December 9, 2011
Colonizers and Ambassadors
Today I received one of the biggest compliments I think I've heard since our move to the foreign mission field. Don't take this as a horn-toot, because the truth is that we fail more times than I can count. A Paraguayan told me today that the reason he liked to be around us is that we came to Paraguay as ambassadors rather than colonizers. I had to work hard not to cry, and I silently thanked God because, although we'd not phrased it quite like that, that's been our goal all along. As I thought more about it, I hoped it had been our goal as Christians in the US, too.
The funny thing is that I know this man hasn't been reading any of the articles and books and discussions we keep up with, which teach the latest missiology theories. He can't know that there is a whole lot of talk about this same thing in mission circles. About understanding the difference in culture and sin. About recognizing in different circumstances if it's the person we're ministering to that needs to change, or the missionary. About determining what's Bible and what's America. About deciding if what I see as "church" and "Christianity" are the same things as what God sees, as what God looks for.
Lots of folks are talking about this as it applies to short-term mission trips, and how we have to be careful not to do more damage than good. But when we're living among those we minister to, are we careful about how we treat them? Are we seeing them as "those poor Paraguayans, lucky them that I came here to right their wrongs and fix these messes they've made?" Do we automatically see ourselves as superior because "we didn't do it that way in MY country"?
Don't get me wrong--we do recognize that those living without God have something that we can, hopefully, share with them. And it's normal to notice that having government offices computerized rather than running off stacks of folders and boxes of papers is going to make a difference in efficiency. But as AMBASSADORS of CHRIST, we're here to show people how they can follow Him in their culture. If we come to COLONIZE, we think they have to become Americans. This is something we've had to be very purposeful about, because the automatic reaction is to just go with our own worldview, with what we "know" from our life experiences.
And how does this apply to you missionaries living in the United States? Yes, I mean YOU! Well, keep in mind that even though you and Mr. Sinner Neighbor speak the same language and were born within miles of each other, there may still be a big difference in your "culture" and his. Are you limiting God to only reach those folks who seem to fit into your box? When Mr. Neighbor begins to follow Christ, can you come beside him to help him determine what areas of his life warrant change and which are part of God's big plan for his life? Are you able to recognize the specific gifts and talents and personality traits God's gifted him with, and how he can use them for the Kingdom, within his "culture"? Or do you tell him he has to leave the skate park and his friends, start listening to Southern gospel, put on a tie, and be an usher every Sunday morning, because that's the way you do it? Okay, okay, maybe that was a little extreme. I didn't mean to go all Southern gospel on you, but you get the idea! ;)
No matter where we serve, we have to remember that we are ambassadors for the Kingdom, not colonizers for the religious system we're a part of. Let God do the colonizing while we work to represent Him in the best way possible, remembering that He is relevant in every culture, and there's not a person alive that doesn't have a yearning to be reconciled to Him.