Thursday, March 23, 2017

Christianity and Culture

Experiencing a different culture, different foods, different landscapes, and different people; it has widened the horizons of my world view.  In Mozambique, looking at someone straight in the eye in a conversation can be seen as disrespect.  While growing up, I was taught to look a person in the eye as a sign of giving attention and respect.  When a couple here in Mozambique is having marriage problems, both sides of the family are called to help solve the issue.  Just imagine calling in all your aunts and uncles, and parents to solve your private issues.  By taking a step back, I can look at these cultures and see the many ways Christianity relates to culture.  I’ve learned that there are things that don’t translate cross-culturally.

Sometimes Christianity and culture are intertwined, and at times they clash.  Culture is part of what helps define who we are and the way we do things; the way we relate to people or how we do life. Culture is something good that needs to be protected, to some extent. There is another side to a culture that is protected and yet shouldn’t be from the standpoint of Christianity.  Looking at culture from a Christian perspective helps us sift through what is culturally relevant from a biblical worldview.  

Many things that we call acceptable as culture is merely sin.  Should we allow a sinful practice in the name of culture?  Should we participate in traditions even though its practice may be sinful? Here in Mozambique, it is the long-standing tradition to go to the witch doctor for many different situations.  The witch doctor consults with the ancestors or spirits as to what needs to be done.  To this day, many who profess to be Christians still consult with witch doctors as a way of “helping God out.”  Where do we draw the line of where culture ends and true Christianity begins? 

I’m a strong believer in letting our relationship with God define our culture.  Relationship with God should be the source of one's life choices and practices.  Unfortunately, progressive culture and long-standing traditions have many times limited or hindered churches and people from experiencing a deeper walk with God.  How much secular culture has infiltrated into churches to the point of dilution of the Gospel?  We battle this every day here in Mozambique, but it impacts the Church globally.

So many secular traditions have now become acceptable in church.  Nowadays we may not even recognize them as secular because the church has lost its sensitivity to what’s sinful in the culture and what’s culture.  I once heard a story of a Christian couple that visited the U.S. from Cuba.  They were shocked, dumbfounded to see Christians celebrating Halloween.  In Brasil, Halloween is translated as the Day of the Witch.  Cultural sin may be re-worded or made into a fun dress-up day for the kids, but it doesn’t make it right.  Look at the impact it is having on our brothers and sisters from different cultures.

The Apostle Paul said he became all things to all people so that he could by every possible means save some (1 Corinthians 9:22).  Sometimes this verse is used as an excuse to waiver in Christian ethics.  Paul was just stating that he adapted to every culture to reach that culture.  When with the Jews, he practiced Jewish culture but never the sin in the culture. Jesus was always condemned by the religious leaders for reaching out to sinners.  Jesus did so to rescue them and save them.  He never condoned or practiced their sinfulness.  

We are called to be salt and light in this world.  Are we standing on the truth of the Gospel and proclaim it without shame.  Or, are we dimming our light so that we can attract darkness to the light and be relevant to the culture?  Culture can become the proverbial pot of boiling water cooking us if we are not aware.  Let’s be salt and light.  Let’s stand up and stand out.  Christians around the world are doing so, and it costs them everything.  If we can’t do it now, what will we do when our culture presents real consequences? More people will be reached by Christians being brighter lights than dimming it to make Christianity “reachable.”

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Thoughts from a missionary

I've been involved in international missions for most of my life.  My parents are missionaries.  I grew up on the mission field, and now I’ve been a missionary in Mozambique for the past ten years.  I've seen missionaries come and go.  Over and over.

A missionary is one who is sent.  You may be familiar with the terminology, but the the longer I do missions, the more I've thought about a deeper meaning of a calling.  What is my part in the work that God is doing here?  What should my focus be?  What is my true purpose in being sent?  Many have stepped into the role of missionary.  Many have succeeded, and yet many have failed.  There are many logical justifications to become a missionary, but only one true reason will pull you through: God sent you.  

In the beginning, the mission field is a bed of roses, and we dance and lay in it like in a dream world.  The new environment is great.  The new mission is awesome. You're fired up, pumped up, and ready to conquer the world.  However, then the bed of roses begins to disappear.  The newness begins to dwindle and fade like a rose after it is cut. There is a point in a missionary's life where he hits a brick wall.  All romance is gone.  All excitement has waned, and life becomes a drag.  The questions become vivid and poignant, "What am I doing here?" "Why did I agree to this?" "What was I thinking?" Doubt and regret become frequent visitors.  Maybe I should title this post, “My Confessions” -- but I think these questions all haunt a missionary at one point or another. 

The only thing that will make the mission successful is if one can answer the question: Did God send me?  If He sent you, you will be able to endure to the end.  If He sent you, you will be able to conquer all the emotions that would otherwise destroy you.  When you peel away all the superficial reasons you're on the mission field, the core should be God and His mandate for you to go.  All other reasons will not sustain you to the end.
I get asked to give advice to new missionaries.  (Sometimes I just give it without being asked.)  I believe there are three things that will bring success to a missionary and his mandate.  The first one I've already mentioned above, He has called you.  If God didn't send you, you're actually in disobedience because how can you say you are being sent if He didn't actually send you.  Sure, churches send people, missionary organizations send people, and a lot of people obey that because they are trusting their leadership is being led by God.  I've been sent here by our home church, but before I accepted their request to move across the Atlantic, I sought God and heard from Him.  Not all open doors are God's.  One’s calling is the foundation for this endeavor.

The second thing I tell new missionaries is: endure.  It's going to be tough; there's going to be blood, sweat, and tears; but don't give up.  Keep going and don't let the hardships nor temptations distract you from your call.  If God called you to it, He will see you through it.  It is at this point that one’s calling is truly tested, and this life is not for the faint of heart.  Persevere to the end.  

The third thing I tell people is leave when God tells you.  I get asked quite often about how long we will be here.  I give the same answer I've said since the beginning, "When God tells me to leave, I'll leave."  The conviction that I need when being sent, is the same as when I need to leave.  We can fall prey to the normalcy of the mission field and get used to life as it happens, slowly becoming inefficient and no longer a missionary but an extended stay visitor.  I always go back to the story of Israel in the wilderness.  When God (in the form of a cloud) moved, the people moved.  When He stopped, they stopped.  When God moves, go.  When God calls you back, do it.  Hear His voice, and be obedient and faithful in what He has asked. 

Being a missionary is an awesome privilege and an honor.  It's adventurous and exciting.  The harvest is great but the laborers are few. The most successful missionaries are those that are always hearing God's voice in everything they do.