By David Frazier
David is a message bearer and has been serving among the unreached for almost 20 years.
The Best Testing Ground
Moreover, the home community provides the best environment for testing people in their cross-cultural outreach skills.
Doesn’t it seem “terribly awkward to send a message bearer to reach Muslims overseas who has never taken the time to develop even one friendship with a Muslim during several years of preparation for mission service?” (Massey 2002, 200)
Doesn’t this suggest a bit of arrogance and western over-confidence? With the enormous increase in immigration around the world, there is no excuse not to develop some pre-field cross-cultural experience. The Lord of the harvest has given a perfect pre-field testing ground right here in our communities.
Is there blindness to the incredible opportunities all around because of “an erroneous idea that ‘missions’ is something that occurs overseas, not in [our] hometowns?” (Massey 2002, 197)
How can message bearers expect to be able to serve in a high stress cross-cultural environment using a new language if they have not first attempted to minister to internationals in their own city?
Through this kind of experience as outreach from the local church, young people can assess their gifts and find out what God may want to do with them. Some will find that God hasn’t gifted them in this way. On the other hand, they may find unexpected fruitfulness here, so that they can hardly wait to go overseas and continue a cross-cultural ministry. (Hulbert 1984)
Daryll Platt in Too Valuable to Lose shows how the Apostle Paul himself passed through four stages in preparation for cross-cultural mission service: Development of spiritual life, formation of Christian character, acquisition of ministry related skills, understanding of basic relational patterns (Taylor, 1997, 199).
Much of these stages occurred in his local church environment in Antioch. When Paul and Barnabas were sent out as message bearers, the elders at that church were simply confirming what they had already seen in these two men’s lives and expected them to continue to do what they had already been doing, only in a different cultural setting.
If message bearer appointees haven’t learned in their churches what [discipleship] is all about, they’re not likely to learn it during their flight across the ocean. If, in the home church context,they’ve never been discipled; if they’ve never brought people to Jesus Christ; if they’ve never had the opportunity to do some discipling and see people grow under their ministry, then they’re not likely ever to know how, or do it (Hulbert 1984).
The Realities of Ministering Cross-Culturally
Sometimes people fanaticize about living in an exotic place and ministering to different peoples in a foreign language; however, all those who have done it know there is nothing glorious or glamorous about being “embarrassed, laughed at, and at times humiliated” by a majority culture. (Allen 1986, 122)
Moreover, learning to minister across cultural and linguistic boundaries can hardly be described as glorious! “Probably one of the keenest disappointments that new message bearers face is that everyday life on the field is a far cry from what was told them.” (Allen 1986, 121)
Message bearers need humility and servanthood in order to endure and thrive in that setting, and a large dose of perseverance! There is no better place for potential message bearers to test themselves and their families in regards to ethnocentrism and cross-cultural sensitivity than right in their home countries.
A proper entry posture into the culture is critical. Many westerners enter the field with an ethnocentric worldview if not prepared carefully. He must learn how his culture has influenced and shaped him and then learn to hold that loosely and adapt to the culture he is entering. (Shultz, 2005)
Those involved in assessing and training message bearer candidates at the local church level might use the assessment tool known as the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), created by Milton
This model is used as a framework to explain the reactions of people to cultural difference, identifying six distinct types of experience across a continuum from left to right.
Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (Milton Bennett, 1993)
denial defense/reversal minimization | acceptance adaptation integration
ethnocentric | ethnorelative
By ethnocentrism [Bennet] is referring to the experience of viewing one’s own culture as ‘central to reality.’ Beliefs, values and behaviors acquired through our primary socialization are seen as adequate descriptors of ‘the way things are.’ By ethnorelativism (not moral relativism) Bennett is referring to the experience of viewing one’s own culture as just one organization of reality amongst many legitimate possibilities (Sheffield 2007).