All Things to All People
Many of us have been on missions trips where we visit an unfamiliar, uncomfortable land and experience the culture shock of a strange language and new people while we walk around in our Toms and lay our heads to rest on a plush pillow in a four star hotel. I’ve done it myself (even staying in a couple ritzy five star hotels). I thought I was really living rough and stepping out of my comfort zone, crossing cultures for the gospel of Christ! The truth is that when I went on those trips and lived in that way I didn’t really come to know the people or their hearts. I hadn’t experienced the way they lived and didn’t learn their language, yet I was trying to plant something that would take root in the innermost parts of their hearts. As K.P. Yohannan terms it in his book “Revolution in World Missions” we are presenting “the Water of Life in a foreign cup”.
On the flip side, I have experienced Indians’ astonished looks, excited giggles, and open hearts as I skillfully ate with my hands, attempted to speak Hindi, or walked into the church wearing a Saree. A small amount of effort on my part to fit into their cultural mold, rather then trying to fit them into mine, made an incredible difference in how they responded to me. Not only did it make a difference in their encounter with me and with God, it changed my perception of the locals and bound my heart to them in a beautiful way. When I lived separated from the culture I felt as though I was performing Christianity on a far off stage rather then truly touching the hearts of the people.
I’ve heard people tell me that they believed what I said about Jesus but they didn’t want to accept Him because He is a “Western god” and they are committed to the gods and religion of their culture, their ancestors. They need to see Jesus embodied and represented by their own people, hearing personal testimonies of how God changed their hearts. When we, as foreigners, do enter these territories we need to do our best to represent the Jesus we know. We need to demonstrate the love of Jesus that crosses cultures, social status, and languages, the love that humbles itself and reaches a compassionate hand. We need to remember that we come to bring Jesus, not American Christianity.