I remember graduating from Bible College (MBI) and thinking I knew something about the local church and about the Bible. I was able to find that delicate balance between holiness and Christian liberty. I knew how to interpret and resolve delicate issues regarding the sign gifts. I could instruct and spiritually guide pretty much any age group in the church. I could teach commitment to the young and tolerance to the old.
Funny how dumb I’ve gotten as I’ve gotten older. I am now much less convinced about many of my previous convictions, and freely admit that I have little or no clue as to how to relate to whole blocks of people in the church. Oh, the folly of youth! Thank God some older, wiser, more mature believers had patience with me! Now…well, it’s my turn.
I have used Duane Elmer’s book Cross-cultural Servanthood as a short-term missions textbook for years now. I haven’t found a better book when it comes to describing and illustrating the attitudes needed to truly serve in another culture, and not just have fuzzy feelings about serving. Good intentions do not go very far on the field. Turns out serving people (surprise) means dying to yourself in a host of way.
Anyway, Elmer in his first chapter on learning speaks of the “educated person virus” or the “right answer virus.” Symptoms of being infected with this virus include speaking with a disproportionate amount of authority, not willing to listen, dialogue or be challenged, and disrespecting those who do not have one’s degree of education.
Elmer points out that Western missionaries are more prone to this virus, but they are by no means the owners of the epidemic! Again, I will not speak for other cultures, but I will state that Latin culture in general, and Mexican culture in particular is predisposed to this sort of attitude. A formal education, an official ministry title in the local church, the acquisition of a property, more responsibility within the local church or ministry…can puff people up. My wife, who is Mexican, cautions me about giving away too much leadership too quickly. She knows. So did the Apostle Paul when he encouraged us not to be hasty in the laying on of hands.
Switching gears to our Latin mission movement focus. Often Latin missionaries are well educated, and sometimes graduates from institutions of higher learning. They have studied the Bible, and have likely been recognized for their gifts of teaching and preaching. They are sent to another Spanish-speaking, Latin American country as missionaries, and they think they know something. They come to impart knowledge. Sometimes they come to “conquer” Mexican culture, or the caricature of what they think is Mexican culture. They have the virus.
It is very difficult for them to solicit advice, to listen, to learn. They know it all already. An anxious home church is awaiting their first prayer letter. They hear the voice of their mentor is the home country…do it this way! Teamwork is unacceptable, because they need to give up too much authority, too much freedom to do things “the way they should be done.”
The results are devastating. Some of us are still recovering.
More on this in a later post…