Guidelines for World EvangelismGeorge Gurganus, editor
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"You know, I can tell you anything that is in my heart and I know that you will understand and not be angry with me. And ... it doesn't matter whether I tell you in your language or mine, because I know you will hear every word."

"I feel the same way about you, brother. . . " was all the missionary could say before choking up with emotion.

In darkness of that small room an African and an American had reached the level of communication where their deepest feelings and values could be shared. Their conversation was honest, genuine, intimate. No phoniness. No pretension.

Every missionary who earnestly desires to share the Good News of love, peace and salvation in Jesus Christ should aim for this type of relationship with the people he wants to serve, a relationship based upon sincere identification.

Identification is an extremely complex concept because it involves the totality of human relationships. Far from being merely an imitation of people in another culture, identification means, not being someone else, but being more than oneself.1 It is a purposeful participation in the lives of others.

For the missionary, identification should not mean stooping to the level of the host people but rather an understanding and acceptance of the validity of another culture's style of life, different though it may be. True identification is never a vertical condescension, but a horizontal cultural shift.

A missionary among the Quiche Indians of Latin America defines identification as

... the establishment of a relationship between two or more parties so that there may be a free and honest interchange of ideas, attitudes, and emotions. It is the establishment of such a relationship of equality so that either party may feet free to express his true opinions and positions.2

Commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ to make disciples of the peoples3 and entrusted with delivering the message of reconciliation,4 missionaries cannot be satisfied with a superficial adjustment to other cultures. Their message and mission is far too important to allow selfishness and pride to hinder full participation in the lives of people who are culturally different from them. Their mission in the world demands more than being just "good friends." It involves being all things to all men,5 emptying themselves of the ways most natural to them6 and truly becoming one with their adopted people. The local people should be able to say of their missionary, "He is one of us."7

As important as identification is to the missionary, however, it should never become an end in itself. His task is not complete merely because he has managed to adapt to the ways of the people. Identification may be convincing or it may become a sham. It may be romantic or dull. It must always be regarded as only the vehicle for communicating the message—not the message itself.

Of the numerous problems confronting missionaries today, probably the two greatest are identification and communication. So interdependent are these two problems that one cannot be resolved without the other, nor can one be properly understood except as it relates to the other.9 Those who seek to teach the truths of God's word without first establishing a broad base of rapport, trust, and mutual respect with the listeners are destined for intense personal frustration and possibly the rejection of their message.

Types of Identification

With the decline of "the mission-station approach" to missions and a new emphasis upon closer contact with the host people, many missionaries are necessarily having to reexamine their living standards within and attitudes toward the native culture. In their attempts to grapple with the implications of real identification and its effect upon communication of the Gospel, missionaries are generally moving in one of two directions: they identify with the people either psychologically or physically, And a few have successfully combined the two.10

Psychological, or inner identification, involves the missionary's attitudes—his understanding of, his empathy with , his appreciation for the native culture, his respect for the people and their values, his desire to truly understand them, and his willingness to know and to be known by them. To achieve this inner identification one must be aware of other people's ideas, understand their viewpoints, and empathize with their struggle for self-expression, however unfamiliar its forms.11 Psychological identification does not mean that the total value system of the local people must be adopted, but it must be taken very seriously.

Physical identification, on the other hand, means adopting native ways and values12 in such areas as housing, dress, food, transportation, income, customs and general standard of living. Many missionaries, though, react negatively to an all-out physical identification, equating it with "going native" and denying that it guarantees achieving psychological identification. They feel it is impossible for a missionary family to completely adopt local standards— especially housing, food and income—for an extended period of time without suffering serious psychological damage.

William Muldrow warns that physical identification can become superficial, a "pious display to cover over the real fact of a person's inability to relate on a more personal basis."13 Each family, then, must work out its own living situation individually, hopefully to reflect a genuine love for the people rather than a concern about the personal possessions sacrificed for the sake of identification.

The relationship of physical to psychological identification is best defined by an African church leader who explained that the comparative wealth of missionaries to natives is no real problem to the African as long as the missionary's "heart is right."14 By this he means that when the attitude of the missionary is one of love, understanding and acceptance, his standard of living (assuming it is reasonable) does not necessarily constitute a barrier to identification.

It seems safe to conclude that one cannot successfully identify psychologically without some measure of external adaptation to the ways of the local people, but it is possible to identify physically without ever identifying psychologically.

Identification and Communication

It is essential that the Good News of Jesus Christ be communicated in forms that are meaningful to people. Not only must the message have meaning, but it must be carried on the lips and in the lives of its messengers. For these messengers to deliver the message effectively they must become one with the local people. There must be mutual respect and understanding between the receivers of the message and the messengers. Identification, then, is a prerequisite to effective communication.

Missionary identification is the avenue by which the message can penetrate the lives of his hearers. The missionary willing to identify with the local people will find language learning easier, will come to appreciate their cultural values, will discover their needs and aspirations, will become more understanding and empathetic and will begin to experience emotional unity with them.

Language learning. Two Zambian Christian men, one elderly and the other middle-aged, once stood talking with me in their native tongue. During the course of the conversation the middle-aged man reached into his pocket and produced a large ring of keys. Then, looking at me intently he placed the keys in my hand and said, "Citonga is my language, and because you understand and speak my language I give you the keys of my heart. I trust you and therefore I can open the doors of my heart to you." The lesson is overwhelming.

A language cannot be teamed in a vacuum. The learning process requires dedicated and persistent participation in the daily activities of the native people. Structure and grammar can be studied in books, but idioms, proverbs, and other "spices" of language come alive only through day-to-day interaction with the native speakers. Identification facilitates language mastery, and fluency makes possible an ever-deepening integration with the people.

Genuine respect for the native culture usually coincides with good language learning.15

Appreciation of cultural values. Fluency in the native language is not enough. There must also be a knowledge of native customs and habits which creates a common ground of experience, interest, and feeling on which good communication is based.16

It is a universal principle that people are more inclined to accept newcomers who appreciate their way of life and who consider it to be a valid expression of their worth and importance. Involvement in the lives of the national people will enable the missionary to better understand why they do certain things the way they do. As he comprehends and respects their values his frustrations and his tendency to feel superior will diminish. When the missionary appreciates and respects local cultural values, people usually reciprocate by accepting and respecting him.

Felt needs and aspirations . Absolutely vital to the missionary is an awareness of the felt needs of the people. Without this knowledge his preaching and teaching will lack relevance and will fail to "scratch where it itches." People who are chronically hungry, for example, find a heaven where there will be no more hunger far more attractive than one where there's only singing. Well-fed missionaries who have never experienced a hungry day in their lives might begin to "feel" why the people conceive of heaven in such "earthy" terms, if they lived in a native home for a few weeks and shared their meager diet. The ability to feel the needs of the people is the one basic positive attitude the missionary should develop.

"In order to know what really lay hidden in the hearts of the, Quechua Indians,"17 William Reyburn traveled the Equadorian Andes dressed as an Indian, sleeping in Indian markets, enduring the discomforts of drenching rain and biting pests. As a missionary linguist-anthropologist he sought to discover the real longings of their hearts so that he could better minister the Good News to those needs. He wanted to find out what it was that drunkenness seemed to satisfy. Why was the Indian so resistant to inner change? What were his anxieties and what did he talk about when he gathered with other Indians at night in the security of his little group? Reyburn sought to discover "the roots that lay behind the outward symbols which could respond to the claims of Christ."18

The missionary who is unwilling to enter eagerly and unreservedly into the deeper dimensions of life where the needs, anxieties, and aspirations are expressed will never effectively communicate the message he is verily pouring out his life to proclaim.

If the Good News of Jesus Christ has anything at all to offer, it is precisely in the areas of felt human need, anxiety, and hopelessness.

Barriers to Identification

Missionaries sometimes find their ministries unfruitful, unsatisfying and frustrating. They feel completely thwarted and cut off from the people they have come to serve. To them the nationals are more often than not "ignorant," "lazy," "untrustworthy," "dirty." Along with the frustrations comes an increasing bitterness toward the host people and a withdrawal from them. In spite of his attempts to conceal his feelings from the local people, they will probably have sensed them before he has become conscious of them himself.

Ethnocentrism. Perhaps no attitude presents a more formidable barrier to identification for missionaries from the "advanced" West than does ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the belief that one's own pattern of behavior is the best, most natural, most beautiful, most correct, or most important.19 Not only does this kind of missionary regard his own culture as the best, but he generally despises another culture because in it one lives differently, lives by inhuman, irrational, or unnatural standards.

Ethnocentrism can desensitize a missionary to the realities of his adopted environment. He may have absolutely no idea of what is happening around him, what the local people are saying, thinking or feeling. After all, to him "they are all ignorant anyway."

A typical ethnocentric statement was once made to me by a Roman Catholic missionary stationed near where I was living and ministering. He suggested that the people who lived in a village across the valley from his mission-station had to be the "most ignorant, depraved, deceitful bunch of drunkards anywhere around." Since—in his mission philosophy—it would require 400 years to fully transform such people, all he could do was conduct mass for the faithful half-dozen who met in his mission chapel. He was not aware, though, that the largest body of Christians in the immediate area met regularly for worship under a tree in that very village!

Withdrawal and isolation. When a missionary begins his ministry in a radically different culture and is expected to participate in that culture, what was his former frame of reference for living is suddenly stripped away. Trusted guidelines and reference points for behavior are changed. Responses of the local people cannot be predicted or relied upon.20

Faced with the insecurity and frustration brought on by this cultural confrontation, the missionary must move in one of two directions: either he must identify with the local people and their patterns of culture, or he must withdraw and isolate himself in an attempt to relieve his frustrations. The latter course of action is too often followed by missionaries unprepared for culture shock or unwilling to go through the identification process.

Sometimes a group of missionaries working in an area will form a self-enclosed "missionary culture" which seals them off from the unfamiliar culture around them, isolating themselves geographically and emotionally from the local population.

Luzbetak has graphically diagrammed the emotional changes which sooner or later occur in every missionary's experience. Withdrawal and isolation often reinforce the missionary's anti-native feelings and attitudes, hindering him from empathizing and identifying with the people.

Paths of Culture Shock 21

Cultural overhang. Another obstacle to effective communication of the Gospel and subsequent growth of indigenous churches is the missionary's inclination to bind American interpretations of Scripture, forms of church life and worship upon native converts. Missionaries tend to continue using methods on mission fields that were successful back home. This is known as "cultural overhang."

Some researchers have discovered that certain evangelistic methods used successfully in America may actually retard church growth on the mission field.22

One area in which a missionary's cultural overhang shows first is his preaching. His delivery of a logical and systematic three-point sermon replete with all the appropriate supporting scriptures may leave an African audience unmoved and bored. Whereas, the same sermon preached to a Texas congregation two years earlier had perhaps been tremendously stirring, practical and well-received.

Cultural overhang also manifests itself in the use of "church jargon" or "pew lingo." Missionaries in their conversation and preaching use Christian terms which have little meaning to non-Christians or even to new Christians who have not developed a church vocabulary. Employing esoteric terminology often presents quite a barrier to effective identification and communication.

Ridiculing spiritual phenomena. Missionaries brought up to believe that all spiritual activity ceased in the first century of the Christian era experience tremendous difficulty in coping with non-western beliefs in the spirit world. Because of their scientific and rationalistic background, missionaries distrust their African or Asian fellow-Christians who happen to believe in the realm of spirits and supernatural powers. Their beliefs are therefore ridiculed as superstition, and the naive assumption is that they will grow out of such childish beliefs if given enough education. The result has been that the missionary labels the native view a superstitious mysticism, while the native Christian conceives of the missionary as a secular, materialistic American.

Reyburn is probably rightly convinced that more underlying distrust and lack of confidence has been caused by missionary reaction toward the mysterious than in any other aspect of missionary-African relationships.23

Impatience. Westerners, particularly Americans, are very time-conscious. To them time means money, and money equals success. Schedules are planned and fixed, appointments are firm. They usually feel guilty and irritable when running a few minutes late and lose patience with people who are late for appointments or who do not adhere strictly to a fixed schedule.

Missionaries, who have been reared and educated in a time-conscious and time-honoring culture, experience tremendous pressure when confronted with the "manana" complex. They cannot comprehend why any self-respecting, responsible person would want to put off until tomorrow what "obviously" should be done today. They become so annoyed by this constant clash of cultural values that they frequently become intolerant of and impatient with the local people and categorize them as lazy and irresponsible.

The impatient and insensitive attitudes of a veteran missionary once made in indelible impression upon an African church leader of my acquaintance. He told me that in all the years he had worked with this missionary not once had my friend been able to fully state his case before being interrupted by the missionary. The missionary would hastily say "Mbubo! Mbubo!" ('Alright! Alright!') before the African could explain why he had come.

In societies where time does not have the same value as it does in the western world, a lack of forbearance concerning time constitutes a serious breach of local custom in relating to people. Nothing is more discourteous and impolite than making someone uneasy or rushing him into stating the purpose of his visit before he is fully ready to do so. The sad fact is that the failure of some missionaries to listen patiently, to unhurriedly weigh the facts, and thus to build rapport, has practically nullified the effectiveness of both their individual witness and their elaborate evangelistic programs.

Among societies that are not time-conscious, relationships always take priority over schedules, time-clocks, and programs. Hastiness and intolerance on the part of the missionary grow out of a fundamental misunderstanding of the other person's cultural values and impede progress toward identification.

Imported frills. When missionaries enter into their ministries among other cultures they do not automatically lose interest in Fritos, modem appliances, or Sears-Roebuck catalogues. In fact, sometimes things they often took for granted back home assume an inordinate value. They begin to write letters suggesting that "care" packages would be much appreciated. Loving supporters respond by sending them clothes, canned goods, radios, and a host of other things.

This can be good for the missionaries and their supporters alike, up to a point.

However, when a missionary literally surrounds himself with familiar things from back home he correspondingly decreases his dependence upon the people with whom he is living.

William Scott, describing missionary attitudes in the Philippines, wonders whether it is possible for a missionary to really participate in the beauty of the country or in the friendship of the local people "so long as he is crippled by the weight of a Life-Support-System worthy of sustaining an astronaut on the moon?"24 He is convinced that missionary reliance upon imported frills prevents them from depending upon and developing significant relationships with the nationals. He believes that:

Unless he [the missionary-SS] gets out of that spacesuit, he will never be able to cry on a Filipino shoulder, lock arms with a Filipino brother on a steep path, or taste the salt of Filipino tears.25

Obviously , this list does not cover all of the obstructions to successful identification, but perhaps it will serve to make missionaries and others who are vitally involved in foreign missions aware of some of the attitudes which block the way to an authentic understanding and an emotional oneness.

Ways to Achieve Genuine Identification

Meaningful communication of the Gospel, as has already been emphasized, is predicated upon successful identification. The Good News encounters fewer obstructions and less resistance when it flows naturally and spontaneously from "one of us" to "us" than it does from "us" to "them."

Genuine identification is not merely refraining from participating in certain activities which clash unnecessarily with local customs. Nor is it simply striving to keep oneself from manifesting negative attitudes. Instead, real identification is positive—is rooted in love, the kind of love which proceeds from an all-out commitment to Jesus Christ. It comes from following Christ's example of compassion, empathy and service.

Developing a oneness with the national people requires patient and abiding love. It requires months, sometimes years, of demanding language study, of exhausting culture study, of persistent involvement in the stresses and strains of daily existence, of being laughed at, of being misunderstood and suspected, of sometimes being rejected completely. But whatever price the missionary may be called upon to pay, the mission upon which he is sent requires that the sacrifice be made.

Here let us suggest some positive ways to achieve both psychological and physical identification. Some have to do with attitudes, while others deal more with physical aspects.

Assume the role of a learner. One basic quality a missionary should possess is a continuing willingness to learn. Though he may have prepared himself extensively in general ways before arriving on the field, he must realize that his knowledge is roughly equivalent to that of a child in this particular culture.

Once he admits how limited his in-depth comprehension is, he will soon recognize how vital the listening stage is in establishing reciprocity and dialogue. A missionary ought to restrain himself from making authoritative pronouncements in cultural matters about which his specific knowledge is so scanty. Obviously, because he is more likely better-travelled and more academically educated than is the national, the missionary can and should contribute a wider perspective to the dialogue, but, in specific cultural things, the national will always be the expert and the missionary should be willing to assume the attitude of a learner.

Master the language. Language learning takes time and some missionaries are in so much of a hurry to "preach the Gospel" that they will not devote the months and years necessary to master a language. But in actual fact, the history of missions shows conclusively that the missionary who dedicates himself to the important listening stage, to the learning of customs, to the discovery of needs, is not wasting his time. His ministry will be enriched, his preaching and witnessing will have more relevance and impact because they will employ local illustrations instead of foreign proverbs, idioms, and structures.

Language is the channel through which the message of Christ flows to the heart of man. It is far more than the mere mechanical ability to produce acoustical sounds so as to be able to buy, sell, find one's way about, or even to write out and deliver sermons in an intelligible form. It is the process by which the missionary makes vital contacts with a new community, a new manner of life, and a new system of thinking.26 It enables him to converse with people about their problems, beliefs, fears, desires, aspirations and longings.27

In the final analysis, the ability to respond sincerely and spiritually to the deeper problems of the heart is more important than being able to write formal sermons.

Evaluate cultural traits in context. Missionaries who sincerely desire to be empathetic in their approach to the national people should try to see the culture as a whole. Nothing is more insensitive and destructive than for a foreigner to isolate some "strange" custom and render a harsh judgment upon it before considering its relationship to the rest of the culture.

An African puberty ceremony, for example, may seem quite mysterious, immoral, or even cruel to the western missionary. However, after he better understands the local culture and evaluates this particular activity in its context he will discover that it is the vehicle for imparting information concerning sex and the "facts of life." The sex education sessions are conducted by older women for the girls and by adult men for the boys.

In cultures where ceremonial rites of this kind mark the passage of an individual from babyhood to personhood, or from childhood to adulthood, a person does not have to struggle with the problem of who he or she is. The stages of his life are well defined. His culture leaves no doubt as to his position in life. A girl, for instance, who has not had her puberty ceremony knows that she is not a woman yet and is therefore not eligible for marriage. Her duties remain those of a girl and not those of a woman. Identity crises are rare in such societies.

Cultures are entities. They consist of a host of customs and mores and values all of which are interrelated and interdependent. It is important therefore for the missionary to understand the relationship of a particular practice or custom to the rest of the culture before condemning it, no matter how immoral and sinful it may appear to him at first. He must be prepared to suggest a functional substitute before he would create a cultural void.

Be willing to be known . Most missionaries really want to set a good example for people to emulate. And rightly so. But in seeking to always set the standard of what a Christian should be, they sometimes try to keep their true feelings under cover. They feel that as leaders they cannot afford to make mistakes or reveal their fears and misgivings. Thus they hide behind masks of perfection, and large areas of their lives are never exposed to the nationals.

However, if the missionary really wants to enter into any close relationship with other human beings he must be willing not only to know them, but also to be known by them.28 A good example of how "removing the mask" opened the way to oneness took place a few months before I left Africa for a period of several years. Mounting daily were the pressures and anxieties of leaving the life and work I enjoyed so much to re-enter the faster pace and competitiveness of life in the United States.

There was an increasing need to share these burdens with someone. Finally, I did what so few missionaries ever do. I shared my deepest fears and anxieties with a native brother. The African Christian listened as I told him in detail about insecurities and uncertainties which awaited my family back in America. At first it seemed almost incredible to the African that anyone would be anxious about going back home to friends and relatives, to the land of his birth. Although he had seen distressed missionaries before, he had yet to see one who was willing to confess his burdens and ask a national brother for help. He offered to pray for me. Within a few days an invitation came by messenger, requesting that my wife and I visit in the home of an old church leader. A group of national Christians had prepared a meal and planned an evening of prayer and singing specifically designed to minister to us. During the course of the evening they all expressed gratitude to us for trusting them enough to let them help us bear our mapenzi ('troubles').

The result of this meeting proved very interesting. Ignited by my willingness to be known, a renewed sense of body ministry, independence and initiative surged through the entire local native congregation. Members began to take charge of duties which had traditionally been done only by missionaries. No longer were missionaries regarded as super-humans who were not subject to mortal temptations and tribulations. The spirit of brotherhood and of oneness in Christ was given a tremendous boost, simply because the missionary finally took off his mask and exposed his own vulnerability.

Establish one-to-one relationships. In the course of a conversation, an intelligent young African university student once made a startling statement about the lack of spontaneous missionary-national relationships on the mission station where he had attended school. He rather resentfully related how, during the three years he had been enrolled in the Bible School, he had not known of a single instance where a missionary had taken the time to talk with a Bible student one-to-one for just thirty minutes.

He explained that during the day the missionaries would talk with them in the classroom and take part in group discussions. But as soon as the sun went down a wall would seem to rise between them. The missionaries would retire into the privacy of their homes and the Africans would visit among themselves. Whatever social relationships that existed during the day were broken when night fell.

Sad as this example may be, it is by no means untypical of missionary-national relationships in many mission areas. This lack of individual and personal dialogue manifests itself not only in personal relationships on the mission field, but also in efforts to evangelize. In one tribe in Africa a survey revealed that over 95 per cent of the converts interviewed had been converted through public preaching. Less than five per cent had been won through personal, one-to-one contact. Practically all of the conversions had taken place at large gatherings. Within that tribe the New Testament pattern of personal witness from house to house and from hut to hut was essentially unknown.

Establishment of meaningful one-to-one relationships has far-reaching implications, not only for opening the way for mutual growth and edification among Christians, but also in restoring the Biblical pattern and dynamic of personal witness to non-Christians.

Some of the most profound changes in the heart and soul occur in the context of one-to-one relationships. People feel less threatened and defensive. Genuine love is given and received. Such is the environment in which the seed of the Kingdom will grow.

Focus upon people instead of upon programs. Westerners are extremely time-conscious and program-oriented. Nonwesterners, on the other hand, tend to elevate human relationships above schedules and programs and, in general, are much more people-centered.

Because they are products of western culture, missionaries need to make certain adjustments when they enter a people-centered society. Probably one of the first things missionaries will do is to "structure a program" to carry out their evangelistic plans (and certainly there is nothing inherently wrong with a schedule or program). But in implementing their plans they should always remember that greeting people along the path and inquiring about the health of their children is more important to the nationals than whether or not the sermon begins on time.

If there has been a death in the village the most insensitive thing the missionary could suggest would be that the church leadership-training session go ahead and meet as scheduled. In such a situation it matters little how far the missionary may have travelled to meet with his class, or how much it has cost him. Sitting and listening and sharing the grief are the more appropriate responses. People have feelings, programs do not.

Share meals. Simply because a missionary adapts to the local diet does not in itself guarantee identification, but the sharing of meals can be one of the most effective ways of achieving that goal, because it is a visible sign to the native that the missionary respects and appreciates his way of life.29 As they partake of the same substance of physical life, it draws them together into a common bond of fellowship and oneness.30

Underscoring the importance of sharing meals, Dr. Reyburn cites an interesting instance from West Africa. Intently watching Reyburn indulge in a local dish of roasted caterpillars, a pleased but somewhat surprised, African exclaimed, "White man Kaka is eating caterpillars, he really has a black heart." The experience elicited from Reyburn the observation that, "an emptied pan of caterpillars is more convincing than all the empty metaphors of love which missionaries are prone to expend on the heathen."31

Eating food prepared in a native home is another way of saying, "I trust you and I am confident of your ability to sustain my life with your food."

Exchange home visits. As a general rule missionaries have been much more inclined to be entertained in native homes than they are to extend a warm welcome to natives to visit in their own homes. Many missionaries, for example, will make condescending adjustments when they visit in native homes, but few will unselfishly offer the use of their imported double-bed to a tired native visitor and his wife who have arrived late in the evening.

Genuine identification requires the exchange of home visits. It is not enough for the missionary to be willing to spend a couple of nights in a native home. He must also accept visitors with hospitality and share with them the use of his best possessions.

Adjust standard of living to local conditions . There is no magic formula which when applied to a given situation will guarantee successful identification. However, there are ways to improve one's chances of gaining acceptance and of being integrated into a society. One way is to make whatever modifications are necessary in one's standard of living to bring it in line with local conditions. This involves such things as size and style of house, home furnishings, mode of transportation, clothing and food.

A missionary must adjust his life-style in order for it to be a bridge instead of a barrier in communicating the Gospel. For example, by living on too high an economic level he may discover that his life-style in itself is a drawback to sacrifice in the local church. His comparative economic superiority vitiates his influence as an example of the kind of economic sacrifices which he admonishes local Christians to make in the interest of self-support.33 His teaching on giving and stewardship falls on deaf ears. He may even wonder why the native brethren always expect him to carry all of the financial load.

One advantage of adaptation to national living standards is that it gives the missionary a deep sense of satisfaction and happiness. Scott emphasizes this point when he says that a foreigner (missionary or otherwise) cannot truly be happy among another people unless he is dependent upon its citizens for companionship and their approval for his well-being, and unless he is submissive to its laws to the point of detention, deportation or death.34 Interdependence between missionary and nationals is a key ingredient in identification. The local people will always feel closer to the missionary who depends upon them and who is at their disposal than they will to the one who relies exclusively upon his own unlimited financial resources to carry out his programs and plans.

Just as there is no formula which produces automatic identification, there also is no single standard of living which applies to all missionaries in all mission fields. Each missionary will have to conscientiously and prayerfully make whatever changes he needs to make. Obviously, an urban missionary working in Vienna will live on a different standard of living than will a village missionary in India. The objective in adapting to the local standard of living is to minimize the economic differences between the missionary and the nationals, and to maximize their interdependence upon each other.

Identification is a prerequisite to communication of the Gospel. Identification is established to a large extent by understanding the local culture, and the local culture is understood best by learning the national language. All of these components work together and reinforce each other to form a complete circle.

Speaking from his extensive experience as both missionary and Bible translator, Dr. Eugene Nida says this concerning identification:

. . . a close examination of successful missionary work inevitably reveals the correspondingly effective manner in which the missionaries were able to identify themselves with the people . . . Conversely, where missionary work has been singularly unsuccessful, one will always find a failure to resolve the missionary's two great problems: identification and communication.35

The late Dr. Byang Kato, well-known African church leader and Bible scholar, described the kind of missionary he wants. to see come to the African harvest field. He says that

. . . the national church is very much in need of a missionary who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is led to "become all things to all men" (1 Cor. 9.22). We need someone who is coming, not with the sense of superiority in race or education, wealth or culture, but a person coming as his Master came into the world, "not to be served, but to serve" (Mk. 10:45).36

As a national Christian who has traveled through most of the countries of Africa, Byang Kato invites missionaries who are willing to identify with the national people and to join in partnership with the native churches to reap the harvests that the Lord has brought to ripeness. He welcomes partners, not bosses.


1Eugene A. Nida, Message and Mission (New York: Harper and Row, 1960), p. 162.

2Pat Hile, "A Study of the Nature and Importance of Physical Identification on the Part of the World Evangelist" (unpublished Master's thesis, Harding Graduate School, Memphis, Tennessee, 1968), p. 34.

3Matthew 28.19.

4II Corinthians 5.18.

5I Corinthians 9.22.

6Philippians 2.6-7.

7Louis J. Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures (Techny, Illinois: Divine Word Publications, 1963), pp. 95-96.

8William D. Reyburn, "Identification in the Missionary Task," Practical Anthropology, Vol. 7, No. 1. Tarrytown, New York, p. 3.

9Eugene A. Nida, "Identification, a Major Problem of Modem Missions," Practical Anthropology, Vol. 2, No. 4. Tarrytown, New York, p. 90.

10Hile, op cit, p. 31.

11Nida, Message and Mission, p. 164.

12Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures, p. 96.

13William F. Muldrow, "Identification and the Role of the Missionary," Practical Anthropology, Vol. 18, No. 5, Tarrytown, New York, p. 210.

14Jacob A. Loewen, Culture and Human Values (South Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1975), p. 28.

15Ibid., p. 31.

16Muldrow, op. cit., p. 220.

17Reyburn, op cit., p. 2.

18Ibid., p. 3.

19John Friedl, Cultural Anthropology (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), pp. 98-89.

20Muldrow, op cit., p. 213.

21Luzbetak, op cit., p. 97.

22Phil Elkins, Lectures on Mission Work, 1964, p. 8.

23Reyburn, op cit., p. 15.

24Witham Henry Scott, "Rethinking the American Missionary Presence in the Philippines," International Review of Mission, Vol. LXII, No. 247, (Geneva, Switzerland), p. 182.

25Ibid., p. 182.

26Eugene A. Nida, Learning a Foreign Language (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Friendship Press, 1957), p. 8.

27Ibid., p. 7.

28Loewen, op cit., p. 61.

29Hile, op cit., p. 83.

30Ibid., p. 81.

31Reyburn, op cit., p. 9.

32[Missing from printed text]

33Daniel Johnson Fleming, Living as Comrades (New York: Agricultural Missions, Inc., 1950), p. 29.

34Scott, op. cit., p. 181.

35Eugene A, Nida, Customs and Cultures (New York: Harper and Row, 1954), pp. 250-251.

36Byang H. Kato, "The National Church: Do They Want Us?" in Christ the Liberator, by John R. W. Stott, et al (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1971), p. 167.


Elkins, Phil, Lectures on Mission Work. Unpublished. 1964.

Fleming, Daniel Johnson, Living as Comrades. New York, Agricultural Missions, Inc. 1950.

Friedl, John, Cultural Anthropology. Now York, Harper and Row. 1976.

Hile, Pat, "A Study of the Nature and Importance of Physical Identification on the Part of the World Evangelist." Unpublished Master's thesis, Harding Graduate School, Memphis, Tennessee. 1968.

Kato, Byang H., "The National Church: Do They Want Us?" in Christ the Liberator, John R. W. Stott, et al. Downers Grove, Illinois, Inter-Varsity Press. 1971.

Loewen, Jacob A ., Culture and Human Values. South Pasadena, California, William Carey Library. 1975.

Reyburn, William D., "Identification in the Missionary Task," Practical Anthropology, Volume 7, Number 1. Tarrytown, New York. 1960.

Luzbetak, Louis J., The Church and Cultures. Techny, Illinois, Divine Word Publications. 1963.

Muldrow, William F., "Identification and the Role of the Missionary," Practical Anthropology, Volume 18, Number 5. Tarrytown, New York, 1971.

Nida, Eugene A., Customs and Cultures. New York, Harper and Row, 1954.

_____. "Identification, a Major Problem of Modem Missions," Practical Anthropology, Volume 2, Number 4. Tarrytown, New York. 19SS.

_____. Learning a Foreign Language. Ann Arbor, Michigan, Friendship Press. 1957.

_____. Message and Mission. New York, Harper and Row. 1960.

Scott, William Henry, "Rethinking the American Missionary Presence in the Philippines," International Review of Mission, Volume LXII, Number 247. Geneva, Switzerland. 1975.

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