As missionary/church planters on four different continents for more than two decades, we consider certain aspects to be important when establishing a new work in a foreign field. Reflecting on the experience of the early church in Acts 11:19-30, we would like to share the following aspects to be considered when beginning a work in a foreign land.
Transcultural Experience (v20):
Transcultural experience is indispensable for success on a foreign field. We must know that many things will be different upon our arrival to a foreign country. The particular culture has been in place for many years and has its own way of thinking. For this reason, the first few months must be spent getting to know the new culture. Many times, we make the mistake of trying to understand a new culture by how we operate in ours. Misunderstandings and frictions may surface with respect to the culture when we do not take time to submerge ourselves in it. Seeking to make ourselves part of the culture will help us think as they think and will fine-tune communication. This will improve our understanding so we can better achieve our goals. For example, a greeting in Cambodia is very different from one in Albania. In most of Asia, a greeting will demonstrate respect for age and status while never touching. In contrast, up to four kisses on both cheeks are customary when the parties are well-acquainted and want to demonstrate endearment in Albania. This will include men greeting men and women greeting other women. We must also keep in mind that when we reach our missionary destination, we have been accepted by its authorities to live in that country and in turn, must work to be accepted by its citizens. Therefore, we owe respect to culture and value the roots that form it. In this way, we will come to appreciate the people to whom we have been sent. The fact that there is a specific strategy for evangelism and church planting dependent on culture should be our prime motivation for immersing ourselves in the culture.
Good Testimony (v24):
When we go to live in another culture we must also understand that we will be under constant observation. This is typical, because as foreigners, we will probably be different. Our conduct and outward appearance will likely produce curiosity. The way we act and dress will probably attract attention. We will be under scrutiny from the moment we leave our rooms (in cases where we have help from locals in our home) until the time we return to our private dwelling. The first message we send is taken by the way we behave with our own family. We may not know the language of the new culture, but our actions will speak louder than any word we can utter. We saw this in Albania when a large group of neighbors rallied to our defense when the electric company tried to overcharge us for being foreigners. Though we had never spoken to most of them, they insisted that we were good people. Making a good impression on the people around us will afford opportunities for building relationships and consequently facilitate our evangelistic work. In places where Christians have been good examples, the door is open for a more effective work of discipleship.
Discipleship and Preparation of New Leaders (v25-26):
It is common for missionaries to be placed in positions of leadership and charged with the task of Christian formation. This is due to the fact that most of the places where missionaries are needed lack qualified workers for this task. It is imperative we be intentional in our efforts of training local workers to take over the work. If we hold onto these positions for too long, we run the risk of sending the wrong message. The idea that these positions are exclusive to certain individuals may be erroneously adopted, thus impairing our Gospel message. It is important to work intently in the Christian formation of local believers so as to empower them to assume the responsibility of forming others themselves. In this way, we will be more effective in the evangelization of our particular field of service.
Missions Mindset (v27-30):
Another aspect to approach from the beginning, is to create a missions mindset. Works are often established and maintained by external agencies without involving the efforts of the locals in order to achieve certain goals. This runs the risk of creating a dependent mentality and hinders the nationals’ ability to grow and resolve issues when external help is no longer available. That is why it is important to teach the people we are serving, so they too are called to help others. They must set national and international goals for growth while using their own resources. This missions mindset will be transmitted more effectively in the measure that we actively involve locals to participate in the efforts and decision-making at hand.
As we humbly endeavor to serve those to whom we are called, missionaries must consider the example given by the early church. We must be sensitive to culture, of good testimony, and mindful of preparing local leaders to assume the responsibility of reaching others.
—Israel and Debbie Minay
Missionaries to Chile