I’m busy working through the book of Revelation (again!). Contrary to most people I speak to about this book, I find this to be one of the most comforting books in the Bible. I recently purchased a new commentary on this book and although I don’t agree with everything the author says – one point being that he disagrees with the fairly general viewpoint that the Christians in the time when Revelation was written was confronted with great opposition from the Roman empire and that martyrdom was a reality with which they were confronted – I thoroughly enjoy reading through this book.
In the letter to the church in Pergamum, the author notes a few interesting issues. This church is commended for the way in which they took a stand against the worshipping of the emperor – something which was common in those days. Revelation was probably written in around 95 AD, in the time when Domitianus was emperor of Rome. He commanded that the people refer to him as deus et dominus – our lord and our god. However, although they took such a strong stand against this ungodly practice, within the church itself there were serious problems. Apparently there was a group of Christians (church members) who did not consider it inappropriate to take part in heathen festivities. These festivities were usually characterised by various forms of immorality. In this letter to the church in Pergamum, it is said that Jesus holds it against the congregation that there were people within the congregation who took part in these festivities, with the implication that the church did nothing to change their viewpoint.
This brought to mind two questions: Does the church have anything to say about the personal life of church members and does God have anything to say about the way in which I conduct my personal life – or, to put it in other words, is it possible to be in the world without being from the world? When I was much younger, the church in South Africa that we belonged to, had endless rules and regulations about what members could do and could not do, what was sin and what was not sin. These rules didn’t help much, because people still tended to do whatever they wanted – they just ensured that the church leaders didn’t catch them doing this.
In Swaziland, as I suspect in most non-Western countries, this is still true to a great extent. A former colleague of mine used to be a missionary in Zambia and he shared a story with us of how one of their male church members wanted to get married. His only means of transport was a bicycle and he picked up his future wife at her homestead and travelled with her through the forest (a fairly long distance) until they reached the church where they wanted to get married. Once at the church, the local church members decided that he couldn’t get married before being put under church discipline for some time, because nobody knew what had happened while the two were travelling by bicycle through the forest! The amazing part of this story is that the couple accepted their “punishment” and put off their wedding until the church discipline had run its course.
In most churches in Swaziland there are certain things which are absolutely considered as taboo. Smoking and drinking are non-negotiable. I’ve found the same in the church in Russia. I suspect that it would be true for many countries in Africa. These churches come from a background where people would drink until they fall down. When people accept Christ, they have to follow a totally different lifestyle to distinguish them from those who are not Christians. And this is the reason why things like smoking and drinking are such huge issues for them. In their eyes, people smoking and drinking cannot be Christians. Compare this with Indonesia, where I attended church and then, as soon as the service is over, people start lighting up their cigarettes, even while still in the church building. Granted: their buildings are totally different due to the extreme heat, which is more like an open space covered by a roof, but still…
The problem of breaking totally from your old lifestyle is that it becomes increasingly difficult to have an influence on non-Christians. And this brings me back to the main question: How to be in the world without being from the world? The answer is not easy. Few people are capable of doing this, without eventually making important sacrifices. This is apparently what had happened to some Christians in Pergamum.
What are your feelings about this?
I haven’t had much time for blogging the past week or so. I’ve been conducting a series of church services every evening. I focused on the Gospel of John and learnt some really remarkable stuff as I did thorough exegesis of the parts I wanted to preach about.
Tomorrow morning I will be wrapping up the series by looking at John 17. One of the things that I’ve realized since I started preparing for these sermons, is that John gives the impression that it is fairly easy to understand and then, the deeper you delve, the more difficult it becomes until you eventually discover the actual meaning of what John was trying to say to his readers.
John 17 is no exception. On the surface it is a prayer of Jesus for His disciples. I’ve done a lot of research on John 17 in the past within the context of church unity. With eleven language and almost as many race groups in South Africa, the church in South Africa is seriously suffering from the effects of disunity. Even within language and race groups, there are denominational groups which are very close to each other but which still consider those not part of their church as the opposition.
I once read the following story which illustrates in a humorous way what is happening between Christians:
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. I immediately ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he said.
I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Well…are you religious or atheist?”
“Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?”
“Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!”
To which I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.
In 1981 my wife and I had the chance to visit Zimbabwe. This was just after many years of civil war in the country. As we sat down to speak to church members about their experiences during the years of war, we struggled to understand how it feels to leave your house or farm in the morning, knowing that you are being watched through the scopes of a missile launcher which could be triggered at any moment if the soldier carrying the launcher feels like it. People were killed at random and everybody were living in fear every single day of their lives.
In those days many pastors left Zimbabwe and new pastors were not granted work permits for Zimbabwe. Under those circumstances the “right” church was not the one with which you agreed doctrinally, but the one which had a pastor. And I can still remember that I asked myself where things will need to lead to in South Africa (but not only South Africa) before a desire will grow amongst Christians to really accept one another in love and to demonstrate their unity. If this is what it cost to get the churches in Zimbabwe to work together, what will it cost us?
I am blessed that, in the town where I live, pastors from across virtually the entire spectrum of doctrines, have expressed the desire to come closer to each other. Pastors from different races and language groups and from different denominations (Charismatic, Pentecostal, Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran and a number of others) meet each other for breakfast once a month. During these gatherings, doctrinal issues are put aside in favor of reaching out to each other in love. In fact, over the years (and it literally took years to build this trust between the churches) we have developed the ability to make jokes about our own or even the other churches and to laugh at the way in which we used to protect our domain in the past. We still have a long way to go. But I’m truly thankful that I can experience something of what Jesus prayed for in John 17.
Tomorrow, as part of the Global Day of Prayer, most of these churches will be gathering to unite in prayer. Perhaps we need to pray the words of John 17 more regularly in our churches: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
I recently read a short review on the controversial movie, Religulous. While knowing what the intention of Bill Maher was in making the movie, I nevertheless decided, on a friend’s recommendation, to have a look at it. In my opinion the movie failed both as a comedy and as a documentary critique of religion in general and specifically Christianity. Perhaps it is just that I believe that my interpretation of humour is more sophisticated, but I cannot find anything humourous in humiliating people, be they fundamentalist Christian, Creationist, Jews, Mormons or Muslims. And from the onset it was Bill’s intention to humiliate people. One of the ways he does this is by mainly choosing people with radical viewpoints to interview and shooting holes in their argumens. Not only that: He chooses people who believe something but who are incapable of defending their beliefs with rational arguments. Obviously the movie was edited so we will never know how many people were able to answer Bill with logical arguments on why they believe. Something else he does, which I found extremely irritating, is to interrupt the people he interviews. He asks them a question which they start to answer and before they have finished their sentences, he interrupts by making some kind of humiliating remark about what they had just said and thereby causing them, either to become angry (through which they lose the argument) or to become so flustered that, for the viewer, it seems that they have no argument at all. The only person shown in the movie that is able to withstand this onslaught is a Rabbi who keeps on telling Bill that he must keep quiet while he finishes what he started saying, up to the point when Bill stands up and says: “I’m outta here!”
As a documentary it also fails, merely because Bill is totally biassed. Furthermore, he uses arguments trying to prove how ridiculous the Christians are but which is based on myth. One exmple is that he says that the story of Jesus is based on the Horus myth. In all honesty, this is the first time that I have every heard of this claim and had I been a new believer and someone said to me that a book had been written in 1280 BC, called the Egyptian Book of the Dead in which a god with the name of Horus is described who is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother, baptised in a river by Anup the baptiser (who was later beheaded), that Horus was later tempted while alone in the desert, that he healed the sick and the blind, cast out demons, walked on water, raises Asar from the dead (which supposedly translates to Lazarus), had twelve disciples, was crucified, and after three days two women announced that Horus, the saviour of mankind, had been resurrected from the dead, then I would probably also have wondered whether my pastor had been telling me the truth about Jesus.
The point is that, not only is the story of Horus an Egyptian myth, but the way in which Bill Maher tells the story of Horus is also a myth. It’s easy enough to find the text of this myth on the internet. In the real Horus myth, he is not born of a virgin. Horus was never baptised. Horus had four followers. Although he did perform miracles in the myth, he never cast out demons nor raised El-Azarus (which refers to his father, Osiris) from the dead. There is no account that he walked on water. He was not crucified. Why, I asked myself, would Bill Maher make up these stories if he felt so strongly that the story of Jesus was false?
The movie, however, had one positive effect on me: If an open-minded unbeliever should ask me today why I believe, what would I answer that person? And I realised that the answer is not so simple. Perhaps I should refer back to an analogy that I used in a previous post: Why do I love my wife and why did I marry her? Not because I had sat down one day and analysed all my needs until I eventually decided that this woman would make the perfect wife! We decided to get married because a loving relationship had started between us and developed to such a point that we decided that we want to spend the rest of our lives together. How do you explain that to someone who has never been in love?
I can testify today about what my relationship with Jesus had done in my life. I can tell numerous stories of miracles that had happened that I can ascribe to the fact that we had prayed (or sometimes not even prayed) about matters and that we know for a fact that God had intervened in some miraculous way. But can I prove this? Probably not. Coming to faith is exactly what it says. To entrust your life to God through Jesus Christ is a step of faith. But as the relationship develops one realises increasingly what one had missed out on before.
What would I have done if Bill Maher had approached me for an interview about why I believe? Probably I would have started by asking him why he would like to know (to better understand his intentions and to force him to be honest about his intentions). Then I would have attempted to explain to him what it is that I as Christian believe (which he, of course, has the right to reject if he pleases but which makes no difference to the fact that I believe this). And I would have kindly asked him not to interrupt me while I’m speaking. Lastly I would have tried to give some indication of what difference my faith makes in my daily life.
But by that time, I think, he would have said: “I’m outta here!”
A few days ago someone sent me a link to a Youtube video clip with the title: What if Starbucks marketed like a church? I was able to watch it then, but unfortunately it seems to have been removed from Youtube in the meantime. (It’s worthwhile to go to http://eugenecho.wordpress.com/2008/11/12/what-if-starbucks-marketed-like-a-church/ On this blog the video clip still seems to be working and there’s some great comments written about the clip.) It’s really quite funny and although it’s obviously exaggerated, the message comes across. If we want to market the church, we have to get more professional about it.
But then I thought that the title of the clip could also be put the other way round and someone innovative would probably be able to manufacture an equally funny clip: “What if the church marketed like Starbucks?” I’m all for becoming more professional in the church. I’m all for making use of certain business principles in the church. I believe that a vision and mission statement can really help a church to get focussed. But I’m not convinced that churches should be run entirely in the way that a business is run. (By the way – I had a cup of coffee at Starbucks at Cairo airport earlier this year, and not only was the coffee terrible but the atmosphere was even worse with a group of teens shouting and screaming at two in the morning, while I had only one desire – to get some sleep while waiting for a connecting flight. That morning I felt as if I would never set my foot in a Starbucks again!)
Let’s get back to the analogy of Starbucks. What do they want to do? Starbucks’ vision reads as follows: “Establish Starbucks as the premier perveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.” I can immediately sense a problem if we start marketing the church in this way. In fact, many churches do exactly this: “Establish XYZ Church as the premier perveyor of the gospel.” I read Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church not long after it was first published, and one of the things I remember is his attitude that there are many churches doing wonderful work. At their church they have a certain vision and a certain way of doing things. People who feel that they do not fit in, are free to worship at another church. Saddleback isn’t in competition with other Christian churches. Starbucks, on the other hand, is in strong competition with all other coffee shops and have to ensure that their standard is at such a level that people will prefer to drink their coffee instead of going to their competition. To achieve this aim, they do things in a certain way: Buy the best coffee beans. Install the best coffee machines. Give the staff the necessary training to make and serve the coffee.
The church, even though it needs to be run in a professional way, has an entirely different way of doing things. The church isn’t there to market the gospel or to market Jesus Christ. The church, one could say, is demonstrating what it means to live under the authority of Jesus Christ. The church, contrary to Starbucks, isn’t the place which I visit when I have a “thirst” or a desire for a good sermon. The church is there to change my entire focus on life, to change me (mostly focussed on myself and my own desires) in such a way that in my family life, my business life, my recreational life and wherever I am, I live as a changed person, now focussed on God and His desires, which means that I’m not in the church business because it makes me feel good, but because I know that this is what God wants from me. Contrary to going to Starbucks, I’m not part of the church to have a good feeling about myself, but to willingly go through the process of dying unto myself so that God can live through me. And this is not always an enjoyable process!
As I said: I’m all for churches being run more professionally. But I know of churches which are run extremely professionally but which still fail to get the main message across of a changed life, focussed on God and on the world for which Jesus gave His life.
David Hayward’s blog is on my bloglist as I enjoy his humour and cartoons. From time to time he also writes something. On Friday he posted something with the title: Church-Hate? Using the analogy of a photographer trying to publish his photos, he speaks about the restrictive nature of the church. Quite a number of people commented on this post. I myself asked him only one question: “Do you hate the church or do you hate what people made of it?”
There’s a lot being written about the church and about reasons why people do not like the church. I think this is a necessary discussion. But each time I read books, blogs or articles about the topic (granted that I am more inclined to read stuff written by people who are really serious about their relationship with God rather than people complaining merely because they can – and there’s plenty of them), I come to one conclusion: The complaints are mostly about what the church has become (or how people perceive the church to be) than against the church itself. I’ve read many excellent books about the church. Examples abound. Some of these that I’ve blogged about, include Bob Roberts’ books, Transformation and Glocalisation. All of these books have great ideas on how the church should be in today’s society, but eventually it all boils down to becoming the church as God revealed it to us in the New Testament.
And this is the reason why I feel uncomfortable about Christians saying that they hate the church. I’ve been hurt by the church in my own life. Immensely! I’ve personally seen and experienced how loveless the church can be at times. But is it the church or is it the people in the church who are at fault?
The fact is that, in spite of all the criticism against the church as institution, I have never seen a better alternative to a church that really works and does things in a Godly way.
I love the church. What we need to do is to return to the Biblical principles on how the church should be (such as being a community of love, being a light and salt for the world, being united in Christ, etc, etc.) We don’t need new principles. On the contrary. What we do need is the wisdom to apply the old principles within a new and changed society.
My “blog-friend” Wes (I think this is the equivalent to a pen-friend of forty years ago), wrote a few interesting remarks on his blog about the topic: Who’s on first? Evangelism or Social Ministry. Click on the link to read it.
This got my mind thinking once again about our motive for evangelism or mission. No matter how objective we try to be, most of us have secondary motives why we want to proclaim the gospel of Christ. The mere fact that so many books have been written about this topic (many of which I have read over the past months) is an indication that many Christians are questioning our own motives. Growing up in South Africa where racism has forever been a problem, the motive for mission has very often been that the black people need to be converted so that they will stop stealing from the white farmers.
On a more humourous note: Time and time again I have heard white people make the remark, after something had been stolen from them, that they had “made a donation” towards mission (meaning that a black person had stolen the article from the white person and that the white person therefore considers the stolen item as a donation made towards mission! Some years ago a white farmer had his truck stolen. He also made the remark afterwards that he had donated his truck towards mission. A week or two later the truck was found and I decided to pay the farmer a visit, telling him that I was there to claim my truck back which he had donated towards mission! Needless to say, I never received the truck😉
While this would obviously be an absurd motive for mission, the question remains why we want to convert people to Christianity. I suspect that for many people it’s about power – proving that our religion is better than their religion. I’m addicted to the Peanuts comic strips and remember, while I was still a student one cartoon strip where Rerun says to Linus: “I would have made a good evangelist. You know that kid that sits behind me at school? I convinced him that my religion is better than his religion.” Linus then asks: “How’d you do that?” And Rerun answers: “I hit him with my lunchbox!”
Obviously I also sometimes dream of how wonderful the world would be if we were all committed Christians. But then, at the same time, I realise how much fighting there had been through the years between Christians and then I also realise that this would also not be the final answer.
Why do I want to see people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ? I’m not sure if I can answer this question clearly. Possibly in my circumstances in Swaziland the answer may be easier than in countries in Europe. Looking at the people I see many who are totally enslaved by the world, living in fear of demons and ancestral powers and witchcraft. I want to see them be set free so that they can truly live life in abundance. But to use that argument with people who are seemingly happy, with a good monthly income, living in harmony with their spouse and children (yes, I know many non-Christians who, measured against the standards God sets in His Word, are living a good life) would probably not be very effective as I would have to convince them that my life is far better than their life.
Why would I want to evangelise such a person? Is it because I truly want that person to receive life everlasting? Is it perhaps because it would be a great help if such a person could become a member of my church? How much personal pride is involved?
I’m not quite sure of the final answer. Perhaps you would like to share your thoughts on the motive for mission and evangelism.
First of all, welcome to the 200th post on Mission Issues. When I started this blog I really wondered how long I would be able to share stories and experiences from the mission. I’m thankful for every positive response, word of encouragement and for people just reading and learning something from my personal experience, even if they don’t respond. And to top it all, yesterday I received an “Excellent blogger Award” from a missionary in the Ukraine. OK, it’s no big deal, but I still appreciate it when people feel that this blog really means something to them. You can read what Michelle writes about this (and other blogs) here.
Many missionaries will be able to share stories about the insensitivity of the mission committees responsible for sending them into the mission field. (We missionaries always refer to the prayer which mission committees supposedly pray when sending someone out: Lord, you keep them humble and we’ll keep them poor😉
In defence of the missions committee responsible for our work in Swaziland, I can testify that one will have to search very far to find people more concerned about the work and the people doing the work than them. So, if any of those members are reading this, then I want to thank you for what you are doing for us in Swaziland! You people are really great and we honestly appreciate your love and interest in our work.
One of our former colleagues (now retired) used to work in Malawi for many years. She was trained as a social worker and later married a missionary who had worked in Zambia for many years before they joined us in Swaziland. One of her favourite stories was their constant plea to the South African missions committee responsible for Malawi to build flush toilets in the houses of the missionaries in Malawi. Year after year this plea fell on deaf ears. There was never money available for this “luxury” item. And so the missionaries had to make use of a pit latrine built as far as possible (for obvious reasons) away from the homes. (Do you even know what I’m speaking about????)
All this changed one year when the missions committee sent a delegation to visit the missionaries in Malawi. One of the visitors picked up a bug which kept him on the run between the house and the pit latrine throughout the night. Somewhere in the process of running, he also stumbled across a tree stump and fell into the bushes. a few days after the return of the missions committee members to South Africa, the missionaries in Malawi were instructed to install flush toilets in all their houses. Miraculously, money had become available!
Today we can laugh at these stories. But the question remains why committees or organisations sending out missionaries tend to lose contact with the needs of these people? For most missionaries the situation is difficult enough – getting used to a new culture, being removed from families and friends, living and travelling, very often, in ways which they are totally not accustomed to. It is so important for these missionaries to know that, at the very least, they have the support of those who had sent them out to do the work.
We have dear friends working as missionaries in Thailand. Once every fifth year they are given tickets to return to South Africa for a “sabbatical” to regain their strength and also to meet with their supporters (and their families.) I was shocked, during a previous visit, when people complained that they are wasting money coming back to South Africa to see their families as the money for the plane tickets could rather have been spent in a more useful way! (Does that also make you think of the words of Judas?)
Many of those reading here will in some way be involved with the support of missionaries somewhere in the world. Most of the missionaries I know do this with so much love and dedication and in nearly all the cases I know of they will gladly sacrifice luxuries in order for the work to be done which they were called to do. In general they don’t complain, knowing that they are doing this for the Lord and also knowing that greater missionaries like Paul had to endure much worse things.
At a previous annual meeting of our Swaziland missions committee the chairman did something which I thought was really great. There was a thick report written about the work in Swaziland to which a number of people had contributed. When the time came to discuss this report the chairman closed the file and said to all those present that he would go home and read the report. But there, in that meeting, he did not want to read what people had written. He wanted to hear the stories told from their hearts about how they experienced the work, the good and the bad, to hear where they needed prayers and to hear where they needed other forms of support.
We need more people with this kind of attitude in missions committees.
I read a lot. I mentioned the other day that most Christian bookstores in South Africa don’t keep many books that I would consider spending my money on. So nowadays I am being led by what people that I consider to be trustworthy, share with me about books they have read and then I try to read them. One of these books is Eric Bryant’s Peppermint-filled piñatas. Now, before reading this, I had no idea whatsoever what a piñatas is. My friend, Tim Deller, from the USA understands it a bit better than myself. Apparently (for those not used to this crazy tradition), the piñata has a Mexican origin and is described in Wikipedia as follows: The piñata is a brightly-colored paper container filled with sweets and/or toys. It is generally suspended on a rope from a tree branch or ceiling and is used during celebrations. A succession of blindfolded, stick-wielding children try to break the piñata in order to collect the sweets (traditionally fruit, such as sugarcane) and/or toys inside of it. It has been used for hundreds of years to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and Easter.
Someone told me about this book and I read it. It’s great. It is something like a blog: a lot of personal journalism where the author tells the story of how God worked in his life to change him to love people different from himself. Having grown up in South Africa where we were surrounded by strong feelings of racism, it was surprising to see that the very things which people were fighting against in South Africa is more or less universal: we don’t like people who are different from us! This has nothing to do with political policies. This is part of our sinful human structure: we just don’t like people who are different from us, whether they are different in skin colour, different in their theological viewpoints, different in their sexual orientation, different in their religion or different in their health situation. They make us feel uncomfortable and to mix with them takes us out of our comfort zone.
Eric Bryant has a remarkable story of how God freed him from prejudice so that he could become a successful youth pastor in a diverse community in the Mosaic church in Los Angeles. One of my Swazi friends used to say, after a good sermon: That was really powerful stuff. Well, this book is really powerful stuff. As I was reading it, I was asking myself how the world would look if Christians could start living in this way? If Christians could really shower unselfish love upon people, regardless of who they are, how would the world be (and, for that matter, how would the church be?)
Two things stand out in this book: The author’s honesty when sharing personal stories, of how he made mistakes (that’s where the title of the book comes from, because he found out that children do not like peppermints bought at a discount store!) This gives him a lot of credibility in my eyes, because it is often through the mistakes that we make that God teaches us the greatest lessons. By the way, he does this with a lot of great humour, (which also raises him a few notches in my estimate!) But the second thing which stands out is that he does not compromise when it comes to God’s will for us. He tells the story of how he started building personal relationships with people from other faith groups. Not once does it seem as if he is forcing Christianity upon them – he demonstrates love unconditionally. But not once does he accept that God had somehow changed his viewpoint about salvation through Christ.
And this is a very difficult route to follow. Our human (sinful) way of doing things would be to either reject someone who consistently differ from us in their religious viewpoints or to come to the point where we say that God has made us all differently and therefore “all roads lead to heaven.” To unconditionally and tolerantly love people who differ from us, while maintaining Godly standards, is NOT easy.
If you are in any way within such a diverse community with the conviction that God wants to use you within that situation, then I highly recommend that you get a copy of this book. It’s really powerful stuff😉
I was intending to write a short review on an excellent book I’ve just finished reading and which I highly recommend, but it’s just about midnight and tomorrow morning I’ll be on the road again for at least seven hours as I will be training a group of about twenty pastors in South Africa in Evangelism Explosion. So I’ll just use this opportunity to direct you to a new blog which was started today: Tim Deller is the volunteer from the USA helping me in Swaziland and he sends out a newsletter more or less every fortnight. I just thought that the things he’s writing about would really be to the benefit of anyone wanting to do something similar, and so I advised him to post his newsletters on a blog so that more people could read it. The address is http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/
Have a look at the things he writes about. He really has an ability to bring out the humour and the pain of the life in Swaziland.
But the most amazing thing about this blog is that a middle-aged missionary in Swaziland had to help a young engineer from the USA to get this blog up😉
Which proves my point: Missionaries have to be able to do anything!
Well ,here’s the second part of my story about taking a group of White, Afrikaans-speaking Christians to Black, Siswati-speaking Christians. If you missed out on the first part, read it here first.
After leaving Manzini with three seriously confused people in a house without a pastor, we drove through to Mbabane. The other single lady was placed with an older married couple and then I drove the older couple who had come with me through to the house where they would be staying. What happened there I only found out months afterwards and it was also told with great embarrassment.
Not knowing what to expect, the lady had packed a clean set of linen in her suitcase so that they could put this on the bed if they suspected that the linen may not be clean. In the meantime, the couple who was housing them had even painted out the bedroom in preparation for their coming! (We tend to think that cross-cultural contact is only difficult for us Westerners, but for the Swazis doing it for the first time, it is equally difficult.)
After a lovely meal they retired to their bedroom, only to find that their hosts had gone out of their way to make everything as comfortable as possible for them. Needless to say, the linen remained in the suitcase.
The next morning when I drove to fetch them for church, I had the same reaction that I later had in Manzini. With tears in their eyes the older couple put their arms around me and thanked me for one of the best experiences they had ever had.
Cross-cultural contact need not be painful. A lot depends on the attitude. Most of us enter into such a relationship with the idea that we are on a slightly higher level than those we have come to meet. It is only when we really allow the Spirit to open our hearts for other people that we really come to appreciate them. And sometimes we have to be “tricked” into a situation that we would normally not have entered into to really learn to appreciate others for what they are.