This weekend I heard from my sister about a high school friend that she ran into recently. We hadn’t been in touch for awhile. She had heard recently that I was working in Japan, and she wanted to confirm with my sister what I was doing. When my sister told her I was, indeed, a missionary, she had that sort -of disgusted-no-way! look on her face. That look, “that-is-so-unfair-to-go-and-cram-the-Gospel-down-the-throats-of-people-in-other-countries” look. My sister shared about the chance she had to come and stay with us for awhile in Japan, and that it completely changed her image of what it means to be a missionary… how people from our local community would come into our home and find a safe place where they are loved, rather than a place where they are judged. My sister said this seemed to help, but….
That afternoon I was in the car thinking about it all and couldn’t help the big tears rolling down my cheeks. I was trying to figure out why it affected me so much. I guess first, it stung to feel the condemnation of a friend whom I have always really respected. And then I realized that we are doing here is not just our job – it is our LIVES. It is a calling that we have left everything for because we believe it – no, because we believe that HE is so so worth it.
As I processed this with Eric, he helped me make more sense out of it. What is a bit hypocritical is that this friend and her family are in a believing church, and very much, I believe, a part of it. So Christ is real to them, and obviously makes a difference, or why would you “do” church? So doesn’t it make sense to want other people to know about this good find? If you find something good — don’t you want other people to know about it? This is oversimplified, but if Olivia finds one lollipop in the snacks box, she isn’t going to tell her siblings – that is for sure. But if she finds a whole PILE of lollipops – and there is a note attached that says if you give these away you’ll get even more amazing snacks — who’s going to hide that? And who’s going to judge her for giving away some of that pile to people who might also want to partake once they know about it?
In preparing for the class I have been teaching, I have read a lot about some of the earlier “colonial” type missionary methods that perhaps helped to create the stereotype of missions today. The missionary movement one hundred years ago placed a huge emphasis on confrontation and proclamation, without much thought to cultural contextualization. Thankfully, the tide of the missionary movement has significantly changed towards contextualizing the Gospel (keeping the message of the Gospel but having it make sense for the culture in which it is being shared), incarnational witness and engaging in dialogue.
This is where our hearts are. We want to live among and love the people in Japan. Through dialogue and sharing our lives together, we want them to know that they are loved by the Savior of the World. We very much want Japanese believers to experience Christ in the context of their culture. We want the churches in Japan to reflect this culture, not the western one that first introduced Christianity. Paul Hiebert writes, “We must go where people are, speak their language [help me God!], and become one with them as far as our consciences allow and we are psychologically able. People need to hear the gospel in their heart language and see it lived in us. Incarnational also means, however, that there is something outside their language and culture in the gospel and its messengers. Felt and real needs… Today we realize we may need to start with felt needs, but we must move to the ultimate needs which the gospel addresses: salvation, reconciliation, justice, and peace.”
I have been wrestling this past month with the idea of proclamation. We are still learning and have a long way to go, but I think we have done fairly well at incarnational ministry. But we have to always remember that there needs to be a place in all of our relationships where those we love have a chance to hear — or better yet – experience the Gospel. To see with their own eyes, to hear with their own ears, that it is Jesus Christ who makes a difference. We can be all about loving people, but if they don’t know that Jesus is our message; if they don’t have a chance to make a choice to know Jesus, then in essence we haven’t completed our intentions – we haven’t shared our lollipops. We pray for opportunities of need to open up that allow us to both show God’s love and pray with people for those needs. This is great. But I also sense the Lord wanting me to be more bold with this good news… “For how can they know if they haven’t heard?”
Any thoughts? I’d love to have you process with me through some of these ideas.