in India, most of them are deeply involved in ministry today. As I tell my students, anthropology cannot and does not replace the work of the Holy Spirit. However, anthropology can and is an important tool in presenting the Good News of Christ and His salvation.