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!

About Our Work

About Our Work

When we arrive in Antananarivo (Tana) we will become part of the Tana FOCUS team. It is the vision and stategy of the team to reach the unreached of Madagascar through the training of local believers. The team will train Malagasy Christians as missionaries and will support them when they serve amongst an unreached people group on the island. After successful service in Madagascar the Malagasy missionaries will be encouraged to go back to their roots (Indonesia) to do missionary work there. We are much delighted about this approach and find it a privilege to take part in it.

While in Tana we expect to spend much time on language acquisition and study of the culture and history of Madagascar. Katja will continue educating the children.

AIM’s unit leader over Madagascar has proposed that we help him survey which people groups still need to be effectively reached with the gospel and how this can be achieved. We will probably visit various people groups and locations on the isle. In time hopes are that we may be involved in starting a new team amongst an unreached people group.

Summary:
– As part of the Tana FOCUS team we will help train Malagasi Christians to be missionaries;
– We will study Malagasy language, culture and history;
– We will help survey unreached people groups;
– In time we hope to start a new team amongst such a group;
– Katja will home educate the children.

To read more on unreached peoples visit this page. To learn more about Madagascar and its people go here.

Why Mission Matters

Why Mission Matters

Next year we hope to move to the south of Madagascar to serve the Bara. The Bara are an unreached people group. Unreached people groups lack enough followers of Christ and resources to evangelise their own people. We are more than willing to be part of the Bara being reached. But why?

For a Christian this may be an easy question. If you believe that Jesus – in dying on the cross and rising from death – has won over evil, you can’t help but share this with others. News like that must be told! But suppose you are not a Christian: why bother to support missionary work at all?

We are convinced that, when preaching Jesus Christ, many other beautiful things take place also. Not only do the hearers gain the possibility to be restored to a relationship with God through Christ, but changes begin to take place alongside. Sometimes these good things come about directly through the work of missionaries (e.g. schools, hospitals, water supply), but more often people and communities begin to change from within. A Christian does not need to consult the spirits, or fear things new or unknown. He can confidently make plans, assured of God’s protection and care. Investment in missionary work is also an investment in freedom – a precious commodity. Read the full article here.

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.

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.