Leaving the Parachutes Behind
In a Western world consumed by instant gratification, there is one big question that frequently comes to mind when we tell people our plans for the next 20 years…“Why does it take so long?” The standard process for Ethnos360 missionaries includes 2 years of Biblical training, 2 years of missionary training, and then after finally touching down in country, it could be another 20 years until a church is finally planted. Is all of this necessary?
The goal is to reach an unreached people group, but we aren’t looking to parachute in and preach the Gospel; we want to address change at a worldview level.
ADOPTING A NEW LENS
Whether we know it or not, everyone has a worldview, a lens through which one views the world. These worldview assumptions affect they way we view reality and therefore, how we believe life should be lived. We begin developing our worldview from the day we are born, and it continues into our adult life as they are impacted by family, friends, education, media, religion, and nearly every other socio-cultural institution.
This makes ministry extremely difficult when we begin to analyze the worldviews of people from another culture. For example, many of the animistic people groups of Papua New Guinea believe in the spiritual indwelling of both animate and inanimate objects. They already have preconceived concepts and stories for the origin of man, life, sickness, and death. If we want to communicate the Gospel clearly, we must take the time to study and understand every aspect of their worldview. Proverbs 18:13 strongly warns us on this topic, “If one gives an answer before he hears it is his folly and shame.”
So how do we change one’s worldview? David Hesselgrave, author of Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, argues that stories are the mode in which worldviews are best transmitted from generation to generation and from one people to another.
When we fully understand the culture of an unreached people group, only then can we begin the process of rewriting the stories of their life and teaching the Gospel. 2 Corinthians 3:3 says that we are a “letter from Christ” and that our actions and behavior will tell the story we live.
Donald Miller illustrates this point well, “A story is based on what people think is important, so when we live a story, we are telling people around us what we think is important.”
If we choose not to minister at a worldview level, the dangers are severe, and Paul Hiebert puts it best when he writes, “If the worldview is not transformed, in the long run the gospel is subverted and the result is a syncretistic Christo-paganism, which has the form of Christianity but not its essence. Christianity becomes a new magic and a new, subtler form of idolatry.”
CULTURE AND LANGUAGE ARE INTERWOVEN
If you look up international religion statistics, it will likely say that the country of Papua New Guinea is 100% reached - but these statistics can not be further from the truth. The reason that most organizations categorize PNG in this way is because they have the Bible translated in the national trade language (Tok Pisin). The problem though, is that most people groups in PNG don’t speak the national language, and even if they did, the cultural complexities of each people group vary so much from people to people that they wouldn’t understand what it says. If we are to effectively reach an unreached people group, the heart language and culture must be learned together, because they are so tightly interwoven.
1 Corinthians 14:10–11 furthers this point, ”There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.”
We even get a glimpse of these complexities within the English language, as we have several phrases native to our American culture that don’t make sense to other cultures. For example, if I were to say “Can we rain check for another time” you likely understood what I meant, but someone from Britain may have trouble understanding that expression because the words mean something totally different in their culture. Similarly, if I were to say “horses for courses," a majority of you would not understand the Brittish phrase. Same language, vastly different cultures.
Another reason we must learn the heart language and culture is to safeguard new believers from paternalism. It decentralizes power from the missionary to the people, allowing the tribal people to clearly understand and decide for themselves what they believe while having full access to the truth. The Gospel is not about us white missionaries, but about Jesus and His promise to build His church and redeem mankind.
THE POWER OF DECEPTION
The ramifications of not learning the heart language and culture are eternal. It places the hearer in a vulnerable position to deception and a false understanding of the Scriptures. Deceit is one of Satan’s most effective weapons in blinding people from the true realities of the Gospel.
Dave Percy, an Ethnos360 missionary, sheds light on this subject, "The Scripture calls our adversary a deceiver. His goal is to get as close to the truth as he can. That is his best disguise. He’s not afraid of truth; he studies truth and wants people to walk in truth...as long as it doesn’t lead them to the person of Jesus Christ. Look at the nation of Israel for example - their entire culture and society was built around truth - yet they were deceived and didn't recognize Christ as the Messiah.”
He continues to say, “The power of deceit is how close you come to the truth. For example, you can travel to a different country and often find knock-off American clothing brands for a fraction of the price, and the manufacturers are getting better and better at replicating the real thing. But despite how close they come to truth, it is not the truth. It’s a fake.”
Many cultures and religions around the world are living lives deceived by the work of the adversary. We must analyze culture and worldview together to accurately discern the belief systems of those we hope to reach.
THE ULTIMATE GOAL: MATURITY
The ultimate goal of missions is not to see people saved, but to make disciples. This is clearly seen in Matthew 28:19, but so frequently overlooked. It’s because we live in a culture infatuated by instant gratification, looking for every shortcut around a method that was never intended to be so.
So why 20 years? Throughout this time, we will receive crucial training to learn a tribal culture and language, teach them how to read and write in their own language, walk them through the chronological story of the Bible, and translate the Scriptures.
But the process doesn't end there.
The goal is to disciple the new believers to maturity and leave behind a self-sustaining church. Because if they are truly unreached, where will they see the life of a true disciple lived out? The truth of the Gospel is intended to permeate every aspect of our lives, but for most cultures outside of the western church, the answers aren't so black and white. We need to adopt a new cultural mindset and teach them what it means to live a Gospel-centered life in their context.
Brooks Buser said in a recent sermon, “Look at the model exemplified by Jesus…He didn't come down in a parachute at 30 years old; He became an insider in their culture and lived a normal life for 30 years before beginning His ministry.”
We see these truths also reflected in the Parable of the Sower. The sower casts seed onto the path and rocky ground, but they are snatched up and fail to take root. Without doing the work to prepare the soil, break it up, and nurture it after it starts growing, there is no hope for true, genuine growth.
It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to transform hearts, but it is our job to sow the seed as effectively as we can.