We spent a lovely Christmas with the Baldwin family, Andrew and Roanna are students at Carey (Andrew is doing a summer placement at the International Church in Chiang Mai). We were glad not to miss seeing kids opening and enjoying presents, and after the service at the International Church (all in English for a Christmas treat) we had a lovely lunch with Doug and Claire (Partners), the Baldwins, some Kiwi and American short-termers and several Shan women who where about to return home after training. This was so like our Christmas lunches with the Kilpatrick tribe and others that we felt right at home 🙂
Over the Christmas period several experiences and conversations had me thinking about Missionaries, language and lifestyle.
Missionaries and Language
In and around Chiang Mai there seem to be a number of missionaries (some probably excusing themselves because they are short-term, though not those we met who had made great progress in short times) who seem to make little effort to learn either the language of their host country or that of the people they claim to serve. (I’d better add that they are a minority, lest I get heaps of angry mail from Missios fluent in Thai, Karen, Shan…, but they DO exist.)
Now, you can get the job done without the local language. But real mission is not so much about getting a job done as building relationships, and so building people up in Christ.
You can get the job done without the local language, I’ve watched a visiting pastor, speaking in his language and translated into English by a teenager from his culture, then translated again into the local language, convert crowds. I know they were converted because they (almost) all went forward at his appeal. Of course, good Bible School students (his audience that night) know what to do when a pastor’s voice gets just that tone, and the music plays softly in the background, however bad the Chinese whispers translation may have been. But getting the job done, even when measured by quantifiable KPIs*, is not real mission 😉
Some people are gifted at langauges, they are the ones who infuriatingly can chat almost like a native after only a few months of learning. Some people aren’t, we had great friends in Kinshasa who fell in that group. Despite a year or two of effort, even our cloth ears cringed to hear them mangle Lingala and French. BUT they tried, they practiced their mangled vowels and Anglicised consonants at every opportunity, and people responded to their gestures and laughing as much as to the words, and they formed relationships quickly. Learning the language (or at least one of them) is essential, being proficient is not. mission is about building people up in Christ, not KPIs!
In Chiang Mai (and doubtless around the globe) there are some missionaries who live (almost) as the locals do. They live in local homes, eat local food (except for the occasional treat when they relish a taste of home) and often travel on Bus, Songthaw, or even foot. There are also missionaries who live in comfortable, airconditioned, homes, and eat (mainly) Western-style.
Again, as with language, it is not so simple as praising one group and condemning another. Both have access to opportunities and resources the locals don’t. What matters is how they use this access. If the Flashhomes (the missios in the comfortable home with supermarket food) use their home to provide a bed for local pastors passing through, share their food with people who happen by, and generally act in an open and welcoming manner that indicates their respect for their national colleagues, that’s great, their home and food need not be a barrier. But, if they keep these luxuries to themselves, then they will act as a barrier to the very people they seek to serve…
* KPI jargon TLA for Key Performance Indicator a quantifiable (= countable), and so meaningless measure used to convince people that progress really has been made, these are especially necessary if other real measures of success (like personal testimony) are not available.[RETURN]