"As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace." (Eph 6:12)
Getting beyond the language - and imagery - of the oppressorGood mission workers don't use the language of the oppressor when trying to share God's good news.
It's one of those underdiscussed lessons good missionaries know about in order to connect well with those they're trying to reach.Our PC(USA) frontier mission efforts which we commend to you for your support utilize this insight while working to give birth to indigenous Christian movements in unreached cultures.
Many cultures have a common "trade" language used throughout a region. It's used widely... but then, ah, there's the tribal language specific to the people group.
We call it their heart language.
It's the language even multilingual people dream in, cry out with, use when caught by surprise, and speak in the shielded security of families and lovers.
How many mission efforts enter a region and interact using a secondary, non-intimate language? - or worse, using the language of the group's oppressor? Across the globe indigenous cultures have been trampled upon by invaders and conquerers who have sought to displace the tribal languages with their own.
In Japanese-occupied Korea, for instance, the Japanese forbade speaking in Korean, assigned everyone a replacement Japanese name, and otherwise sought to eradicate Korean culture and form and displace it with their own. It didn't work. In fact, Presbyterian missionaries honoring Korean culture in the face of this onslaught were so highly regarded by Koreans that it helped propel forward their widespread adoption of Presbyterianism among Koreans.
"Those Presbyterians," they said, "stand on the side of Koreans
." Today, there are several times as many Korean Presbyterians as American Presbyterians!This week the Associated Press unwittingly described this phenomena.
The article, "Talk Latvian in Latvia? Russian speakers balk"
missed the real story by looking at the wrong side of Latvia's resistance to continuing to use Russian. The real story is how remarkably the Latvians are reasserting their indigenous language and culture in the face of past Russian domination. A new independent Latvian law decrees that most teaching must soon be done in Latvian.
"The Russian language dominated many areas of life in Latvia during decades of Soviet rule from Moscow," the article says, "and the newly independent nation made Latvian the sole official language partly as a countermeasure. Some Russian-speaking students perceive the new law as retribution for past Russian domination."
It's not retribution so much as finally shedding a false language foisted on the Latvian culture.So which missionary, do you imagine, will connect better with a Latvian: One who comes in speaking Russian, or one who speaks Latvian?
One rides the coattails of the oppressor, and reaps an oppressor's welcome. The other signals a bond with the peoples' heart language. We vote for the latter. And so, it turns out, do those on the receiving end of Christian witness around the world.Jesus knew this, too.
In Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he intentionally made an entrance as a king, complete with hosanna's and praise and palm-throwing so enthusiastic the Pharisees pleaded with him to stop the embarassingly royal display. Royal, yes, but with a huge difference. Roman royalty would have ridden in on a warhorse or gleaming chariot. Jesus enters on a donkey. He didn't adopt the oppressor's imagery and form. He comes on his own terms and even centuries later we feel he chooses to relate to us. (My gratitude to Rev. Sandra Hackett for pointing this out in her Palm Sunday sermon at Inglewood Presbyterian Church, Bothell, WA.)The donkey or the warhorse: Which will you ride as you enter other cultures to stand as a witness to Christ?
The heart or the hardened shell: Which would you rather address with the good news, Christ is risen indeed!"?