January 28, 2014

Where is your cah?

By John Scully

What is a soft drink called?



I was raised in New Jersey, and I called it a “soda.”

Do you say hoagie or hero?

How about sneakers or tennis shoes?

When I visited a friend in Boston, he asked, where is your “cah?”


He was asking about my car, but to my ears I did not know what he meant.

Many regional differences like these exist right here in America.

We all run into them from time to time.

Language can be confusing. Words have certain meanings, but they can mean something entirely different depending on how they are used.

Things get complicated when there are so many homonyms, homophones, and homographs.

Or misused words like “affect” or “effect,” “fewer” or “less,” and “complement” or “compliment.”

And then we have the phenomenon where a natural word like “bad” actually means “good.”

How would anyone without a natural grasp of the English language manage to understand these language nuances and cultural quirks?

Yet, when a Christian couple thinks it’s a good idea to be a missionary in a foreign culture, they often fail to consider language problems and cultural differences until it is too late, and they cannot understand why they are having no impact on the people they are trying to reach.

Bob Finley in his book Reformation in Foreign Missions states that if an American wants to go as a missionary, he should apply for immigrant visa. He says, “Unless you have already married a citizen of the country where you are going, you should go as a single person with the intention of marrying a local citizen after you have arrived there. If you go as an English-speaking married couple you will never be able to completely learn the local language or integrate into the culture.”

Let’s face it. Learning the language is tough enough, but learning how to communicate correctly and culturally is crucial. It could be humorous or disastrous when a person uses the wrong word.

So, when Christian Aid says that it is more efficient and effective to support an indigenous ministry or native missionary, one of the simple reasons is the language barrier. The gospel must be presented accurately, culturally, and relationally.

Let’s leave it to native missionaries.

They know what they are talking about.

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John Scully - posted February 05, 2014
Very well said, Sherri, and you have pointed out more reasons why it is difficult to go to foreign country and be an effective missionary. Also, we obey the Great Commission when we reach foreign visitors away from home. I shared my dilemma on this topic in the blog titled, “Making Sense of the Great Commission” on Oct 29, 2013. I liked the way you ended your last comment, Penelope. It is really key that people listen to, and know, the heart of God. We are all in this world together, doing what we can to expand the kingdom to the ends of the earth.
Sherri - posted February 03, 2014
As an African-American believer, I am glad to support ministries like Christian Aid Mission. We Westerners need to consider how others view us through world history; how our own governments used the church to cover their economic and political schemes-and many indigenous peoples have LONG memories! To go overseas to convert the "heathen" used to mean not just win them to Christ, but change their clothes, food and language, much as Nebuchadnezzar sought to do to Daniel and his friends (Daniel 1). As a result, incidents like the Boxer Rebellion in China (1899-1901) led to the slaughter of many Western missionaries and businessmen. And this attitude really hasn't disappeared in our time: just ten years ago an American missionary to Jamaica visited my NC church. In his enthusiasm he seemed to imply that contemporary Christian music was the reason the Spirit reached Jamaican children. (As a music teacher, I wondered why he didn't consider using Jamaican praise and worship music.) Returning to Hudson Taylor, keep in mind that he was among the first Western missionaries to shred his Western attire for Chinese clothing so that the Chinese would better receive him, and thus receive Christ. And although believers back home were shocked by his decision, Taylor realized that, to many Chinese, Christianity was a white man's religion, and he needed to become as Chinese as possible so that, as the apostle Paul said, he might by all means save some (I Cor. 9: 19-23). Mr. Finley was wise to foresee the need to support indigenous missionaries. While I do still believe the Great Commission is to be obeyed by all, when indigenous witnesses proclaim and live Christ before their own people, the Gospel's power becomes truly for all humankind-and God's Word CAN'T be typecast!
Penelope - posted January 31, 2014
Hmm, I'm glad for the clarification. I do agree that all should be concerned with raising up believers to do the work from among the people native to that area. I have also many times seen the damage done by foreign missionaries too. Either way though, there are always those who are truly being led and listening to the Spirit, and therefore produce good fruit, and those who seem to not do so well, whether foreign or native to the area in question. I brought up the point earlier, because I have read literature from this ministry that did strongly imply that all foreign missionaries were not in the will of God. I hope I am understood here, since this is a peculiar statement I am about to make, but just about any truth, revelation, or doctrine of God taken to its extreme becomes wrong and very off balance. We've all seen this done with many doctrines. Men come up with black and white rules (doctrine), and lose the ability of being able to see how God works in so many different ways. For example, holiness is a very good thing, but if that is all you focus on, you could easily lose all perception of the love of God. I'm sure there are better examples, but that is the first one that popped in my head. :) There are tens of thousands of denominations in the world. Each stressing what they consider important. How many are really listening to and truly know the heart of God??
John Scully - posted January 31, 2014
Don, you are right that God can use anyone in any situation. And Tesha, bless you for committing your life to live among the Thai people. Lending your support to Thai Christians is a great way to assist their work. Since you referred to my statement, “Let’s leave it to native missionaries” please recall that it was followed by the concluding remark, “They know what they are talking about.” And that is the whole point. They really don’t have to hesitate, search for the right word, or wonder if they got the point across. Their words are naturally spoken. They are able to accurately represent the gospel right from the start. They don’t need years of preparation and assimilation. Of course there are exceptions, but generally speaking, in the big picture, I believe we should leave the front line missionary evangelistic outreach to native Christians. We can support them in many ways, like you Tesha, and especially with prayer and financial assistance. Christian Aid’s daily guide, Prayerline, which features many indigenous ministries fervently working to share the gospel, is available on our website.
Tesha - posted January 31, 2014
Thank-you for clarifying that you do not mean to say that no one should go as a foreign missionary. It is your last statement that made it seem that strong ("Let's leave it to native missionaries.") I currently am a foreign missionary, and I understand personally how difficult it is to learn a foreign language. I am married and have two toddlers, so scheduling language lessons is challenging. However, I praise God that the locals seem to think we are progressing quickly in learning to speak Thai. It can be done when needed. Sometimes it is necessary for foreigners to go as missionaries. There still are people groups that have no gospel message or Christians at all. The Joshua Project website lists many groups which have no way to access the gospel in their language. As for us, our particular project is aiming to increase the ability of locals to reach their own country. My husband leads a team which is producing DVDs of locals preaching in their own languages. Many people we have served have the ability to play these videos, but cannot read, or just don't have time to read. In this way we are supporting the emerging church in this region of the world. I pray that more converted and dedicated missionaries, from all lands, will dare to make a long-term commitment to support the emerging churches, or (I more fervently pray), to go to the unreached.
Don - posted January 31, 2014
Hi brethren in Christ, I think that typically we tend to polarise our positions. True, the native missionary would be especially affective sharing the gospel in his/her own culture; but God is sovereign and in His grace and power He has, in the past, and continues to do so today, to use ex patriots in overseas mission; witness the results that South Korean missionaries are experiencing on the mission field, in sometimes very difficult areas.
John Scully - posted January 30, 2014
Penelope, Thank you for your comments, and I am glad you agree with some of what I said. You probably agree that language is one of the major hurdles someone must overcome when going as a missionary to a foreign country. It is possible that a foreigner can fully learn the language, but it usually takes many years, and a person must immerse him/herself in the culture, essentially becoming like the people who live there. That’s the way Hudson Taylor did it. He became like the Chinese, adopting their dress and culture. He spent over 50 years in China. Very much like the way Bob Finley suggests that we should go to a foreign land. I am sorry that you took it one way, but I hope you can see that I did not imply that NO ONE should become an overseas missionary, or that such a person was not listening to God, which is why I quoted Finely who suggested that if one chooses to go, he/she should go as an immigrant. However, I was strongly implying that native missionaries are more effective and efficient at spreading the gospel in their own countries than a foreign missionary. Obviously they already know the language and understand the culture. They are really capable people who love the Lord and serve him faithfully, reaching many lost souls for Christ. And that’s what we all want to see happen, right?
Penelope - posted January 30, 2014
I understand your rationality (and PARTIALLY agree with it), but what about Hudson Taylor, C.T. Studd, Corrie Ten Boom, Brother Andrew, etc? It seems like you are playing God, or at least placing Him in a box, when you strongly imply that it is wrong for ANYONE to become an overseas missionary. You are basically claiming, in so many words, that anyone who feels they are being called to go overseas for missionary work is not listening to God. That simply is not correct, nor true nor accurate. You shouldn't make such a blanket statement.