Eddie and Sue Arthur

Questions 8: Indigenous Missions

In view of my last post in this series about the cost of supporting British missionaries, some might be inclined to ask whether or not we should focus on supporting indigenous missionaries (sorry, I can’t think of a better term, this early on a Monday morning) in their own country rather than sending Brits.

As always, there is no easy answer to this question, but here goes anyway.

Firstly, as a principle, I believe that the church – locally and worldwide – should be interdependent; we have a duty to help one another. Churches in the west should help those in other parts of the world and vice-versa. This help could be given in the form of support for indigenous missionaries working in their own or neighbouring countries. Essentially, the concept is a good one. Obviously, the circumstances will vary from congregation to congregation, but some churches in the UK should undoubtedly support indigenous missionaries.

That being said, I there are a few issues that I’d want to raise:

Financial support is a blunt tool: you need to be careful that your provision of finance doesn’t drift into a situation where you are controlling or micro-managing the missionary at a distance. This needs to be carefully thought through and there probably needs to be some strong relationships or good administrative processes in place to stop the person playing the piper calling the tune.

Don’t get taken for a ride: this is the other side of the coin. There are lots of stories of missionaries (from all backgrounds) making dramatic claims about the success of their ministry, which independent observers could simply not back up. Unfortunately, there are people out there, claiming to be missionaries, who know how to tug the purse-strings of Western Christians and you need to avoid them. Of course, we have people in the West who are experts at extorting money from Christians, too – this is a universal problem. But when people are at one degree of remove, it can be harder to know what is going on.

Check your motivations: a number of organisations build their profile on the idea that we should support indigenous missionaries because they are more cost-effective than Western missionaries. Now, this is certainly true and it is important to show proper stewardship of our money, but I’m still very uneasy about this concept. Let me rephrase it and you might see why I’m not entirely happy. We should employ brown people because we don’t have to pay them as much as white ones. Get my point? I am very uneasy about the concept of validating mission work and mission workers on financial terms alone.

Check your attitudes: would you allow the missionary that you are supporting to preach in your own church? If not, why are you supporting them? Let’s face it if they are equipped to preach and teach in places where the church is vibrant and growing or where it is suffering and struggling, they probably have something to contribute to our situation where the church is comfortable and sleepy. Unless our attitudes are wrong that is.

Just a few further thoughts in closing. Firstly, I don’t believe that the growth in missionaries around the world means that there is no place for missionaries from the UK. It is not simply an either/or, it is a both/and. Christians in the UK have something to contribute to the church around the world and (more importantly?) the church in the UK has things to learn through its involvement in sending and supporting missionaries. Secondly, can I suggest that if a church wants to support missionaries from another part of the world, they might help them to come to the UK? It’s not likely to be cheap (see above), but an influx of evangelists from other parts of the world would do the UK and the British church a lot of good. A final thought, the Global Connections document on church to church partnerships has a lot of good stuff to say on this issue.

In passing, I’ve not put an appropriate header image on this post because when I Googled “African missionaries”, all I got was pictures of white people! Search engines help to maintain stereotypes that are neither accurate nor helpful. /rantover

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?
  5. Mission Strategy
  6. What on Earth is a Missionary?
  7. Why Is Missionary Support So Expensive?

Questions 7: Why Is Missionary Support So Expensive?

In the popular imagination, missionaries (whatever they are) are people who give up everything to go and serve God in faraway places. However, in the real world, when missionaries come to raise funds for their work, they often have budgets which dwarf the salaries of the people they are trying to get to support them. So, why does it cost so much to keep missionaries on the field?

Well, as in many of these questions, there isn’t a simple answer. Different mission agencies do things in different ways and expect different things from their missionaries. What I’ll try to do in this post is set out the essential costs of keeping a missionary on the “field”. Some agencies will expect their staff to raise all of this themselves, others will pool support or find another way to meet the overall costs. However it is done, this gives an idea of what needs to be covered. In no particular order:

Salary: Missionaries need an income to pay for the same stuff that anyone at home needs. In some places, food and rent are relatively cheap, but in others, they are far more expensive than they would be in the UK.  Most mission agencies calculate the income according to what people actually need, rather than on the basis of a universal salary plan that applies to all of the workers.

Holidays: Some missionaries live in places where they can visit amazing and cheap holiday destinations for next to nothing – we had that privilege. However, others are in immensely stressful situations and may have to travel long distances to expensive destinations in order to get some well deserved R&R.  When you live in a tough, dangerous situation, a good holiday can literally be a lifesaver – but to the observer (or donor) in the UK, it can look like a luxury.

Medical Treatment: Most missionaries need to have medical insurance and this doesn’t always come cheap. Let’s face it, people who go skiing for a week tend to take out good medical cover, so why would people who are living permanently in other countries not do the same?

Travel:  Missionaries have to get to and fro from the place they work. They may only make the journey once every four years or so, but if you are flying a family out to a lesser-known destination this can be a substantial cost, even if it is spread over a number of years.

Set-Up Costs: When you arrive in a new country for the first time, you have two options; either ship your belongings from home or buy new furniture, a car and everything else that you need when you arrive. Neither option comes cheap. Cars, in particular, can be a real problem; in some countries, governments whack something like 100% import duty on vehicles. Even buying a second-hand reject shipped in from Europe can be a very costly business.

Ministry Costs: some agencies cover the actual costs involved in “doing mission”, others don’t and expect the missionary to raise those funds, too. In either case, the money has to come from somewhere. We had to find money to pay our co-workers and to cover the costs of printing books locally as well as buying computers for work and so on.

Retirement: In the UK, unless you are self-employed, your pension payments are deducted from your salary. These include payments for the state pension and for any private pension that you might have access too. Not only that, but your employer has to pay a cut towards your pension, too. Typically, missionaries have to make all of these payments (including for state pension in the UK) themselves. Some well-meaning people say that missionaries shouldn’t pay pension contributions, they should rely on God to provide for them when they retire. However, what this means in practice is that they should rely on churches and others to support them in retirement, using up funds which could go to supporting younger missionaries still on the field.

Education: Very often, missionaries will need to pay to send their kids to school; either boarding school or day school. They may be able to use local schools which are free or cheap, but these schools will not always prepare children for life back in the UK and the quirks of the British education system.

The list could go on. Sometimes missionary support quotes look outrageous, but when you break them down, the missionaries may well only be receiving a very modest salary. All of the other costs are things which are necessary to keep them on the field, but which don’t amount to a life of luxury. It is very instructive to compare the way that missionary support is calculated compared to the salary and benefits received by many expat workers in industry or government service in similar locations. Chalk and cheese springs to mind.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?
  5. Mission Strategy
  6. What on Earth is a Missionary?

Throwback: Bible Translation Terms

I’ve probably posted this more than once, which just goes to show that my memory is as bad as my sense of humour.

One of the problems with the whole issue of Bible translation is that people use such confusing terms. For someone who just wants to understand the merits of a particular translation or who is perhaps looking to buy a Bible, the geekish terminology that surrounds the subject can be a real stumbling block. So, in order to help those who have not been initiated into the secrets of translation terminology, I would like to present this definitive guide.

  • Meaning Based: “a translation which prioritizes the meaning rather than the form of the original language.”
  • Form-Based: “a translation which prioritizes the form of the original language rather than the meaning.”
  • Literal Translation “a form-based translation”
  • Word for Word: “a form-based translation and I don’t know much about languages.”
  • Free Translation: “I don’t like this meaning-based translation.”
  • Paraphrase: “I really don’t like this meaning-based translation.”
  • Accurate: I like it.
  • The Most Accurate: means either
    • as an opinion (I believe this is the most accurate translation) “I really like it.”
    • as a statement of fact (this is the most accurate translation) “I know nothing about translation theory or languages.”
  • Dynamic Equivalence “I read a blog post about translation once.”

I hope this is helpful. There are undoubtedly other terms which could be added. Please feel free to make your own contributions in the comments.

Meanwhile, as we argue about all of the different translations we have in English, there are millions of people around the world who don’t have a single word of Scripture in their own language. Is there anything you can do to change this?

Books I Have Read: The Church on Mission

Whether you are a church planter, a cross-cultural missionary or a seminary student, if you are interested in studying and understanding mission then Church on Mission by Craig Ott should be on your reading list. Subtitled A Biblical Cision for Transformation among All People, this book gives a short, sharp biblical overview of what mission is all about and is well worth a careful read.

The book is a small format paperback of 131 pages. Each of the six chapters has two or three pages of notes and references, and there is an index and a list of biblical passages cited at the end. The book originated as a series of lectures and (as is often the case) the transfer to written format isn’t always smooth and the book can be quite hard work at times. This is an excellent book, but it isn’t a page-turner.

The book consists of six chapters which started life as lectures to the staff of an American denominational mission agency in Europe. The lectures unpack the denomination’s mission statement which is

… to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all peoples.

Which isn’t a bad mission statement in my view.

Chapter 1: Transformation to God’s Glory

This chapter points out that “the church is not at liberty to define its mission for itself”. Mission statements can be developed in different ways, but ultimately, the church’s mission is defined by Scripture. To this end, Ott unpacks biblical teaching on “transformation” and then helpfully shows that God’s glory is both the source and the endpoint of the church’s transformation.

Chapter 2: Transformational Communities

The opening few sentences of this chapter describe where it goes: ” If transformation is the dynamic of our mission, and God’s glory is both the source and goal of our mission, then the church in the power of the Spirit is God’s primary instrument of mission in this age. The church is the only institution on earth entrusted with the message of transformation – the gospel – and the only community that is a living demonstration of that transformation.”

Chapter Three: Transformation and the Word of God

This chapter sets out the centrality of careful, contextual and theological reading and teaching of Scripture to the work of mission.

Chapter Four: Transformational Influence

Focussing particularly on Jesus’ teaching, this chapter unpacks the role of the church as salt and light in the wider world. While never losing sight of the importance of pointing people to Christ, this chapter is a helpful corrective to those who see mission as nothing more than preaching or evangelism. It’s worth the price of the book on its own.

Chapter Five: Transformation for All People

This is the bit that touches on my interests and I’ll put a few quotes from this chapter at the end of this short review. Ott, very helpfully, points out that the church is to reach out to all nations, but must also be a place where all nations are welcome. Our outward thrust in mission and evangelism must be matched by a welcome for believers from all languages and nations.

Chapter Six: Transformation Through Multiplication

The final chapter looks at the issue of multiplication and tackles the thorny question of numerical versus spiritual growth.

This is just a brief outline of a very good book. Who should read it? Well, in a sense, I’d say that any church leader or missionary should read it, but being realistic, I’d say that anyone who is actively involved in Church planting or supporting a church plant, must read it. It could be that they have thought through all of the issues in this book (though, I doubt it), but there are very few places where you will find this depth of biblical teaching on the subject all in one place.

As promised, a few quotes from chapter 5:

First, we are to reach all people with the gospel. Every person on planet Earth should have the opportunity to become a follower of Christ and a member of a local community of believers. This will mean sending gospel messengers to people everywhere, crossing cultural, religious, linguistic and geographic boundaries, evangelizing, baptizing, discipling and planting transformational churches among them.

Second, every local church should welcome and embrace all people. Just as God’s grace is equally extended to all people regardless of race, ethnicity, economic status, educational level, or social standing, so each local expression of the body should reflect something of that diversity.

It is one thing to believe that all people should be reached with the gospel. It is quite another thing to truly embrace a diversity in one’s own local church.

Disunity undermines the credibility of the church and discredits our witness. If we are concerned about evangelism, we must be concerned about unity. Unity in the body of Christ is not a nicety or a bonus for otherwise contentious people; it is of crucial importance. Neither is it a gloss over deep-seated animosities or tensions. Rather, the unity in view is nothing less than the unity of Jesus and his Heavenly Father, the unity of the Godhead. This unity goes beyond the mere absence of conflict; it entails acceptance, openness, and embrace.

It is one thing to believe that all people should be reached with the gospel. It is quite another thing to truly embrace a diversity in one's own local church. Click To Tweet

Questions 6: What On Earth Is A Missionary?

At first glance, this might seem like a silly question, with an obvious answer; a missionary is someone who travels to a new country or culture to share the gospel. Well, that definition is ok as far as it goes, but what about medical missionaries, or people who go to far flung places to provide logistic and administrative support for church planters – are they missionaries? Or consider those who work with unreached people groups in their home town: are they missionaries? Are the home staff of mission agencies missionaries?

The thing is that mission is a complex business there are lots of people doing all sorts of different things all round the world and all sorts of different ways in which they receive their funding. It is far from simple to come up with a one line definition of what a missionary is. Nor, in this case, is the Bible much help. Though I would argue that mission is a biblical concept, the specific terms mission and missionary are never actually used in their modern sense. It would be nice if you could look up “missionary” in a concordance and turn up six verses which describe what one looks like, but you can’t.

In the end, I would argue that missionary is actually a fuzzy concept which can’t be given a hard and fast definition. There are no strict dividing lines which say that one Christian worker is a missionary and another isn’t. However, I would argue that there are four qualities that need to be present in one way or another for someone to be called a missionary. I realise that there won’t be universal agreement on this, but, that is the nature of the beast.

Missionaries are sent out by churches: In order for someone to be regarded as a missionary, they need to have been comissioned into ministry by a church fellowship. This may be a very simple process, but it is an important one. People are not missionaries on the basis of an individual, personal decision, but on the grounds of their gifts and calling being recognised by their church. Even when there is a mission agency involved in the process, the mutual responsibility between missionary and sending fellowship is the key relationship.

Missionaries are involved in disciple-making and witnessing to Jesus: any mission work must overtly point people to Jesus and deliberately seek to make disciples (see this post). There are lots of good stuff that people can do, which is well worthwhile; relief of poverty, education and so on, but if there is no active and deliberate witness to Jesus, it isn’t mission. This doesn’t mean that every missionary needs to be involved full time in disciple making or church planting. The administrator who keeps things ticking over so that the church planters can do their stuff is as much a missionary as those who are preaching and teaching. Missionaries work in teams and the team members have different roles – but the job of the team is to point people to Jesus.

Missionaries have a vocation and a long-term commitment: I am somewhat allergic to much of the talk about a missionary call, but some sense of vocation is essential for someone to be called a missionary. How  this sense of vocation is experienced is less of an issue, there is no recipe. Mission work involves a long-term commitment to a ministry – often in the face of danger, disease or home-sickness. Being a missionary is not like another job and it is not a step on a career ladder in the Christian industrial-ministry machine. It is about devoting your life to making Jesus known.

Being a missionary is not like another job and it is not a step on a career ladder in the Christian industrial-ministry machine. It is about devoting your life to making Jesus known. Click To Tweet

Missionaries don’t always receive a salary: this is a complex one. Some people who would count as missionaries do receive a regular stipend or salary, but many don’t. “Living by faith” (as the jargon has it) is not a sign of sanctification or a special relationship with God. However, if someone is willing to travel off around the world (or even stay at home) without the promise of a regular salary, I believe that it is more likely that they fulfil the other criteria that I’ve laid out.

These four points are indications; they are not hard and fast guidelines or a checklist that sets out to define who and what a missionary is. There are people who would not fit into one or more of these descriptions, but who are most definitely missionaries. This is especially true of people from the growing majority world church who have not inherited all of the structures and baggage that goes along with mission from the West. However, I also think that my list does (intentionally?) exclude many people in the West who move from job to job in Christian organisations, using their skills for good, but without a long-term commitment to anything in particular. The Christian job market is a very safe and comfortable place for some people, but being employed by a mission agency doesn’t make you a missionary.

Does this matter? Yes, I think it does, for two reasons. Firstly, if we throw the term missionary around too liberally, we end up losing the focus on making disciples and planting churches. Secondly, churches need to think through how they will support world mission and a consideration of what they consider a missionary to be is an important part of this process.

Oh, one last thing – I never mentioned geography in my list.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?
  5. Mission Strategy

Throwback: Why I’m Allergic to Devotionals

This post is three years old and still true!

In my world, business meetings tend to follow a similar pattern; the very first item on the agenda is the devotional. There will be a Bible study and a time of prayer and if time allows (and the group is big enough) there may even be a bit of singing. Once the devotional is out of the way, the day’s business proper begins.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I’ve nothing against Bible studies or prayer and despite having a voice like a frog with a sore throat, I think that singing is a good thing, too. However, the concept of the devotional at the start of the meeting does bother me.

Let me explain.

The problem is not what we do during the devotional time, it is that we end up drawing an artificial distinction between the spiritual aspect of our work and the everyday business that we have to deal with. All too often, once the devotional is out of the way, the meeting makes no reference to the things that were raised during the time of prayer and meditation. I recall one meeting where we started with an excellent devotional talk on the subject of listening to God; at no point in the ensuing meeting did we actually consider what listening to God might mean for the business of the day.

At the risk of overstating the case; it sometimes feels as though we get the Christian content out of the way and then our meetings default to an essentially secular way of functioning.

Yesterday, I highlighted the way in which Tim Chester looked at a common problem in contemporary mission work through the lens of Scripture, rather than through management theory or strategic planning. I believe that one of the reasons that we find it difficult to follow Tim’s example is that our management and business meetings tend to have the devotional-business divide. We’ve not learned how to meditate on Scripture as part of our approach to work problems.

I’m not exactly sure how we change things, but I would love to see business meetings that had a much more integrated approach to spiritual life and business life.

Putting Things in Perspective

After yesterday’s post about charity law, I thought it would be worth posting this little thread that turned up on my Twitter feed this morning. Steve Schirmer is president of a US agency which works in Asia.

Being a Charity Case

Yesterday, Stephen Kneale posted an excellent reflection entitled: What if we lost our charitable status? In it, he considers the implications for churches if the government were to withdraw their right to exist as charities; I’d strongly encourage you to go away and read the original before coming back here.

However, knowing that many of you won’t read the original, here are Stephen’s main points:

  • First, let’s recognise that charitable status is a privilege, not a right.
  • Second, let’s be clear that having such status removed does not amount to persecution.
  • Third, let’s recognise that the mission of the church does not revolve around charitable status.
  • Fourth, it bears saying that if your church model does depend (and I use that word advisedly) on charitable status, I’m going to suggest your church model is probably flawed.
  • Whilst charitable status is certainly helpful and beneficial, it is not the principle means of supporting the ministry (and, for the record, nor should it be!)
  • Sixth, and here is the main point, where do we think our help actually comes from? Do we look to the Lord in these things or are we looking to the world?

What I’d like to do is to take this reflection on a bit further and to look at some of the implications of charitable status for mission agencies. However, before I do that, there are a couple of general observations that need to be made.

Firstly, charitable status works differently in the UK and the US. In the UK, when someone gives money to a charity, the organisation can claim back the income tax that the donor paid on that gift. This means that donations given by income tax payers are worth 25% more to the charity than the actual amount donated. As I understand the situation in the US, it is the individual that gets tax relief on donations (the same is true of higher rate taxpayers in the UK).

Secondly, I think that it is very unlikely that the government will withdraw charitable status from churches and other religious bodies as such. However, charitable status depends on an organisation being willing and able to demonstrate that they fulfil one or more of a list of “charitable purposes“. One of these purposes is “the advancement of religion”. In the current climate in the UK, I would not be surprised if this charitable purpose were to be removed or so modified as to make it useless. If this were the case, then churches and Christian charities would need to demonstrate that they fulfilled some other charitable purpose, such as the relief of poverty or the advancement of religion if they were to retain their status as charities. Whether some churches or charities would want to do this or be able to do this is an open question.

In my research, I came across an issue which Stephen’s post did not touch on; the burden imposed upon mission agencies by maintaining charitable status. This is a longish partial quote from my thesis:

“In practice, the duties of charity trustees involve a significant amount of monitoring and reporting on activities. The trustees need to be aware of what the charity is doing and have to ensure that it is complying with relevant laws. They must submit a comprehensive, annual report on their activities and finances and keep track of any risks that the charity faces and ensure that appropriate mitigation strategies are in place. This monitoring and reporting become more complex when the charity is involved in work overseas, potentially in hazardous situations.

The complexity of the legal and financial issues that trustees must deal with and the priority that they must give to this work mean that they will very often pay special attention to recruiting board members from a legal, financial or business background.

In the experience of the author, both as the CEO of a mission agency and as someone who has advised a number of agency boards these two factors — the responsibilities of the trustees and the composition of trustee boards —have an impact on the way in which agencies approach theological issues.

Firstly, the time required to address the requirements of governance and compliance issues means that trustee boards, who generally do not meet frequently, do not have adequate opportunity to engage in missiological or theological reflection.

The second trend is that boards often lack the experience, expertise or desire to interact with material such as the Lausanne documents.

The third trend is a combination of the other two; the limited time available and the pressing need to address regulatory issues combined with the interests and skills of board create a culture in which the compliance and business issues are given ever greater prominence because this is the ground where the board is most comfortable.

Martin Lee, the former director of Global Connections highlighted the problem that current patterns of charity governance pose for agencies in a 2016 blog post.

‘The Charity Commission seems to be putting increasing burdens on trustees in the areas of compliance, financial accounting, risk assessment, policies of an ever-expanding nature – and I could go on. Sadly, it means that this can often dominate meetings and take up disproportionate amounts of time.

… However perhaps the most important role, often neglected, is thinking about the future. When was the last time your Board set aside substantive time to think about questions such as the changing external environment, what the future might bring, whether to merge or close, or just getting fresh perspectives? Too often an organisation just uses internal sources of information and focuses its discussions on the current or planned activities. Regularly asking people from outside to talk about trends and their experiences, even if they are competitors, is vital if a Board is really doing its job well.'”

If British mission agencies are to remain relevant in the future, they will need to take their place within a growing multi-national mission movement which looks very different to the situation in which they were founded and developed. This will involve some serious theological and missiological reflection with wide-ranging input. However, the pressures placed on them mean that mission agency boards often do not have the time and, perhaps, the skills needed to engage with the complex issues which they will need to deal with in the future. I don’t think we are necessarily at that point yet, but I do think that British mission agencies will need to consider whether a registered charity is the best organisational vehicle for them to carry out their calling.

To put things in some worldwide perspective, when I mentioned on Twitter that I would be looking at this topic today, my friend Timothy responded:

If you are interested, I explore more on the theme of Christian charities here.

Books I Have Read: Mission Shaped Church…

There are lots of books about mission and church that I would like to read, but some of the more academic offerings have eyewatering price tags and are simply out of my reach. However, Mission-shaped Church in a Multicultural World by Harvey C Kwiyani will set you back less than two pounds and is full of all sorts of goodness. Go and buy it now.

The book – actually, it’s a booklet – forms part of the excellent Grove Books series and consists of a mere 28 pages. The writing is clear and accessible, pitched at a general audience. There are no footnotes or illustrations, but the page is broken up with highlighted quotations.

In my experience, Grove Books serve two purposes. They provide an excellent introduction to a subject that is new to the reader. Equally, for the reader who is familiar with the subject matter, they package half-forgotten and well known material in a convenient manner which makes it easy to find what you are looking for. Certainly, this book will be of help to those who have never though about mission in the multicultural UK as well as to those who are familiar with the author’s Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West and other works on the same theme.

The book consists of six chapters, the longest of which is five pages long. This is a booklet that could conveniently be read in a week of coffee breaks.

Chapter 1: The Future of the Nations considers the basic multi-national, multi-lingual nature of Christianity. A theme that will be familiar to Kouyanet readers.

Chapter 2: Migration and Cultural Diversity does what it says on the tin. In particular it covers three possible responses to migration and cultural diversity; assimilation, cultural pluralism and muticulturalism. The chapter favours multiculturalism, but demonstrates that it takes determined effort to make it work.

Chapter 3: Blessed Reflex considers the flow of missionaries into the UK from countries which once received missionaries.

Chapter 4: Exploring and Releasing the Gifts of Foreign Christians in Britain is the longest chapter and highlights the fact that the global church is meant to be an interdependant body. We Christians in the UK need to receive input from others – but we aren’t very good at receiving it.

Chapter 5: Intercultural Mutuality takes the theme of the previous chapter and develops it further. It also challenges the idea that homogeneity is neccesary for success in mission and church planting.

Chapter 6: Multicultural Christianity and Mission in a Multicultural Word is best summed up by this quote from page 25.

… the best way to engage a multicultural context effectively in mission is through a multicultural missionary community. Otherwise Christianity becomes a dividing force that socializes people into segregated congregations when they live multiculturally at work, at school, and practically everywhere else.

Who should read this booklet? You should! Frankly, I cannot imagine why anyone, especially those involved in church leadership and church plants, would not read this. It is cheap and it is an easy read, but it introduces a lot of important concepts. I know that some of the books that I reccomend are too long, too expensive and take too long to read for anyone but the specialist. The same cannot be said about this excellent little book. Now, click on the link and buy it!


Throwback Thursday: Close the Door

I thought it would be good to step back from the broader questions about mission and mission support and to focus back on Bible translation. This post by Sue is from 2015.

What could be simpler than asking someone to close the door you might think? But whenever you try and translate something from one language to another you come across the phenomenon of language and culture being so closely bound together that they are almost impossible to separate. Let me give you an example. Here in Madagascar, someone from one area simply asked a colleague from another area to close the door; a reasonable request, since it was early evening and the mosquitoes were coming inside! However, the request didn’t produce the desired result.

What was happening? The first man had made the request according to his language and culture which was, literally: ‘Please wall the road!’ The second, however, hadn’t reacted because in his own culture and language the way to make that request is to say: ‘Please make-closed the door’ and hadn’t associated the talk of ‘blocking the road’, as he had understood it, with the idea of closing the door! But for the first man, this is just the normal expression used in his language for closing the door: you ‘wall-up the entrance/path’ or as we might say in Yorkshire: ‘Put wood in t’hole!’

What has this got to do with Bible Translation you might ask? Well, if a simple request to close the door was met with such confusion here, among related languages in the same country, imagine how the scope for misunderstanding is magnified when we come to translate ideas written down a couple of thousand years ago in the Middle East into a language with a very different culture and context in the 21st century! Whenever we communicate, the words we use embody the culture of that language – whether we are talking about doors, cricket, Pancake Tuesday or olive branches or in the Biblical context: vineyards, priests or Samaritans – because they are part of the culture and always have the connotations of that particular culture. Therefore when we translate ideas like these from one language to another, we have to find a way of communicating them accurately and clearly in the translated text, whilst avoiding undesirable connotations in that culture.

Following our discussions about cultural differences in closing doors in different Malagasy languages here at our translation workshop in Antananarivo, we then asked the translation teams to look at how they might go about translating Revelation Chapter 3 verse 20 in which Jesus says: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” What if there is no word for door? And do people knock or do they call out to those in the house when they want to enter? Is Jesus a stranger that he needs to knock? Or in some contexts would Jesus knocking at the door make him a thief, since the custom is for everyone to call out – only a thief would knock to check that the house is empty! There are no easy answers because words cannot help but bring their culture with them! What’s more there are also theological implications from many of these questions which influence the way we translate, but I’ll leave those discussions for another day……

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