Bonding or Belonging. These two words talk about a further step in our becoming a part of their society. I want to bond with them like I did with my own family. I want to belong. I do not want to be a stranger, a pilgrim. It is difficult to be like them. I speak a different language. I am a different color, a different size, I have a different past, a different level of living. I must work at being one of them.


Bonding is the development of a close relationship between family members or friends

Belonging is having a close relationship; familiarity; camaraderie [a feeling of belonging]

Plunge right in!

Your first few days among the target people can determine the course of your ministry for years to come. The way you spend your first couple of weeks in your new country is of critical importance (if you are to establish a sense of belonging with the local people). Better to plunge right in and experience life from the insider’s perspective. Live with the people, worship with them, go shopping with them, and use their public transportation. From the very first day it is important to develop many meaningful relationships with local people . The new-comer should communicate early his needs and desire to be a learner. People help people who are in need. Then when potentially stressful situations come up he can, as a learner, secure help, answers or insight from these insiders. Getting outsiders to answer insider questions will only alienate you from the people. The individual who hopes to enter another culture in a gradual way will probably fail to do so, and he may never enjoy the experience of belonging to the people or having them care for him.

Immerse yourself! It is very important that from your first day you immerse yourself in the life of your new community. You should worship with the people. You should develop local friendships, which is essential for feeling at home.

This is the secret to the rapid growth of the Mormons around the world. The rapid international expansion of Mormonism is virtually all being carried out by short termers; most of whom immediately move in with a local family and become belongers in the community. You will read that in many places the missionaries who learn the language best are Mormons and they are only in the country for two years.5

Become bicultural! You will be neither totally American nor totally of your new country. The moment we got saved we received a new citizenship in heaven. Now we are called upon to enter into a new culture. We must become “one of them”. Bonding and going native are not the same thing. Going native generally implies the rejection of one’s first culture. A reaction which is seldom seen and may not be possible for emotionally stable individuals. Nor is being bicultural the same as schizophrenic. The schizophrenic is a broken fragmented self. The bicultural person is developing a new self, a new personality.6

I suggest that you take on an insider’s name. Take a name that fits in the country where you are. It will be the new you. The you that is neither American nor fully “national”. This will say, I live here, I want to be recognized as one of you. For most North American missionaries North America is home but you must develop a different attitude. Live in your new country; make it your home. Visit America every fifth year. It will change all of your attitudes.

The problem is that when normal bonding is not established, rejection of the people or even abuse can occur. It is often reflected in the attitude behind statements like, “Oh these people!” “Why do they always do things this way?” “Somebody ought to teach them how to live.” “Won’t these people ever learn?”

There is nothing sadder to see than a missionary who is not comfortable with the people. Let me be quick to add that many missionaries are not happy. They hide out in their houses, join all the country clubs, and only show up for church during regular services. The people know that they are not happy. Why would you spend the next four years of your life living like that? I once heard a missionary say that he would lock himself in the bathroom in order to keep from returning to the states before his time was up. What a way to live!

Why do you want to go to the mission field?

The key is; did you come to give aid or to give yourself?

But if the giver is giving himself along with the gift, if he is
reaching out and making himself vulnerable, sacrificing
comfort and convenience, the people will see that and will be
more likely to respond favorably.

Being a learner. Responding to the inevitable cultural differences with humility as a learner is a second step.

There are three dimensions to this work:

We must come to a knowledge of all aspects of the people’s culture;

We must participate with them in their life style;

We must demonstrate genuine empathy with them. Empathy means the projection of one’s own personality into the personality of another in order to understand the person better; ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings.7

Be a student of their culture. Missionaries must not only become students of the culture but also belongers in that culture. When missionaries fail to achieve genuine identification their ministries are often limited to areas which don’t require an insiders performance. If you do not become one of them, if you do not really learn the language you may never have a ministry that will have a great impact. You must pay the price to learn and become one of them

Communication is the goal. The ultimate goal of identification is not to see how much like the other culture one can become, but how profoundly and effectively one can learn to communicate with those of the other culture.

My major emphasis is on language; the primary symbol of identification in my host community. When I try to learn it they know that I mean business–they are worth something to me because I make an effort to communicate on their terms. I learn a little each day and put it to use. I talk to a new person every day. I say something new everyday. I gradually reach the point where I understand and am understood a little. I can learn a lot in three months. I am a learner. Please talk with me and help me.

You can successfully learn a new language if three conditions are met.

You live where the new language is spoken

You are motivated to learn the new language. Motivation is a determination which results in a decision of the will. I will learn.

You know how to proceed with language learning, step by step and day by day.

Prepare what you need for the day

Practice what you prepare

Communicate what you know

Evaluate your needs and progress so you will know what to prepare for the next day.

Practice, practice. From the first day, learners should be using what they learn, practicing and interacting with people.

Additional material. Although language learning is not my topic I want to give you the following statements to consider as you embark on your new language. Remember one of the best ways that I can identify with my people and really belong is by being a learner. What is more important than their language? How do you feel about foreigners that come to the US and do not want to learn our language? Our country was known as the melting pot. Folks came from all over but everyone learned our common language. They may retain something of their previous culture but they knew how to fit in here. That is what you must do.

“Thinking positively about language learning is a crucial aspect of the learner’s approach.”

“You can successfully learn another language. Successful language learners — both children and adults — begin with an underlying knowledge that a language is learned rather than taught. And they know how to take advantage of the abundant resources available to them. These resources are the people who speak the language.”

“It is motivation that determines ultimate proficiency in a second language.”

“Language learning is a social activity and it must be learned through relationships with people.”

“One has to make mistakes in order to learn from his mistakes”

“The problem is not one of ignorance but of cultural isolation.”

“..failure to learn foreign languages results primarily from false attitudes towards culture.”8

“Most adults subconsciously resist the idea of becoming ‘childlike’ to learn a language…yet this role is unavoidable.”

Books I mentioned in the podcast

Preparing Missionaries for Intercultural Communication: A Bi-Cultural Approach

Jonathan Lewis, editor. World Missions, An Analysis of the World Christian Movement, Part 3, Cross-cultural considerations (William Carey Library, Pasadena, California, 1994 This one is not available but you can be looking for it and contact William Carey Library for books like it!

Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships, (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1986

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