Why Mission Matters

Why Mission Matters

Seen From a Secular Viewpoint 1

Introduction
A commonly heard statement against missionary work is to leave people alone: do not spoil their culture and belief systems. One should not bother people groups with alien belief systems.

This argument is understandable because many appreciate the diversity of cultures around the world. Rightly so, it is one of the many beautiful aspects of human beings. Humans around the world have developed their own style of music, dance, and other traditions.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned objection is not as obvious as it seems. This paper will accommodate the given objection with the necessary comments. Note that most of this paper’s focus will be on rural African situations. Yet, this does not mean that the discussed ideas are restricted to this setting alone.

World-view
Before we move on to the actual objection it will be valuable to be familiarised with the concept of ‘world-views’. Cultural diversities make a big difference in people’s understanding of the world around them—how one interprets diseases, prosperity, natural events, etcetera, depends strongly on one’s belief system. To illustrate how one’s world-view can differ from others we will take a look at a paragraph from Burnett’s book ‘Clash of Worlds’:

Jean La Fontaine tells the interesting incident of an anthropologist having a discussion on the Yap islands with a group of islanders who believed that the cause of conception is not sexual intercourse, but the entry of a spirit into the woman concerned. The anthropologist cited the example of the improvement in the quality of the pigs that had resulted from the cross breeding of imported European boars with native sows. The islanders were quite prepared to agree with this yet refused to accept the idea that sexual relations among humans resulted in pregnancy, citing various cases of married women without children, and ugly women, whom no man found attractive, having babies. The discussion caused puzzlement on both sides, until light dawned on a particular islander: “Ah,” he said to his companions, “this man actually believes that people are the same as pigs.” 2

 

Implications
People who state that it would be better to leave other cultures alone, often forget that their statements have come forth out of certain presuppositions. Firstly, to say that Christian missionaries are bound to spoil one’s culture seems to implicate that the culture in question is ultimately satisfying to its inhabitants. And secondly, it indicates an outdated idea of missionary work where missionaries try to ban the established cultures in order to Westernise the world.

Satisfying in Every Aspect?
The first implication basically states that people from other cultures are most content with their own belief systems and co-existing cultural traditions. This, however, is not as straightforward as one might think. Especially in many rural African societies, where people give a lot of weight to the worship of ancestors and nature spirits, people suffer many fears. Frequently the people consult so called witch-doctors or medicine-men, who prosper on the fears of their ‘patients’. Diseases and other misfortunes are quickly explained as being a punishment or as inflicted by an upset spirit or by a witch. 3 Often it requires a sacrifice to restore the delicate balance. To say that this cultural facet is satisfying to the inhabitants is far from the truth.

Missionary of Culture
The second implication seems to have some historical truth in it. True enough, in colonial times many (but not all) missionaries viewed their own culture as superior to that of the people they tried to evangelise. Christianity was not only a personal belief, it was embedded in every aspect of many Western societies. Thus, bringing the Gospel was, for many, equivalent to bringing one’s culture. This attitude, however, changed rapidly after the enlightenment period. Today the West is no longer predominantly Christian.

Today’s missionaries understand that the Modern Secular Western culture is not advertising the Christian faith. 4 In other words, Western culture is not the appropriate tool to evangelise people since it does not guarantee a sound understanding of Christianity. Thus missionaries will try to make the Gospel culturally relevant for people. They cannot water down the Gospel but they can highlight different aspects. Take Jesus’ sacrifice for example: In the West we tend to highlight the juridical solution. In a nutshell this view says that all people have sinned against God and deserve punishment for their wrongdoing, just like a thief or violent person needs to be punished by a judge. It was Jesus Who took the punishment for us and He fulfilled the juridical requirement. Those who accept His offer can go free. However, cultures that do not highlight the legal side of society tend to emphasise aspects like shame and traditional fears for ancestors or spirits. For these societies it will be more applicable to focus on Jesus’ victorious work over all evil. Jesus had authority over evil spirits, He was shamefully treated and hang naked on a cross. He took the shame upon Himself of being separated from the Father. He died, but after three days He came back to life thus defeated death itself. Both viewpoints are equally true but will not always resonate with the listeners. It is important to find the most relevant aspects to make people listen. Later one can always teach the other aspects as well.

Secular Gain Through Missionary Work
Language
Most rural Africans have their own language and will have great difficulties learning in the official language. Often one of the primary goals of missionaries is to learn the native language. Normally they will try to put this language into writing. It does not need explanation to state that this is a great advantage for the people. Many local schools started right after these writings were (partly) finished. By learning how to read and write, people are more armed against fraud when buying or selling their goods.

Healthcare
Another very important aspect is that of healthcare. Clean drinking water, simple remedies against diseases, AIDS/HIV prevention programmes, etcetera, are all part of many modern missionary organisations. The success rates of these programmes are hard to express in figures. However, many organisations are committed to stay on a long term basis. During this period they will seek to train the native Africans. This way the organisation shares its knowledge and consequently the people become less dependent.

Economy
Although missionary work starts with the longing of spreading the Gospel, it is often a great boost for the local economy. Missionaries do not consider profitable areas as more important than non- profitable areas. That is to say, secular Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) will have to abide to strict regulations of where to go and what to do. 5 Furthermore, secular NGOs may do a good job in education and the like, but more often than not rural Africans are not capable, due to religious convictions, to fully profit from their help. 6 Parris says the following about it:

“Anxiety, fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won’t take the initiative, won’t take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.” 7

Missionaries, on the contrary, have the freedom to go to people groups who do not have access to proper education and/or healthcare. Additionally, Christians are not committed to a secular world- view thus capable to address the religious aspects more effectively.

The Christian faith strongly depends, in contrary to the traditional rural African religions, on individual decisions. The Christian faith emphasises the unique bond between God and human. Christians do not need intermediaries in order to have a relationship with God. No longer will the person have to be subordinate to others, which will result in a bolder attitude towards progression. A naturalistic and materialistic approach to a people, who are deeply rooted in religious traditions, will not help them. Their religious system will have to change alongside. Fears need to be addressed. The traditional rural Africans will not change certain habits because they fear the possible negative consequences—better not disturb the ancient spiritual order. Those who entrusted themselves to the Christian faith however, will abandon these fears because they know that their new Saviour became victorious over all evil. Parris testified that the Christians he met “were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world—a directness in their dealings with others—that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.” 8

Conclusion
Missionary work in Africa is not only about winning souls. It digs much deeper in the change everyone wants to see in Africa. Although secular NGOs are of great worth, they cannot replace the deepest longing in the hearts of many Africans. Many rural Africans have a deeply rooted religious system which is unlikely to change through secular education. Missionaries can offer a solid replacement of their, often fear-driven, religious ideas.

To change the beautiful African culture should not and is not the goal of most missionary organisations. Nevertheless, there are certain aspects in these cultures that need a head on approach. 9 Many Africans are illiterate because in their culture they never actually needed it. Times change and so do trades. A literate person will not likely be a victim of fraud. Furthermore, reading and writing is of great use when it comes to education. To read that certain customs are harmful can help to change their (often cultural infused) habits. 10

Instead of spoiling a culture it would do more justice to missionaries to state that they enrich one’s culture. Not only in spiritual aspects but also in materialistic ways. This holistic approach has proven to be very sufficient for economical growth—and economic growth that many Westerns wish to see happen among the people from this beautiful continent called ‘Africa’.

Endnotes

  1. Secular: Denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.
  2. Burnett, D., Clash of Worlds: What Christians can do in a World of Cultures in Conflict, London: Monarch Books, 2002, p. 15.
  3. Burnett, D., World of the Spirits: A Christian Perspective on Traditional and Folk Religions, London: Monarch Books, 2000, pp.126-128.
  4. Whether it ever did, is a different debate.
  5. Maggay, M. P., ‘Justice and Approaches to Social Change,’ in (eds.) M. Hoek & J. Thacker, Micah’s Challenge: The Church’s Responsibility to the Global Poor, Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2009, p.131.
  6. Ibid. p.123.
  7. Parris, M., As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God, Times Online, website (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece, 2008), Downloadable pdf: http://www.rootedinjesus.net/docs/Parris.pdf.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Maggay, M. P., ‘Justice and Approaches to Social Change,’ in (eds.) M. Hoek & J. Thacker, Micah’s Challenge: The Church’s Responsibility to the Global Poor, Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2009, p.123.
  10. Matters of nutrition, immunization, personal hygiene, family planning, child rearing, seeking early medical care, disposal of solid wastes and human excreta etc.

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Tanala: Here We Come!

Tanala: Here We Come!

Only barely returned from our trip to Nosy Mitsio, Jurgen embarked on a survey to the east of Madagscar, to the Tanala. The Tanala are amongst Madagascar’s least reached people groups. The evangelical christians number less than 1%. Churches are only found in cities. The churches lack vision to share the gospel with their fellow tribesmen, who are in geographically difficult to reach areas.

The results of the trip are very encouraging: in all the villages missionaries are more than welcome. Some villagers had heard of Jesus when selling their produce on the markets in towns, other told of a yearly visit of an evangelist. There was a great felt need of education on what the Bible teaches. The elders in one of the villages said: ‘If what you preach is truly good news our people need to hear it.’ They would have us come yesterday rather than tomorrow. A videoreport of the trip can be accessed von our video page. You can also click on the video thumnail on this page.
[wp_fancybox_media hyperlink=”https://www.jurgenenkatja.nl/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Survey-trip-Sandrohy-Ikongo-april-2016.jpg” type=”youtube” width=”640″ height=”360″ url=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/JVTACF_bL6w?version=3&autoplay=1&fs=1&rel=0″]

Engaging the Tanala has been the longing of AIM Madagascar for some time. It seems we have come to Madagascar at the right time. The next step is to return to Sandrohy, a central village surrounded by many smaller villages, to see what we need to live there.

Before we can go, we need our own vehicle though. There is no public transportation to Sandrohy. The roads are very bad so we need a sturdy 4×4. The need for a car is not just practical: it involves our safety too. Drivers in Madagascar seem to be in constant haste. Big risks are taken. Only recently 3 accidents with buses happened in Tana due to reckless driving. The results: 13 casualties. Rules are now more strictly adhered to, making it even more difficult to catch a ride as a family.

We would be most grateful for any gift towards our purchasing a car. You can find information about giving on our support page. We are very grateful for your gift!

Into TIMO

Into TIMO

We have just returned from a month of traveling – and what an awesome trip it was! When we met the leader of a team of missionaries on a remote island off the coast of Madagascar we were very interested in their experiences. What was it like to live a simple lifestyle in a hut? How were they received? What was TIMO like? How does the team function? The leaders suggested to come and take a look. No, not for a week or two, but a whole month. We are very glad we took up the invitation. We have learned so much in a month and enjoyed it thoroughly. You can see a videoreport on our multimediapage.

The island we visited is called Nosy Mitsio and is home to about 2000 people. The islanders live in small villages in simple huts made of natural materials. They fish, grow rice, coconuts, bananas and some other fruits. Some have cows, goats, ducks or chickens. Ancestor worship and special ceremonies called ‘trombas’ play an important role in their lives. The Antankarana have lived on the island for about 200 years, since they fled there from persecution by an evil Merina-queen. Regrettably the Antankarana still hold a grudge against the Merina people group, who live in and around Tana.

At first the islanders were not particularly happy about the coming of the missionaries. Still the team could come. Now, after more than a year the missionaries are loved and very much welcome. Through friendships the missionaries share the gospel and testify of the love of Jesus for them. They are currently translating a set of Bible stories to share with their neighbours. For an example of what that looks like [wp_fancybox_media hyperlink=”click here” type=”youtube” width=”640″ height=”360″ url=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/E2gjju0hcLY?version=3&autoplay=1&fs=1&rel=0″].  Other ministries include teaching about God in the local primary school, helping in the fields, and health education.

Life on the island can be tough. While we visited several team members fell ill and needed medicine. Our family also contracted some infections. Traveling to and from the island is a challenge. Every month the team leaves to buy supplies. The land hardly provides enough for the locals, so the missionaries have to travel 3 and a half hours by boat and another 2 and a half hours by bus to Ambilobe, the closest city where supplies are available. On the island the team members have to walk through knee-deep mud and over sharp rocks – still we heard no complaints.

The goal of a TIMO team is twofold: to train beginning missionaries and to plant a church amongst an unreached people group. The team meets weekly to discuss the curriculum. The curriculum supports the fases of the missionaries’ work. While we were there the team members shared their testimonies, or faith-stories, in Antankarana with each other and their neighbours. As mentioned they are working on a story set to share in their villages. They hope to organise ‘Discovery Bible Studies (DBS)’, a way of discussing the Bible with maximum involvement of all participants. You can read more about this tool here.

With the team we are very curious as to what is going to happen on Nosy Mitsio in the coming months. We believe God has planned and prepared for them to be there. He has his eye on the island and wants it for His glory. Wouldn’t it be great if the veil of fear of the ancestors would be lifted and Jesus would become the centre piece of their lives? Please spend a moment in prayer for:

the team leaders Adam and Lora Willard, with Matimu and David;

Steve and Rebekah Orner, with Ruthanne, Douglas and Heather;

Shawn and Angie Mayle, with Liam, Kailin and Gwen;

and Kelly Segit.

Though isolated they may be, let them experience they are not alone in their hard work to win the Antankarana for Jesus!

Report first weeks

Report first weeks

ABO (Africa Based Orientation)
After an eight hours flight we arrived at 8 pm (Saturday the 10th of October) on Nairobi airport. The first three nights we stayed at AIM’s guest house. From there we travelled on to the ABO conference at Nakuru.

We were not alone! A total of 22 adults and 28 children joined us and they were all ready to serve the Lord at different places. To see a bigger version of the photo on the richt you can click on it. The first week at ABO we have studied the African culture and values. Among our tutors was a Kenyan man who lived in the UK for several years. This made that he could relate to our western culture as well as to the African culture. It was good to talk with other missionaries—some of who already work in Africa for several months or even years. We have learned a lot from each other.

Other subject were healthcare, safety and world-view… What to do when you are bitten by a snake or what are the symptoms of certain parasites. The last week we have discussed how missionaries can make a real change in people life and finally we looked at several world religions.

Visit Local Church
All three Sundays we were assigned to a local AIC (Africa Inland Church). We have introduced ourselves and Jurgen gave his testimony on the first Sunday. Our names are not that easy to pronounce so soon Jurgen became ‘babba Isaiah’ and Katja ‘mamma Isaiah’ (after our oldest son Issa, which is Swahili for Isaiah). Guests, especially mzungus (white man), can not make themselves scares. Obviously Jurgen could do the sermon and Katja would probably have good ideas to share on Sunday school… Uh? Yes, sure… of course, no problem.

After the church service we were invited to some ones home to eat lunch. That was a great experience. The lady of the house washed our hands and after that she served the food. We have noticed how proud the people were of there property, and thus they had no problem with us taking photos and recording it. The last Sunday one of the elders invited us to his home. It was a bit further away so the pastor suggested that we could take his car. ‘Babba Isaiah, you can drive… can you?’ Well, of course Jurgen can drive! That is to say, the road… Wow, rally roads are smooth compared to these! Anyway, they wanted to spare us the pain of walking as mzungus are not used to that (and they are probably right on that). The other elders came 40 minutes later and said that the walk did them good. On our way back the pastor drove us and his kids were coming along… 10 people will fit just fine in one car, in Africa it does! All in all, it was a great day and we have enjoyed the hospitality and kindness of our Kenyan brothers and sisters very much.

How Did the Children Like it?
Vanya said that she really liked it. They have made several nice crafts that had to do something with the African cultures. She said that the lessons about the “do’s and the don’ts” were very good. For example they have learned that for children, in an African setting, it would be considered impudent to look older people straight in the eyes. Vanya said that she is happy to know that in advance.

Issa: ‘There was a nice playground and the food was good! I also made new friends. We have learned lots about 14 different animals and countries.’

Abbey: ‘I liked the teaching about other countries. We also did fun projects. The snacks were great and we also played games.’

Dani: ‘The teacher gave me a book and that was all.’

Simeon: ‘…. ‘

Antananarivo, Madagascar
On the 6th of November we travelled on to our final destination Tana, Madagascar. We have a fine place to live and every now and then we make outings to the local marked. The children enjoy themselves in the garden and with the children of the neighbourhood.

We regularly make some video recordings which we will upload when the internet and electricity allows us to. You can watch them on our multimedia page.

Introduction and language learning
We are busy learning the Malagasy language. This is not a simple task. Jurgen never had France in school but still he can follow Katja’s France conversations. This is because our languages (France, German, Dutch etc.) have similarities. These similarities cannot be found in the language of Madagascar. Not a single reference point and a totally different grammar. Nonetheless, we did learn some words like ‘hello’ (manao hoana), ‘sorry’ (azafat), and ‘thank you’ (misaotra anao). Also some sentences like ‘my name is …’, ‘what is you name?’, and ‘how are you doing?’. We enjoy learning a new language but it is exhausting.

The AIM-Madagascar unit leader, Anna Jarmy, is helping us with the introduction. We discuss our tasks which will be mainly language learning for the first period. To speed things up, Anna will try to find us a language helper. Furthermore, she said that the normal procedure is to stay with a local family for a few days. This is less straightforward as it sounds because how do you find a family that can house seven persons extra. We will wait and see.

Visa
At the moment we are trying to get our work visa. This is quite complicated as we do not speak Malagasy yet and locals are not very good in France. We are happy to receive help from Parany, a man who works at the AIM office in Tana, who speaks English. Still, we try to do many things ourselves as this helps a lot in getting to know the people and culture. The walks to different offices is an adventure on its own. People initially greet us in France (bonjour), but are surprised when we greet them back in Malagasy (‘Manao Hoana’ or ‘Salama’). When we finish all preliminary works we will hand over the task of getting the visa to a man called Roland. He is a well known man at the official offices and will not likely be ‘run over.’

Food
Buying food is fun. Delicious mangos for only € 0,08 and banquettes for only € 0,11. We can buy all sorts of things on the market. This week we bought  1 kilo tomatoes, 1 kilo carrots and about 400 grams of beans for 2400 Ariary (€ 0,67). Other things are more difficult to find. Full grain bread is hard to come by and can only be found in the supermarket but than you will have to be prepared to pay more.

Different culture!
That we have arrived in a different culture is obvious. We already received two spontaneous visits. This means that you just stop with whatever you were doing and make some coffee, offering biscuits or the like and chat. This chatting is less straightforward as you might have guessed but, because we do know some of the cultural rules, we have done well. You need to offer the guest some biscuits first and place them on the table. Of course all the biscuits need to be eaten, a tradition the children do not mind. Jurgen and Vanya were going to visit someone’s house as well. They prepared their table with six classes but where were Katja and the children? Jurgen told them that they were very tired and that he only brought along his oldest child. This was pleasing as Vanya was a good representative of the children and the host was relieved to understand that the others did not stay home because of him. On Madagascar it is not necessarily the oldest boy who is most important (like in Kenya) but the oldest child. In Kenya we were the ‘father or mother of Issa’ but here we are ‘dadda/mamma nie Vanya’ (father or mother of Vanya).

If you want to know more about these differences we can recommend Sarah A. Lanier’s book, ‘Foreign to Familiar’ (for sale at e.g. Amazon). Sarah lived for eleven years in Holland and she is very good in explaining the differences between cold climate culture (with Holland as a strong example) and warm climate cultures.

We love to see all the learned theory in action. At the same time we are very tired at the end of the day. This ‘end of the day’ is about 6 pm—the sun has gone under by then and will be up as early as 05:20. Thus our day starts at 6 am and around 9 pm we are already in our snug beds… talking about which…

It is time to stop. We could write on but we will keep that for next time.

We wish you Gods rich blessings or in Malagasy ‘Andriamanitra ny fitahian’.

Progress

Progress

We are very happy to let you know that quite some progress has been made in finances this last month. At the moment we have reached 65% coverage of our monthly budget. We need some additional 25% in support to reach the goal of at least 90% coverage, the percentage at which the mission organisation thinks it is responsible to let us go to Madagascar.

How does it work? Africa Inland Mission has made a monthly budget for us – based on experience – to live and work as missionaries on Madagascar. The mission organisation is not our employer, but is itself dependent on gifts. Consequently, we are not paid any wages but are responsible ourselves for finding sponsors to help us on our way.

You can support us periodically (monthly / quarterly / annually) or one-off. Find out more about how to give here. We value any support given.

Destination Madagascar

Destination Madagascar

We have waited three months, but finally we have received word: we can go and serve amongst the Bara of Madagascar! We hope to leave for Madagascar in January 2015 to live in Betroka, a small town central to many Bara settlements. Since 2013 a team has been serving there.

The Bara are an unreached people group. This means they have no effective access to the gospel message. There are few Bara believers and Christians from other tribes don’t pay them attention. The Bara are hard to reach geographically: they live in settlements in the hills of 50-300 people. There are no roads leading to their villages, travel has to be done on foot.

We have always longed to work amongst an unreached people group, such as the Bara, so we are very happy to have found our destination for the coming years. More information on the Bara can be found on this prayer sheet.

Going Prepared

Going Prepared

From 13 till 16 April we took in an Orientation for new members of Africa Inland Mission (AIM). We have been encouraged by meeting with several christians from other countries with the same goal and purpose in mind: seeing Christ-centered churches among all African peoples.

Many practical issues have been discussed: health, safety, communication, dealing with transition and cultural differences. We are more aware than ever of the risks and likeliness of suffering, but ever the more motivated to go. The children enjoyed a parallel programme.

We had the chance to speak with the Personnel Director about the possibility of being placed in a team on Madagascar. It has become clear that the team and unit leaders were worried they would not be able to suit the educational needs of our children. We have responded this need not be a problem, since we are prepared and willing to home educate our children. We hope the team leaders will soon find the time to see and pray whether we would fit on the team.

To be continued…

Thinking Through Madagascar

Thinking Through Madagascar

We have a lot of contact with Africa Inland Mission (AIM) Europe‘s Personnel Director this month. He is looking for suitable assignments options for us.

Sofar we have discussed and thought through eigth different possibilities in four different countries in AIM’s Southern Region: Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique and Namibia.

Two Projects have drawn our special attention, since it involves working with unreached people groups who are animists. This means they have a strong, life controling belief in spirits who have the power to make them prosper or wither. Ancestral worship is practised and witch doctors are very influential. People live in constant fear.

We would very much like to serve a people with no effective christian witness. Both assignments give us that opportunity. One of the options however no longer exists since the vacancy has already been filled. One options remains, on Madagascar. This seems to be the place for us. In the weeks to come we will examine this further. We much appreciate your prayers on the matter.

Europe Based Orientation

Europe Based Orientation

We recently received word from Africa Inland Mission‘s office in Nottingham that a Europe Based Orientation has been planned in April. The orientation entails information about AIM for new members and information about the designated location of service in Africa. The orientation will be held in Kidderminster, close to our friends in Bridgnorth.

At the moment we are reading, thinking and praying through various options for service. Please pray for wisdom for all those involved in the decision making process, including ourselves, staff of AIM and the church leadership team.

We hope to be in England for about two weeks around Easter. It would be nice to see many of you when we are there and encourage each other.

AIM Membership

AIM Membership

On the 8th of this month we went to Nottingham for our final interview with AIM (Africa Inland Mission) regarding our application for membership. We had our interview with the Director of Personnel, his colleague and the Director of AIM Europe. The interview lasted for over 4 hours and we were able to discuss many things, including further steps.

The outcome of the interview is that the interview panel were unanimous in their decision that the Lord has prepared and called us for ministry with AIM to work among Africa’s peoples. The next step is that AIM Europe will prayerfully consider appropriate assignment options for us. We hope to hear back from them soon.

Now that the interview is over, we stay on in England for a while to enjoy some holiday time and to catch up with friends and with people in church. We are enjoying our time in England and the lovely countryside. We hope to go back to Holland with new energy to further prepare ourselves for serving the Lord in Africa.