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Posts Tagged ‘Christian Missions’

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

Saturday, 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.

Culture Fluency – Experiencing Another’s Reality

Friday, 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?

How Many Christians Does it Take to Send a Missionary?

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

How Many Christians Does it Take to Send a Missionary?

How many Christians does it take to send a missionary? None, of course. The Lord sends them. There is no disputing that fact. He raises up all the leaders that His church needs to “to prepare His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12,13)



A lot of what God does is mysterious, even unexplainable. This is especially true concerning the way He calls and sends missionaries. It does not seem to me that He raises them up though any standard, common or preferred channels from one generation to the next. He delivers their support, both financial and spiritual, from some of the most unexpected sources – so unexpected that that I often miss seeing them. At times His movement is brought into sharper focus, for me, through research data. Such clarity came to me recently when I was invited by Missions Resource Network to attend The State of the Gospel 2009 a Mission Exchange webinar presented by Jason Mandryk.



Among the wealth of data that Mandryk presented was a set of facts that changed the way I perceive what the Lord is doing among churches in the Majority World. You may be unfamiliar with the term ‘Majority World’, but more familiar with the terms ‘third world’, ‘developing countries’, or ‘poorer nations’. The designation Majority World refers to those same people, but highlights the reality that the majority of humankind lives in these countries.



Mandryk revealed that currently it takes far fewer Christians in the majority world to send out a missionary than it takes for Christians in richer countries to send one out. According to Mandryk’s data, it takes one thousand Canadian Christians to send out a missionary, close to double that many in the United States, and 3,500 in the UK. Among the Churches of Christ, the fellowship I belong to, it takes 2,200 USA members to send out a missionary couple or a single. In parts of the majority world the picture is quite different. It takes 222 Mongolian Christians to sent out a missionary and four hundred Singaporeans to do the same. In the much poorer African countries of Niger and Mali it takes 451 and 608 respectively. Spain is the only non-majority world country ranking in the top ten countries when it comes to membership/missionaries sent ratio. Other countries in the top ten are Lebanon, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Faeroe Islands, and Thailand. This data was collected from Protestant, Anglican, and independent churches and includes only countries where Christians have sent out fifty or more missionaries.




Why such a disparity between majority world churches and the resource flush churches of the west? There may not be any clear answer, but one can deduce some likely realities. (1) Churches do not have to be wealthy to send out missionaries. People in Nepal, Niger, and Mali rank among the poorest of poor, yet they support missionaries. (2) Very small congregations can be extremely missional in outlook and actions. Of course there are large congregations in Singapore and Thailand, but small groups of believers typical to countries like Mongolia, Niger, and Mali seem to understand that the Lord wants them to reach out across cultural barriers and plant churches. It does not take a mega church to send missionaries. (3) Young, evangelical congregations, where most of the members are first or second generation believers, have missions in their very DNA. For them, sending out missionaries is normal and doable.



In an article titled Costa Rica: Sending Missionaries to Africa the Christian World News reported that a congregation of one hundred in one of San Jose’s poorest neighborhoods uses eighty percent of its income to train and support their own members to be church planters in Africa. Read the amazing story of how these poor Christians have started a bakery and an auto repair business to support their missionaries. “With the Bible in one hand and tools in the other, future missionaries work hard to maintain their companions in Africa.” In the past eight years, this congregation has sent out 21 missionaries. Make no mistake these are true missionaries – they learn the language and culture of the Senegalese and Malians they minister among. God has blessed them.



Then there is the story of, Philippe and Ruth Sagara, who are missionaries to the Bozo people of Mali. In the early 1990s the Sagara were the first Malians sent out as cross-cultural missionaries by their brothers and sisters in the Gospel Missionary Union. God blessed their efforts and before the year 2000 had arrived, nine other couples were sent out by this Malian denomination. The fact that they are Malian has not sheltered them from the adjustment struggles common to all cross-cultural missionaries. In some cases “the temptation is not to put a priority on language learning,” and settle for using a trade language like Bambara. But, the time and effort put in mother-tongue language learning has paid great church growth dividends. Today, some of the more experienced Malian missionaries train and counsel Western missionaries who continue to arrive to labor along side them.




Some might say these case studies and data only points out the obvious – it cost less to send missionaries from the majority world than those from richer nations. That may be true, but it has very little to do with the results revealed in this data. Western Christians send western missionaries at western support levels. The majority world Christians make similar financial sacrifices to send their brothers and sisters out at majority world support levels.



It would be a misuse of this data for Christians of richer nations to justify a scaling back of the number of Western missionaries they send out and redirect their funds to sponsoring majority world missionaries who can be sent for less. What this data shows is that Majority World Christians have taken seriously the task of sending their own to the unreached. For western Christians, agencies, and churches to step in and take over what these sacrificial Christians are already doing well would be counter productive. Why take from them what God is already allowing them to do on their own? Western Christians may need to view what their Majority World brethren are doing as an example or model of what they ought to be about. In these times it seems God is using Christians in what used to be considered ‘the mission field’ to set the pace for the ‘historically Christian nations.’



I am convinced that this shift has little to do with any recent strategy adjustments. For it is evident that God is, in many cases, using those who have very little understanding of strategic matters. They simply have a healthy understanding of what He has done and is doing among them. They are grateful and prayerful. They trust in His promises and move out in faith, expecting Him to be faithful, not based upon what they do, but upon who He is.



What is ahead in this new era of missions? What else will the Western church learn from their Majority World brethren? I am not sure. What I do know is – this is an exciting time I are living in. Thank you Lord for allow me to to witness it.

The Use of Christian Money and Personnel Among the Unreached People Groups and Bibleless People Groups

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

I am often defensive when the topic of money, and how I how I ought to spend it, is being preached at me. So I am well aware that discussing money and missions can be a sensitive subject, especially during the current, world-wide financial turmoil. It is not my intention to make any individual, congregation or agency feel guilty about their allocation of funds or personnel. Guilt may be a strong motivator in the world, but it has no place in Christian discourse unless it is to point to God’s grace to alleviate it. My sense is that outside of a small circle of informed Christians, most of us are unaware of the disparity between the resources spent on the reached and those spent on the unreached and Bibleless people groups of the world. Armed with knowledge of the reality of this situation, I believe we will begin to realign our mission monies and personnel.


So, I offer some pertinent facts. In 2004, according to Mission Frontiers, Christians gave about two hundred and thirteen billion dollars to Christian endeavors, including their local congregation. $213,000,000,000. Wow! That is a lot of zeros (yet it amounts to less than two percent of their earned income). Of that amount, only 11.4 billion dollars, or 5.4%, went to foreign missions. The bulk of that mission money, 87%, was allocated to mission work among those people groups that have already been reached. Ministries to the unreached made do with the remaining 13%. The bottom line is that only .000918% of all funds contributed to Christian causes (that’s nine cents out of every one hundred dollars) went to works concentrating on unreached people groups.


I recently discovered a great tool for showing this disparity. Rev. Shari Hobby, Co-Director Ethne, has developed a tool to “visually and experientially” impress a congregation or small group with the reality of the number of unreached peoples and the paucity of resources concentrated on them. The tool consists of a set of note cards that can be marked and distributed to among any gathering. You can find the procedure for marking the cards in Rev. Shari’s paper, DEVELOPING A PERSPECTIVE OF WORLD MISSION. I encourage you to use the tool.


Another recent discovery for me was an outstanding student developed and maintained website by the name of The Traveling Team with the purpose “to glorify God by educating and equipping college students to become World Christians who fulfill their responsibility in World Evangelization.” In Lesson 4 of their resources they point out that only 4% of foreign missions work force is working to reach unreached people groups. The other 96% labor among the reached.


On the first of this month, (Nov. 2008), the World Evangelical Alliance General Assembly concluded in Pattaya, Thailand. They adopted six resolutions, one of which concerned the worldwide financial crisis. “While we hope that the painful consequences of the turmoil will be mitigated, our concern is that its impact will continue to permeate into more regions and economies of the world. We recognize that this economic crisis will have the most painful impact on the poor, who are the most vulnerable.” The resolution went on to call on Christians to care for the poor during the crisis and live simply and generously.


While trusting in the Lord to provide for the unreached people groups of the world, I must be honest that I wonder if efforts directed toward them might suffer greatly. Join with me in prayer that the unreached people groups and those working among them may truly experience the presence of the Lord in their lives and that their lives may be changed on this earth and the one to come. What are you seeing or foreseeing concerning the impact of the world financial crisis on the unreached people groups and missions working among them?