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Examples of Christian Charities Working in Africa

March 27th, 2012

It goes without saying: Africa is a large and diverse continent. It is also a poor continent and faces a whole range of struggles, from political issues to health problems, poverty, famine and natural disasters. Tackling these sorts of issues is always challenging, but Christian charities have been dedicatedly working in Africa for many decades.

There is a long history of Christian charities working in specific African countries on many different issues. If we tried to list them all, we’d probably never finish. However, looking at a few examples can give us a better idea of the range of work that goes on and the kinds of organisations that get involved.


Tearfund is a Christian charity that was set up in the 1960s following the famine in Biafra. This was a tense time in the region; the civil war in Nigeria was what led to the famine and it was so severe, this organisation was born. Since then, the group has worked in lots of different African countries to help difficult situations such as famines and droughts, as well as supporting development. These countries have included Somalia, Ethiopia and Rwanda.
Christian AidThis is probably one of the most famous Christian charities working in Africa. Christian Aid has a focus on issues such as HIV/Aids, malaria, climate change, dealing with conflict, trade and human rights. It works in countries right across the continent, including working to end sexual violence in the DRC and engaging in issues in Sudan.

Rainbow Africa

This is a charity that works primarily in Zambia. It works in areas where there are very high levels of poverty with the aim of providing education to children and other support that can aid development. The organisation also has a focus on healthcare, which is of utmost importance in poor, impoverished areas.

World Vision

Children are often some of those most affected by problems in Africa and so supporting them in any way possible is of utmost importance. This is one of the aims of World Vision – actions include running campaigns to encourage people to sponsor a child in Africa so that they can receive support for their ambitions. Other projects include addressing the causes of poverty and working on disaster relief projects.

Overall, Christian charities from all over the world have a vital role to play in supporting Africa and its people. No single organisation can fix the issues alone, and these charities often work on very different issues in very different areas – but they all have one thing in common: their Christian ethos means that they are dedicated to working against all odds to help people in any way they can and they are all thoroughly committed to working together to achieve positive results.

Guest Post on behalf of World Vision UK. If you would like to support a child through the food crisis, why not sponsor a child in Niger?

A Brief History of Microfinance

January 25th, 2012


If you don’t know much about microfinance, you might assume that it is a relatively recent idea designed to help the poor. However, the idea of microfinance charity actually goes back centuries and a wide range of related organisations have existed for many years. For example, Indian chit funds, West African tontines and Indonesian arisan all have histories as credit groups in deprived areas.


The concept of microfinance arguably first came to prominence during the 1700s in Ireland. It was during this time that the Irish Loan Fund was set up by Jonathon Swift, who is better known these days as an author. The aim of this fund was to provide small amounts of credit to poor people who didn’t have the assets to back up bigger, more formal loans. This scheme was ultimately very popular and at one time was providing loans to around a fifth of all Irish households.


As time went on, other organisations started to develop in Europe – often these were bigger and not specifically focused on microfinance, but they still had a strong focus on the poor and were often started by poorer people. Credit unions are one popular example of this; the idea behind the credit union was to help the rural poor get away from their dependence on rich moneylenders. The movement was started in Germany before moving across the rest of Europe and eventually into developing countries.


Elsewhere in the world, other microfinance and poor-focused schemes were starting to come to prominence around the same time. One notable example is the microfinance scheme that was started in Indonesia in the late 1890s. This was the Bank Perkreditan Rakyat.


It was in the early 1900s that the modern microfinance system really started to take shape – previously, it was the poor themselves who had owned the new institutions, but as the idea of microfinance spread to Latin America, banks and government agencies started to get in on the act. This wasn’t always successful and one of the key concerns – particularly during the 1950s-1970s – was that much of the money meant for poor farmers didn’t actually get to where it was intended.


Meanwhile, during the 1970s, some schemes were set up to support women entrepreneurs in areas such as Bangladesh. These started to be very successful and there was generally a low default rate on the loans. NGOs and charities also started to get more involved and the poor themselves often gained greater ownership over the microfinance institutions. Today, microfinance still faces challenges but the system is much more sustainable than it once was and the core principle of helping the poor remains.


In more recent times, World Vision UK has focused on helping the public fund micro finance loans for entrepreneurs in need.  As for Microfinance in Africa, World Vision Microloans funds businesses in Rwanda and Kenya at the moment and work may be extended into new areas in the future. If you want to help a small business in a community in need, why don’t you fund a loan today?


Guest Post on behalf of World Vision Microfinance.


5 Resources for Finding Bibles in Any Language

March 9th, 2011

Find A Bible

The Forum of Bible Agencies International launched the Find A Bible project and on-line database.  It is an innovative and interactive website that gives easy access to Scriptures in more than 3,000 languages.  The Find A Bible site provides the most comprehensive and current database of Bibles and portions in majority and minority languages available.  Many Scripture products noted on the site have never before been listed on the web.   Through Find A Bible, users now have a single place to search, download, view, or listen to these Bibles through links to Forum member agency websites.

Find A Bible is the culmination of years of research and work by Forum agencies working together to see that all who are searching for God’s word in their own language can find it.

Scripture Earth

Wycliffe Canada maintains the Scripture Earth website which contain audio files, Jesus Film, written scriptures, and links to other information for select languages of 24 countries in a easy to use format.

Jesus Film

The JESUS Film Project distributes the film “JESUS,” a two-hour docudrama about the life of Christ based on the Gospel of Luke. The film has been seen in every country of the world and translated into hundreds of languages since its initial release in 1979.

On this site you can watch the entire Jesus film in any of the languages in which it has been produced.  There is also an audio tract and children’s version available for many languages.

The Jesus Film Project also will grant permission for ministries to direct links to watch the film in their language from their agency’s own website.


The Ethnologue database has been an active research project for more than fifty years. It is probably the most comprehensive listing of information about the currently known languages of the world. Thousands of linguists and other researchers all over the world rely on and have contributed to the Ethnologue database. is a place where you can conveniently find many resources to help you with your research of the world’s languages. is owned by SIL International, a service organization that works with people who speak the world’s lesser-known languages.

IFOBA (Forum of Bible Agencies International

The Forum of Bible Agencies International is an alliance of more than 25 leading international Bible Agencies and other missions organizations with a shared vision: “working together to maximize the worldwide access and impact of God’s Word.” This vision conveys that the Forum is not only concerned with delivery of Scripture but also, most importantly, with engaging people in the Word of God so that lives may be changed.

The IFOBA website contains resources for Scripture Engagement, Find A Bible, and information concerning its many regional alliances.

12 Fruitful Practices of Church Planting

February 28th, 2011

These Fruitful practices 12 suggestions are not standard practices or a strategy to dictate the manner in which a network of churches must be planted, yet the following Practices have proven Fruitful in many mission efforts that have resulted in the initiation of church planting movements.

    FP 3: Form relationships with groups of non-christians in public settings. Relationships formed in disparate locations exposures one to language and culture variations.

      A corollary: the depth of relationships with the people often determines the depth and breadth of contexualization of the message.

A major barrier to the gospel’s advance among unreached peoples is the perception that Christianity and the church are foreign – that one can’t at the same time be both a member of his or her ethnic group and a Christian. Many are convinced that to become a Christian is to reject one’s heritage.

    FP 4: Learn and use the mother-tongue as the primary medium of communication and mother-tongue scriptures as the primary means of instruction.

    PF 5: Study culture, through observation and dialog, looking for psyco-social-emotional needs that God has placed in the people. These will become bridges for the introduction of God’s redemptive message.

    FP 6: Study culture looking for customs, behaviors, and relationships in which the Gospel can be embodied in a culturally authentic manner. Similarities and contrasts with revealed truth, redemptive analogies, parables, myths, even current events and vocabulary entomology become conduits that aid clear communication of Gospel.

    FP 7: Formulate a contextualized Gospel message in the light of what has been learned from the study of the contemporary culture. Although there is one Gospel, different aspects of the Gospel are more meaningful to people depending upon their worldviews.

Converting individuals, or groups from the target ethnic group, does not automatically result in the planting of churches.

    FP 8: As the first converts come to faith, they should become the dominant partners in the dialog and decision making concerning all aspects of church life, including what form the new congregations should take and where new churches are to be planted.

    FP 9: After the first couple of churches are planted, subsequent plants should take place close to the mother churches so they can regularly nurture them.

    FP 10: The congregational life and worship should be contextualized. That is, they should use culturally appropriate music, postures, and symbols. They should have functional substitutes for prominent cultural practices that are not scripturally acceptable in their entirety. They should also serve needs of the greater community.

    FP 11: The Church Planter should help the new congregation to discover the gifts and acquire the proficiencies that will enable them to function and grow in the Lord, independent of the Church Planter.

    FP 12: Leadership Training in a new church planting benefits greatly from a ‘leadership by extension’ or ‘apprenticeship’ format.

Fruitful Practice #2 : Develop A Unique Approach to Each Ethnic Group

October 29th, 2010

I am just at the beginning of a twelve part series of fruitful practices for church planting.  These are practices gleaned from my own field experience and the experience of many other missionaries.

I would appreciate any comments from you and, with the your permission, I will post responses in preceding newsletters.

The importance of planting churches among the unreached people groups was stressed in a previous post.  Click here to read Fruitful Practice #1: Target Unreached People Groups.  There are thousands of these unreached groups.  Many of them have cultural practices and worldviews that differ greatly from neighboring groups.  A unique church planting approach to each group, bathed in prayer, has the greatest opportunity to bear fruit.

FP: Develop A Unique Approach to Each Ethnic Group.

Every ethnic entity (tribe, nation, people, people group) deserves an opportunity to hear a clear, contextualized presentation of the Good News, in their own language. If we understand that each people group’s culture is, by definition unique, then a unique approach needs to be made to each ethnic group.

A major reason that some ethnic groups are unreached or have been unresponsive to the gospel is that initial attempts to reach them were not appealing because the message seemed foreign.  I talking about the message both spoken and lived before them.  They seemed foreign.   Dean Flemming, in Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission put it this way, “Contextualization has to do with how the gospel revealed in Scripture authentically comes to life in each new cultural, social, religious and historical setting… Every church in every particular place and time must learn to do theology in a way that makes sense to its audience while challenging it at the deepest level.”

Some denominations and agencies implement standard methodologies that are often branded and market.  This modern, mass market approach to the serious endeavor of church planting may well result in alienating or inoculating people groups even further from accepting the message of salvation.

Wise church planters understand that people come to the Lord quicker when there are few barriers and many bridges into hearts and minds of the people.  Knowing that, he/she will pray and work toward fluency in language and culture, knowing that many unreached peoples think that one can’t at the same time be both a member of his or her ethnic group and a Christian. Many are convinced that to become a Christian is to reject one’s heritage.

A conscientious church planter will scrutinize the culture looking for parallels to the gospel such as the way in which people:

  • receive or reject forgiveness
  • settle disputes
  • are initiated into various life stages or cults.

How people handle news is also of importance.

  • how is important news disseminated
  • to whom is it disseminated
  • how do people discuss it
  • how do they make decisions concerning it’s validity
  • how do they show agreement and rejection.

All of this information comes into play as the a unique strategy is formulated.  (See my articles “Culture Fluency: Experiencing Another’s Reality and “Language the Key to Culture“)

There is no shortcut to language and culture fluency.  It can take several years.  Most cross-cultural, church planters focus their attention and ministry on one ethnic group for ten to fifteen years, or more.  That is not to say that they stay ten to fifteen years with one congregation, rather they multiplying relationships and congregations over the years.
The current global security situation presents real challenges to church planters and their supporters.  Cultural sensitivity is extremely important when working among people groups in these countries.  Each situation is different.  (see “Security and Missions“).  Praise the Lord that we no longer shy away from planting churches in countries who are not favorable to our presence.  The Spirit has supplied many, creative ways of entry.

In upcoming post I will discuss Fruitful Practice 3: Form relationships with groups of non-christians in public settings. Relationships formed in disparate locations exposures one to language and culture variations.

As always, I invite your comments.

Fruitful Practice # 1 Target the Unreached

October 27th, 2010

Welcome to the first in a series of articles on Fruitful Practices for Church Planting. Periodically, I will discuss some fruitful practices for church planting that I have come to understand over the past thirty-eight years.

The term Fruitful Practices really fits what I want to discuss. Some organizations have a list of “standard practices” that refer to requirements for excellence or certification. Fruitful Practices, on the other hand, is not a list of benchmarks to be met. They are practices that are found in thousands of church planting movements. New church planting efforts would do well to follow them. Denominations and agencies would benefit from using them to evaluate their present church planting efforts.

Fruitful Practice #1 Target the Unreached

Two decades ago I wrote an article detailing The Importance of Ethnic Groups in Africa. They are no less important to missions in other parts of the world. There are more than 16,400 unique people groups in the world, many of whom view the world vastly different from their fellow citizens on the planet. God not only established this diversity of ethnic groups, he went on to send us to each of them with His saving message.

Right now, there are churches on every continent, yet many ethnic groups still lack a vital, multiplying community of believers. The Joshua Project, one of the premier people group data repositories, reports that more than 6,700 people groups still need an initial church planting movement. Other researchers contend there are many more. In a blog article I defined the term unreached peoples and discussed why researchers come up with different numbers. By anyone’s measurement there are thousands of groups without churches.

If you are tempted to think that these unreached people groups are small, hidden away peoples, you would be surprised to know that 34 of them have a population of 10 million or more. Hundreds of them have a million or more.

It is a sad truth of the current state of Christian missions that, even though unreached people groups have been showcased at international forums for more than three decades, churches, denominations, and agencies continue to send the overwhelming bulk of their workers and spend the majority of their monies on missions among the reached people groups.

Before any of us begin any new work, I suggest that we ask ourselves an extremely important question. Is this new mission effort going to be mounted among an unreached people group? If not, why do we consider this mission a priority over working among the unreached?

I am not pleading for pull out from existing works among the reached. However we need to seriously consider beginning new works among those who have been neglected for decades. If you are a member of a congregation that is about to begin something new in missions, ask leadership the above question. If you are an administrator or consultant for a denomination or agency that is considering launching a new work, ask the same question.

Many of these unreached people groups do not have the scriptures in their own language. Translation agencies have the opportunity to give these people mother tongue scriptures and play a role in planting the first churches among them. When translation agencies target churched or reached populations with their translations they run the risk of the mother-tongue scriptures they produce being marginalized because the Christians, especially the leaders, have grown accustomed to using a language of wider use translations. When the Bibleless unreached are targeted, scripture translation becomes a tool in an overall program of church planting. The mother-tongue scriptures are part of congregational life from the outset.

Please pray for the unreached people groups of the world. God is already there, preparing them for reception of His saving grace. Ask the Lord of the Harvest what role you can play in reaching them.

Additional Articles of Mine on This Topic:
A Field Selection Model for Use at Academic Institutions
Field Selection Criteria for Africa
Field Selection Criteria Definitions

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

October 16th, 2010

On Sunday, November 12th, congregations around the globe will by uniting in prayer for the persecuted church. Start now to make your congregation aware of the thousands of persecuted believers around the world.

The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) is a global day of intercession for persecuted Christians worldwide. Its primary focus is the work of intercessory prayer and citizen action on behalf of persecuted communities of the Christian faith.  Read more at the offical day of prayer website.

Voice of the Martyrs website has some powerful testimonials, biographies, and current news about persecuted Christians and churches.

Click here to download FREE SUPPLIES to mobilize your congregation for this day of prayer for the persecuted church.

Language the Key to Culture

October 1st, 2010

The following is an updated and revised version of an article I wrote in the November 1983 issue of Kipsigis Kommunique our team’s newsletter.  If you are interested, you can get the original from here.

“I will go home if I do not learn the Kipsigis language, ” I told myself in 1974.  I knew that I would be extremely hampered from ministering well if I was not fluent in the Kipsigis mother tongue.  Language is the key to understanding culture.  If I did not know the language it would be impossible to understand what the tribesmen think about themselves, me, and the world around them.  It would be just as challenging to preach the gospel to them in a meaningful way without knowing their language.

I could observe actions of the people, but that would not get me into their minds.  Only language fluency could reveal their thoughts.

The team of missionaries working in Kipsigis (Fielden and Janet Alison, Gailyn and Becky VanRheenen, Richard and Cyndi Chowning) were fluent in the language in 1983 when this article was originally written.    It was difficult to learn to make the sounds that make the difference in saying”sins” (tengekwogik) and “song” (tienwogik).  It was a struggle to start sentences with verbs and end most words with the harsh sounds of t, k, or ng’.  But it was worth the two years of study to make us feel comfortable in conversing with Kipsigis people.

Before we began to work among the Kipsigis, we had a knowledge of some basic anthropology and even some insights into how Africans view the world.  But the tribes on this continent vary greatly in their understandings.  Only a study of an ethnic group’s language lets us truly minister among them.

In 1983 we could understand ninety percent of what two old men were saying to each other under the shade of a a thorn tree.

“The wind blew down the corn in my neighbor’s field yesterday,” one man said to another.

“Yea, that family has some evil in it,” offered the friend.

Hearing conversations like this taught us that calamity is the result of wrong, at least in the way those Kipsigis back then looked at it.

“My stomach is eating me,” one old man said in the usual manner of describing a stomach ache.  We learned that sickness, as the Kipsigis see it, is not solely the result of germs, virus, or infection, but the spirits could also be involved.

The young man was defiant as he stood looking out the door of his hut,  “Don’t you call the spirits of the dead in my hut.”  He was attempting to prevent his mother from calling the spirit of a dead ancestor to indwell the baby that his wife had just delivered.  Babies are thought to be the embodiment of re-incarnated ancestors.

Numerous conversations like these gave us the cultural understandings that helped us build bridges of understanding as we shared the gospel.

The structure of the language gave us some culture clues, too.  There are three past tenses and one, selfom used future tense.  We took this as a clue that Kipsigis, at least in the 1970s and 1980s, placed more importance on the past than the future.

Knowing their respect for the past, we paid special attention people were talking about past events.  Often in the evening, old men used ancient riddles, proverbs, and myths to entertain and instruct their fellow villagers or family.  We collected these stories and used them as anecdotes and illustrations in our lessons.

Understanding the Kipsigis language also allowed us to hear Christians talk to one another about the sufferings of fellow believes and the weakness some in churches.  Hearing them cheering the progress of new congregations gave us an understanding as to what they viewed to be the attributes of a successful congregation.

Much of what we hear finds its way into our lessons.  We came to the Kenya with a knowledge of scriptures.  We could have assumed that was enough for an effective evangelistic thrust.  But we would have fallen short of our potential and God’s ideal.  After all, His apostles were fluent in the language of those among whom they ministered.

Like it or not, national evangelists will, to a great extent copy the missionaries in both the form and content teaching.  Most of the national preachers in the few other denominations preached with few culturally relevant illustrations.  But as the years went we would get comments from nonchristians about the evangelists from our churches.”These men speak to us about our ways and how God can help us as Kipsigis.  I did not know that Christianity had any use for Kipsigis ways.”  The culturally relevant lessons we missionaries have taught have been taken and improved upon by the Kipsigis evangelists.  And they have added a multitude more.

Our fluency in Kipsigis was the a key to making the words of God “good news.”  Knowing the language gave us responsibilities, too.  If we can speak their language we are expected to understand how to conduct ourselves.  One who does not know the language may be excused from observing Kipsigis etiquette and respect.  We who speak the language are expected to know how to behave.  We would be judged rude, at best, if we were to speak of sex in a mixed audience.  We would be seen as unfriendly if we refused to hold hands with a man.

Knowing the Kipsigis language not only kept us in Kenya, but it deepened our love for these people for who Christ died.  To Christ the credit and glory is due.  He answered our prayers to become fluent in Kipsigis.

Ralph Winter Completes His Service 1924-2009

May 26th, 2009

Ralph Winter Completes His Service

Missionary Scholar, Motivator, Mover and Visionary died on May 24th, 2009 at 84.

Ralph Winter one of the most influential Evangelical missions leaders has completed a tenure of service for the Lord that began, at least as a full-time missionary, in 1956 in Guatemala where he served with the Presbyterian church of ten years.

Upon return from Guatemala, Winter began is twenty years of teaching and motivating missionaries and missionaries to-be at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California.

In 1976 the master teacher moved to role of master missions strategist by founding the U.S. Center for World Missions, not far from Fuller.

I have been inspired for many years as I read Dr. Winter’s editorials in Frontier Missions. In recent years he has coined a term “re-amateurization of missions”, referring to the preference among many churches and Christian leaders to emphasize short-term missions over well thought out strategic missions planning and evaluation. “Missions, it seems, has become any Christian volunteering to be sent anywhere in the world at any expense to do anything for any time period.”

Ralph Winter was revolutionary, in my view, in his approach to such world problems as malaria and cancer which he viewed as demons. He organized prayer networks against both of these killers.

I must also mention that his editorship of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement book truly spawned a world movement of the study of missions at the grassroots level, in local congregations and living rooms around the globe.

Last month’s Missions Frontiers, without an editorial by Dr. Winter, seemed limp in my hands. But, I am convinced that Christian missions is stronger because he was a leader among us for so many years.

I pause, and I hope you will too, to thank the Lord for this great servant. Thank you Lord for Ralph Winter, may his memory live on.

Culture Fluency – Experiencing Another’s Reality

April 10th, 2009

Prime among the tasks we cross-cultural missionaries and development workers engage in during our first tours on the field is the study of language and the culture. More to the point, we strive to gain fluency in language and culture of the people among whom we minister.

This IS the first stage of our mission. Despite what others may say, we know that we are never really transformed into the likeness of those people. We don’t even try to do that, but we do our best, and ask the Almighty to aid us, to understand what it is like to be one of them.

We look for signs that mark our progress in this understanding. One of the key signs that we are gaining fluency in a language is the ability to no longer translate in our head. Those words that used to be so strange now enter our ears and we respond without being aware of any search for meaning.

That same degree of culture fluency will benefit us greatly in our ministry. This new, ‘foreign’ culture is the realm in which these people live and it is the reality in which we work. We must come to intuitively know what those among whom we minister are perceiving as reality and how they react with it. We are not only concerned with how they act. That is the easy and less important aspect of culture to understand. How they act and react internally – what they think and how they reason – is of extreme importance to us. The outward manifestations of culture such as eating habits, medical practices, agricultural processes, even birth rites and sacrifices are easy to observe. It is more difficult, yet more pertinent, for us to know why they do not eat fish, why they slice a narrow cut across the stomach of a sick child, why they leave some plots of land uncultivated and deplete the nutrients from others by cultivating them year after year, why women stay secluded after giving birth and why village elders go into the forest to sacrifice a chicken.

We may become fluent in their language. But, do we hear what they hear and picture in our minds what they see when we speak those words. We need to know what they are perceiving when we say, “Jesus is the sacrifice for your sins.” We need know what they feel when we tell them “God is the Almighty and He loves you.” To understand those thoughts and emotions is to gain the fluency necessary to really communicate – to say what we want to say and to know how it is being received.

To jump into “the work” before gaining culture fluency is to assume that those we minister among are going to struggle and come to understand what we are saying and somehow allow this knowledge to change their lives. This is a task that is almost impossible for most of them.

We cross-cultural workers routinely set out to learn culture. We see, hear, and smell that we are in a ‘foreign’ country. We are good at learning about what we experience through those senses. But we learn them through our own emotional and perceptual grid. I might see a particular cluster of huts in Benin for the first time. I most likely perceive the huts to be a village, or a set houses that families live in. My friend who is a member of the Aja ethnic group in Benin may accompany me and see the same cluster of huts, but he may be aware that he is entering a territory where gods and ancestral spirits different from those in his own village reside. I might want to tell the people in this new village why I have come so they will know that I have come with something important to tell, but my Aja friend begins by telling them where he lives, what clan he is from, who his father is and asks if any women from his clan have been married into this village. He says this so that he can communicate to them that he comes from a peaceful linage and means them no harm. It is not a matter of just learning what words to say when you greet people, but what are the emotions involved when strangers meet. We should not only learn the verbal dialog, but the dialog that is going on in their minds – their thoughts and emotions.

Culture fluency – understanding what is going on in their heads – has an enormous impact on the ultimate outcome of our ministry. The stakes are high. We need to be keenly aware that if we do not comprehend how they think and feel we may not be able to point them to the eternal help that God offers to the crucial problems, dilemmas, hurts and fears that reside in their emotions and outlook on life.

This deep level of culture awareness comes not primarily by observing what they do in their culture. It comes by experiencing it as they do. It is extremely difficult for an outsider to experience a culture the way an insider does. It is difficult, but not impossible.

There are some aids to learning the emotions and perceptions of a people group. Their contemporary songs, poetry, proverbs, and myths are windows into their minds and view of the world. I am not talking about traditional culture here – not the historical descriptions and explanations that are found in most ethographies written by scholars, who are outsiders. I am referring to folk or pop culture – the songs on the lips of women today as they prepare food or weed the fields and the proverbs men tell at informal public gathers around fires, on the street corners, or in the bars. We should know the contemporary music on the radio. The poets who compose the songs are creating mirrors that reflect thoughts of the common people. Something else we need to do is acquire the skill of purposeful, polite eavesdropping. Listening to what people talk about among themselves can reveal a lot about what is important to them – what gets them excited, makes them mad, and causes them to laugh. How they interact reveals their emotions and view of the world.

For we cross-cultural workers culture fluency is important to our own well being and peace of mind. Without it we find ourselves more of a loner and outsider than we have ever been in your life. We are outgoing people. We like to fit in. I remember attempting to tell jokes to my Kipsigis friends in Kenya. Instead of laughing, they just starred at me. When they told jokes to each other, I found myself wonder what was so funny.

I came to know Christ in my own cultural milieu. I cherish my individuality. I also feel my own very personal pain over the way people treat me and over the way I have treated God, yet understand God’s grace – He loves me and has forgiven me and continually brings blessings into my life. That is a far different view of the reality experienced by my non-Christians Aja friends who I desired to share my faith with. Reality for them is: many infants die, adults die young, crops fail, disease is everywhere and most of this is the result of the interactions in the unseen realm of gods and ancestral spirits who lurk everywhere. Fear is a major common denominator. Yes, I can sympathize with them, but sympathy does not cause them to engage with the Lord and His word. Sympathy is what an outsider feels. Empathy – ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15) – is what we need to pray for and strive to gain. We need to somehow experience what they feel, even in a fleeting and momentary manner, and to sense the hurt and pleasure in their lives and know what is causing those emotions. If we can borrow their lenses to see and feel the world as they do we can begin to introduce them to the appropriate scripture and emotion of the Lord that will stand a chance of being perceived as a genuine, possible remedy to one of life’s real predicaments.

I feel the need to speak now to an African who is working among Africans or an Asian working among Asians. You are no longer like those you are ministering among. You, too, have been changed by your academic studies, exposure to Western ways, and you have come to the Lord and walk with Him. You cannot assume that you still understand your people, especially when you are working with an ethnic group different than your own. You need to take the same care as an American missionary in acquiring the eyes to see reality as the people around you see it.

In the same manner, this is language and culture fluency ought to be acquired by domestic church planters and preachers as well. Most North Americans ministering to North Americans and Europeans ministering to Europeans have gone through four years of undergraduate study, went on to graduate school and/or seminary – floated around in the culture and language of the academic halls – then stepped up to the pulpits. They have become outsiders and cannot afford to assume they have remained fluent in the popular language and culture of their contemporary parishioners. They, too, must acquire this fluency if they are to expect to help those they work among to engage the Lord and the scriptures.

We cannot really gain an understanding of culture through academic study. Don’t get wrong, while we are still in our home culture or in the academic halls we should read all we can about the culture of the people we will be working among. Even after arrival on the field we will do well to latch onto to and read every book and article about them. (Domestic church planters and preachers need to subscribe to Psychology Today, Wired, and Harpers Magazine and read the lyrics to contemporary songs.)

A word of caution is needed here. Attempting to gain culture fluency from books, articles and even from the mouths of co-workers and long-term missionaries has its pitfalls. Such knowledge has the potential of being what Dave Parrish, my former colleague at Pioneer Bible Translators, calls ‘missionary myth’ – a misunderstanding handed down from one outsider to the next. We need to observe and experience the culture for ourselves. As we interact with the people we will ask God to show us what He wants us to know about these people He has sent us to.

A final word of caution. We missionaries and church planters are prone to be concerned with and speak about the heavenly and eternal things: the Creator, Satan, origin of man and his destination. Development workers have the tendency to explain things and work in terms of Western scientific method and reflect on ‘best practices,’ modern physical remedies and procedures. Both miss the concern of the common people who must deal with day to day life and relationships as it is played out here on earth where seen and unseen beings and powers interact.

How might we better experience how the common people in our own or other cultures view the world? How might we walk in their shoes for awhile? What are your thoughts on acquiring culture fluency?