Our attitudes are revealed by the little things we do for people: the little gestures that cost us almost nothing. They are revealed in our interest in the people, our entering into their joys and sorrows. They are revealed above all in our love for them. It is not our skill in the language or our competence in our work that is going to win their heart: it is our attitude, especially our attitude of love, that is going to influence them. On the other hand, it is our bad attitudes that are going to repel them: our inconsiderateness, our condescension, our criticalness, our indifference. Such attitudes will neutralize months of ministry.
“The single most important area of your life and ministry will be in the realm of attitudes.”
1. We are guests
Have the attitude that we are a guest in their country. Guests are reserved, grateful, and discreet. Guests are dependent on their host for many things. Guests honor, not denigrate, their host. Too often missionaries have acted as if they were school masters and the nationals were children.
Love is not enough, we must learn to respect them. It is not difficult to respect them if we look for their many good points. They usually have high standards of morality and social standards. They are courteous, they respect their elders, value family, are loyal to their community. Their endurance, hospitality, and friendliness put Americans to shame They have high aspirations for their future just as we do. Another way to develop respect for them is putting ourselves in their place. Why do they do the things that they do? Could we do things better? Often not. Why do the nationals react the way they do? Can you imagine what the loss of a buffalo or goat could mean to a very poor farmer?
3. Build trust. Is what I am doing, thinking, or saying building trust or is it undermining trust? Learn to accept others. It is not long before the nationals begin to realize that they are not welcome in the missionary’s home. Just remember they are not inferior or less valid– just different. “It is not difficult for others to discern whether or not the missionaries accept them as persons. Their attitudes and actions soon give them away.”
4. Empathy is a crucial attitude that will allow the missionary to truly enter into the lives and feelings of the people as an equal and as a friend.
5. The only way to achieve this love and respect is to pray for it. It is not something that I can do but what He does in me. I need the Holy Spirit to love through me.
6. Be careful not to have the attitude of paternalism and superiority. First, it is a manifestation of pride. Second, it lowers the person towards whom it is directed. Third, it prevents that person from developing. We must remember that we are but unworthy servants and that all we have is of God. That we are merely beggars showing other beggars where to find bread then the paternalism issue will largely disappear. The thing that the missionary must remember is that he is a representative of Christ, not an advocate of his home culture.
“It is very easy for Western missionaries to adopt an attitude that communicates the feeling that the way we do things here at home is the right and proper way to do so, whatever it maybe.”
The other error is to refuse to see anything wrong with the host culture and we treat them like spoiled children. We must speak the truth in love. We need to show them a natural respect based on mutual understanding. No pampering, no patronizing, the nationals are our equal just treat them naturally.
E. Some do’s and don’ts
1. Do not treat their church any differently than you would a church in the United States. Their church is just as good, and many times much more spiritual than a church in the US…
2. Don’t treat national pastors any differently than you would a pastor in the United States
3. Do not eat or drink in front of them without offering them something.
4. Do not buy food or candy for your children at or during the church service without offering some to everyone. It would be better if they could eat before they leave and then as soon as they get home. Many times due to the fact that a little store is so close to the church the missionaries make a bee line for the store and are seen eating and drinking but the nationals do not have money to eat or drink. Be careful not to take food to the service as though you were going to the circus. Understandably many times a baby will need a small snack. Make it something that is not so noticeable and maybe even something that you could offer to the other babies in the church if they see you getting it out. Do you know what it is like to be poor and see someone else drink a coke? That coke that is very inexpensive for you is very expensive often times for the folks in the church. By the time they are 3 or 4 years old that should be broken from the habit of eating at church. If not the whole family, all the children, will want to eat something at church. You can’t make a picnic out of a church service.
5. Do not constantly criticize their country or talk about your country
and all that you miss there or how it is better. etc.
6. Be careful, your household worker is your loud speaker to the world
outside your home. Do you behave one way inside your home and
another way outside? Do you lead a double life?
7. Develop a taste for their foods. Eat with them. Do not turn your
nose up at their food.
8. Start your ministry before even leaving language school. You will
have to finish language school before you start your full time
ministry but that doesn’t mean that you can’t and shouldn’t be
involved in the ministry of your “new” church with your new people.
9. Make them feel welcome in your home. Do not build a little
America in your home. Do bring things from home. Make it your
house but you should become a bicultural person and so your
home will be a mixture of both cultures that make up your new life.
Many missionaries feel that their home is the only place that they
can retreat to and therefore they will not allow the foreign country
into their home. You simply will not reach the people if that is your
attitude. Sure your home is your castle but how would you react to
a pastor that moved to your area, couldn’t quit talking about the
place he came from, wouldn’t let you in his home because he
thought you might steal from him or get his things dirty. How would
you feel if you thought that he felt that he was superior to you?
Imagine the lack of privacy that Jesus suffered. He lived with them.
He traveled with them. He slept, ate, traveled with them. One of
them laid his head on Jesus’ chest. But then He came to seek and
save us, no!
10. Do not skip church or stay outside the building during church etc.
Get involved with the people in the service. Do not act
disinterested even during language school. Try to capture a new
word every service. Try to imagine where the pastor is going with
the message from the passage he is using.