For many years, I have been thinking about the interreligious conflict between Christianity and other religions in the world, and the work of Christian missionaries in international mission and cross-cultural evangelization. In the context of Haiti, the conflict lies in the relationship between Vodou and Christianity, Christians and Vodouizan.
As will be observed, the essay below reveals many things about my values, ethics, theology, my understanding of human cultures and cross-cultural friendship, my understanding of the message of the Gospel and its demands upon people, and the infinite value of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice for the world.
My target-audience is Christian missionaries who are investing in cross-cultural evangelization and international mission.
“10 Theses about Contemporary Christian International Mission and Cross-Cultural Evangelization“
Historically, the practice of Christian mission and evangelization, both at the cross-cultural and international level, has been influenced by American-Western ideology of conquest and an attempt to deracinate the culture and traditions of the people being evangelized. Correspondingly, Christian mission and evangelization has been operating from the foundational philosophy of the superiority of American and European cultures and value-systems, and the belief in the triumphal achievements of Western countries in global history. Also, the rhetoric of Christian mission and evangelization has also been shaped by the rhetoric of dehumanization and demonization, as circulated in American-Western books, media, and news outlets, of the non-white and Western people. In short, Christian international mission and cross-cultural evangelization has been detrimental to the values, cultures, and concerns of the brown and non-Western people.
Unfortunately, many Christian missionaries originated from Western and powerful countries support aggressively Western military interventions and wars, coups, economic sanctions and embargoes—often resulting in deaths, abject poverty, and underdevelopment—in the country they claim they are called to serve as missionaries and evangelists; to the great dishonor of the Gospel of peace, they would also interpret these human-made tragedies, catastrophes, suffering, and pain as part of the divine plan for the Gospel to penetrate that foreign land. To continue to contribute to the (on-going) misery and suffering of the people one is called to reach is the very antithesis of the Gospel of peace and reconciliation. Such attitude clearly indicates a grave misunderstanding of the task of the Christian missionary and the essence of biblical Christianity—as if one were to support a politics of human destruction and an ethics of death: social, existential, and physical.
In the same line of thought, the Christian missionary should never sustain international policies and diplomatic-immigration laws that will lead to the obliteration of (foreign) individuals, and the separation and dehumanization of the families of the people they are called to love and reach overseas. Because you are called to be a peacemaker and light of the world, God has also urged you to be on the side of the poor, the vulnerable, the economically-oppressed, and correspondingly, to defend their rights to exist and be free. The Gospel is about the activation of God’s justice and goodness in the world, and the application of divine justice in the social order; thus, the missionary-messenger should be a fierce bearer of human justice and a zealous promoter of God’s intended goal to harmonize everything and make all things right.
Moreover, because of the complexity of transmitting the message of the Gospel to a culture where Christ was not formerly known and to a people of different values than those of the Christian missionary, it creates a problem for the missionary to find the appropriate evangelistic strategy and missional method to bridge walls of division and isolation, to establish genuine human interactions and relationships, and ultimately, to share effectively the message of God’s saving grace, loving-kindness, and compassion. The insensitivity and ignorance of the Christian missionary to the culture of the non-Christian is another hindrance to the effective interpretation and proclamation of the Gospel. The presentation of the Gospel requires boldness, audacity, but not forceful conversion; by consequence, the messenger should not compromise the message, undermine the reality of human sin and oppression, and reciprocally, he/she should not negotiate the distinctive demands of the Gospel and the truths about God revealed in the character and deeds of Jesus Christ. The beauty of the Gospel lies in the person and saving work of Jesus Christ, and his message of grace, love, peace, and fraternity. It is never about the missionary’s wisdom, strength, and persuasion.
In summary, I articulate ten propositions regarding the attitude and actions of Christian missionaries engaging in international missionary endeavors and cross-cultural evangelistic activities and projects.
- It is God who is the ground of human hope and Jesus Christ the light of cultures and the nations; it is not the culture of the missionary and certainly not the strength and resources of the missionary’s country.
- The Christian missionary should not conflict the power of the Gospel with the political power of his/her native land; because of human greed and the longing of one nation to dominate or subdue another nation, the workings of the political power of powerful nation-states often leads to further human suffering and death, estrangement, and alienation.
- The value and worth of the people the Christian missionary is called to reach do not lie in their knowledge of your own culture nor should you continually attempt to forcefully impose your culture upon them as if assimilation to your own culture is a prerequisite to salvation in Christ and the effective understanding of the Gospel.
- In the same line of thought, the value and worth of the people you are commissioned to is not dependent upon them knowing your native (Western) language, as you may already and falsely assume that your language is far more superior than theirs; in fact, it will be more beneficial to your missionary outreach and effectiveness had you taken the time to learn well their language and be proficient in it. You are “the sent one” and “the one commissioned one.” It is not the other way around.
- While human sin and unrighteousness may bring about all forms of human suffering and destruction, the missionary should not rejoice in the suffering and death of the people he/she is trying to reach and thus interpret them explicitly as God-given opportunities to engage in Gospel-conversations. Certainly, without postulating a spirit of patronizing, there is an honorable way to discuss the hard life and economic poverty of the target people without undermining their worth and dignity—as they are also created in the Image of God.
- The Christian missionary should develop a positive attitude toward the people he/she is called to evangelize and correspondingly, the messenger-missionary should foster a relationship of respect, mutual reciprocity, friendship, care, and interconnectedness. The alienated missionary is not a relational human being nor will he or she be an effective God’s servant in that given culture.
- The Christian missionary ought to know that the saving power of the Gospel and the effective proclamation of Christ to a culture in desperate need of God’s intervening grace and redemption does not depend upon the missionary’s rhetoric of manipulation, fear, and aggression as he/she relates the message of the Gospel to the non-Christian believer in the foreign land.
- The Christian missionary should know that the non-Christian is entitled to the exercise of religious freedom and right of his or her own religious tradition, and the deliberate practice of such a given faith. God is bigger than religious traditions, and the saving power of Christ transcends all religious authorities, rituals, and practices. Christ saves; religions do not!
- It is not the conversion from one religion to another one that brings God’s salvation to the individual; Christ alone is the Redeemer of the human soul. The fundamental philosophy of biblical conversion and Christian mission is to make known the distinctive qualities of the person of Christ and the infinite value of his cross resulting in genuine repentance from and forgiveness of sins to the total surrender of the person’s life to God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
- The end of Christian conversion is not to make new religious converts or proselytes, but to make genuine and permanent followers of Christ of all nations, cultures, and ethnic groups.