All posts tagged “missionaries

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Repaso: February 22, 2013


1. Community development for the 21st century
Chris Smith, the editor of Englewood Review of Books, wrote a great piece for Christianity Today on how Christian community development is changing:

For the past three years, I’ve managed the bookstore at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) annual conference. Each year I see old friends and make new ones, all the while putting new books into the hands of conference participants. It’s a place where I can observe which voices are shaping ideas about what Christian community development is and how it should be practiced in neighborhoods. Authors like founder John Perkins, Bob Lupton, Amy Sherman, and Wayne Gordon represent the longstanding tradition of CCDA. However, I have noticed over the past few years a growing interest in food, ecology, and Native American communities—topics not always considered part of Christian community development. Books by the late Richard Twiss (a Native American and a popular speaker at the last two conferences) and Wendell Berry, for instance, were among the top sellers at last fall’s gathering. I wondered: Did the book-buying habits of conference participants suggest that the vision behind Christian community development is changing?

2. Marketplace pastoring
Lukas Naugle on what pastors should teach those called to the marketplace:

The marketplace, the everyday world of trade and economic activity, is where most people spend the majority of their days. In modern history, the marketplace has played an unparalleled role in shaping our world. Globalization has turned countless local markets into one massive global market. Advances in technology and communication have managed to bridge enormous geographical and cultural gaps with blinding speed. Meanwhile, the language and norms of the marketplace have changed the way other social institutions, including the church, think and operate. Even family life has been shaped by the marketplace in seemingly indelible ways… So what should pastors teach to those called to the marketplace?

3. Are missionaries the henchmen of empire?
You may recall my thoughts last November on The Poisonwood Bible and the question of whether missionaries destroy cultures. If so, this piece by Robert Joustra may be of interest:

It’s long been accepted that missionaries are the ideological henchman of empire—maybe not by the missionaries themselves, but by much of the public. Just last week the Globe splashed the Christian ministry Crossroads across its front page for its lifestyle beliefs, arguing its religious content contradicted Canadian values and so invalidated its work digging wells in Christian Uganda. It’s a bad brand for folks that are generally sincere in their good intentions, and—further—that do so much actual good (even) in the name of religion. Whether religion invalidates development work today, or whether religious content and savvy religious literacy may actually be essential in a religious world, is another matter. But what about this easy history of missionaries as cultural imperialists? Is this a fair story?

4. Afghan youth on the future
WhyDev has started a fascinating series featuring guest posts by university students in Afghanistan, offering their views on “a range of topics from social media to security and education to aid effectiveness in Afghanistan.” The first two posts are deeply personal and painfully honest, and that’s why they’re important.

5. Northern Lights in Iceland

Dramatic Aurora Borealis. Iceland – Time-Lapse of a Winter Fairytale from Anna Possberg on Vimeo.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary related to the intersections of faith, development, justice, and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit: John M. Perkins via]

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Missionaries, cultural imperialism, and The Poisonwood Bible

I recently read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, a true modern classic. In the novel we’re introduced to Nathan Price, a fierce Baptist missionary with an independent streak who took his family to the Congo in the late 1950s. Narrated by his wife and four daughters, it is simply a spellbinding story. It’s also a brutal story, particularly in its indictment of Price for his selfishness, legalism, heavy-handedness, arrogance, and callous disregard for the wellbeing of his family and of those he has purportedly been sent to serve. He’s not only an ugly American, he’s also an ugly Christian.

Kingsolver’s own childhood included a brief stint in the Congo as the daughter of an American physician, and this experience undoubtedly shaped the way she sees the world. Interestingly, though, in the Author’s Note she writes:

I thank Virginia and Wendell Kingsolver, especially, for being different in every way from the parents I created for the narrators of this tale. I was the fortunate child of medical and public-health workers, whose compassion and curiosity led them to the Congo. They brought me to a place of wonders, taught me to pay attention, and set me early on a path of exploring the great, shifting terrain between righteousness and what’s right.

As a son of missionaries, and one with a particular interest in matters of faith, ethics, and justice, I’d wanted to read The Poisonwood Bible for a long time, and I’m glad I finally had the chance. It really is a great novel. And while the damning portrayal of Nathan Price is admittedly a caricature, an honest look at the history of Christian mission reveals that self-identified followers of Christ have at times been involved in some pretty awful stuff.

Which raises an important question: Do missionaries destroy cultures?

Veteran missionary Don Richardson, best known for his books Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts, addresses this question in an article in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader (article available as a PDF here).

“There have indeed been occasions when missionaries were responsible for needless destruction of culture,” Richardson writes. “Whether through misinterpreting the Great Commission, pride, culture shock, or simple inability to comprehend the values of others, we have needlessly opposed customs we did not understand. Some, had we understood them, might have served as communication keys for the gospel!”

Me as a kid with some friends in the community where we lived in Guatemala.

But Richardson goes on to argue – convincingly, I think – that missionaries who destroy cultures are the rare exception; most are far more often hard at work preserving languages and cultures, and serving communities in practical, tangible ways through education, public health, or other community development initiatives.

My own parents served in the highlands of western Guatemala for many years as missionary linguists, and far from seeking to destroy the local culture, they honored and respected it, while teaching us to do likewise. Eventually we did.

For better or worse, remote communities no longer have the option of remaining “undisturbed,” even if that’s what they’d prefer. It’s well known that in the Amazon region, for instance, loggers continue to encroach on indigenous land all the time. And as self-described atheist Matthew Parris famously wrote a few years ago regarding another continent, “Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.”

It’s true that people who more or less resemble Nathan Price exist, and some of them call themselves missionaries. But when missionaries are at their best, Richardson writes, they “are advocates not only of spiritual truth, but also of physical survival.” He describes how his own service in Indonesia included persuading his neighbors to give up the practice of cannibalism, knowing that if they didn’t do so willingly, the Indonesian government would have forced the point through more aggressive means. In that way, he had a hand in changing the culture, which in turn kept it from being destroyed:

Do missionaries destroy cultures? It’s true that we destroy certain things in cultures, just as doctors sometimes must destroy certain things in a human body if a patient is to live. But as we grow in experience and God-given wisdom, we must not – and will not – destroy cultures themselves.

Once again, you can read the entire article here, which I’d recommend you do – right after you read The Poisonwood Bible for yourself.

[Photo credit: “Canoe in the Congo” by Michael Nichols via]

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Repaso: Letter to OWS, transparent church, mission & culture, powerful photos of 2011, global financial mess, spiritual theology & relevance, blessing & cursedness at Christmas

1. A Letter to OWS
Makoto Fujimura, head of the International Arts Movement, has written a letter to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. He has a love/hate relationship with movements, he says, and encourages and implores those involved with OWS to remember a few essential things:

The value of your movement is in spontaneity, diversity, and flexibility.  Do not let extreme ideologies hijack your movement.  Do not let the media define who you are. Avoid every temptation to name a spokesperson or a leader, no matter how charismatic that person is.  Keep pressing into raising questions more than giving answers. Be generous, mysterious, and enigmatic. A movement is organic and generative, and your passion must be carried into the conversation for the next generation, from Wall Street to dining room table discussions. Above all, do all things out of love.

2. The transparent church
Skye Jethani blogs about a public art installation in Belgium resembling a see-through church, and what it can teach us as Christians:

The architects said they were motivated by the growing number of abandoned churches in Belgium, and the declining role of religion in the highly secularized country. They have titled their structure “Reading Between the Lines” because it “extends this idea of transparency onto the church and equally onto the observer who must learn to read between the lines even among things that are seemingly transparent. Just because you can see something doesn’t make it real, neither does something not exist because it can’t be seen.”

3. Do missions destroy cultures?
This one by Jordan Monson, a church planter in Spain, has sparked a good conversation at RELEVANT on the role missions and missionaries play (or don’t) in changing other cultures. Monson says, in effect, that missionaries have great power for good and for ill in the cultures to which they are sent:

Christians—and missionaries—can be at times the best and at other times the worst representatives of Christ. They’re not perfect. They will make mistakes, and they will take some cultural presuppositions with them no matter how much they are trained not to. Missionaries will unapologetically keep campaigning against female mutilation, deceivingly referred to as female circumcision; they will fight against cannibalism, witchcraft and human sacrifice. But they will also miss the mark sometimes and carry their Western values too far. Missionaries are still sinners, but when they follow Christ and make His glory their chief end, they elevate culture and follow the call of Jesus.

4. Most powerful photos of 2011
This collection of photos is stunning and sobering. It’s been a rough year for many in our world, and I was struck by just how many photos of natural disasters and mass protests were included.

5. Who owns this mess?
In this New York Times Magazine piece, Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto (who I’ve blogged about here and here) weighs in on the global financial crisis (see also his bio at the end of the piece for why he’s to be taken seriously):

Once it is clear that this recession is about the organization of knowledge or, more precisely, the lack of organization, Western governments can step in to get the facts. That will allow them to target the disease without getting stuck in the left-versus-right controversy about regulation and government oversight. We need increased truth-telling; increased recognition of what exists and who owns it.

6. Eugene Peterson, spiritual theology and relevance
Patton Dodd writes for on Eugene Peterson’s important and counter-cultural legacy within North American evangelicalism (and the irony that the world’s biggest rock star admires him):

When Peterson set out to make the Bible relevant, he didn’t mean to make it hip, or even successful. He meant to make it ordinary—to make it spiritual. He meant to show people that spirituality is nothing special as we normally understand “special.” It’s the quotidian quality of Jesus. In Peterson’s straightforward words, “life, life, and more life.” Peterson is straining to help Christian believers to understand that that message is the message of God.

7. “Far as the curse is found”
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, writes a wonderful reflection based on the lyrics of “Joy to the World”:

There certainly is a lot of cursedness around these days. There are the “macro” curses of homelessness, poverty, political oppression, the sexual slave trade, religious persecution, whole populations devastated by war and disease. But there are also the “micro” curses that afflict many individual lives in highly personal ways: grief, abandonment, loneliness, abuse, fear of the future, difficult illnesses—and much more. The good news of Christmas is that Jesus has come—born a baby in the manger of Bethlehem… God chose to experience the curse in a very intimate way, experiencing our cursedness from the inside by becoming one of us. The final “conquering,” of course, came at the end, when Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose victoriously from the tomb. But it had to begin with his utter helplessness in the Bethlehem stable. “God with us”—in the cursedness of our helpless estate.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit: Randy L. Rasmussen/The Oregonian via Buzzfeed]