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Cross-cultural Ministry for Beginners

Posted by Brian Jose on

When it comes to mission in Burma (Myanmar today), we all know Adoniram Judson (OK, google him if you don’t), but who  knows of Arthur Carlson.  I’ve just heard of him today from my new friend Aung, a pastor and church planter.  Carlson was apparently a missionary to the Chin people in northwest Myanmar in the early 1900’s.  Besides many converts to Christianity (the region is predominantly Christian, at least in name, even today, in a country otherwise dominated by Buddhism), part of Carlson’s legacy was that he taught the Chin believers that Christian men wear trousers, shirts and ties, and yes, even jackets rather than the traditional ­­­­­­pasoh   -- you may know something similar as a sarong -- in the heat and humidity of SE Asia. (It is about 38 Celsius or 100 Fahrenheit here today, and a little steamy.  Trust me, it isn’t jacket and tie weather.) I’m told the Chin believers follow this custom to this day.  Now I’m not going to throw many stones at Mr Carlson. He likely suffered more for his calling than I ever will, and it sounds like he pointed whole villages and towns to living faith in Jesus. Not a bad innings, as the cricketers say.  But it got me wondering what “truth” is commonly taught today, but which will appear similarly culturally bound in a few generations. When it comes to global mission, I find we in the rich world are increasingly risk-averse.  I’ve been touch with a couple of potential missionary recruits lately and have been struck by how parents and churches are advising these young people who seek to pick up their cross and follow Jesus.  A few examples (and my suggestion for a biblical response):


Concern:  Will this damage career prospects?  Response:  Quite possibly, just like Peter and Andrew probably lost a boatload (pun intended) of cash when they left their nets to follow Jesus.

Concern:  Are the road conditions dangerous?  Response: Absolutely, but Jesus suggested narrow roads make for good route planning.

Concern:  What are the hospitals like?  Response:  Dirty, under-equipped and maybe even corrupt, but Jesus said you find your life when you lose it.

Concern:  Can I come home for my friend’s wedding?  Response:  What did Jesus mean when He said you should hate your father and mother for his sake?


I’m all for lucrative careers (some of my friends who have them generously support me), great roads, good hospitals and celebrating with friends, but some of the people I’ve met here in Myanmar see life very differently. More tomorrow on them. But in the meantime, is it any wonder that Asians, Latin Americans and Africans are taking over global mission?   They’re willing to pay a price for their calling that I’ve never come close to paying.  It is humbling. In 100 years the mission historians may look at us with amusement or dismay for how we carried our culture with us. (Think iPhone or internet in a world where 40% of us live on less than $2 per).  When I think of my own self(ishly?)-defined “minimum standards” I start to get very uncomfortable – it feels even worse than wearing jacket and tie in the Burmese sun.

Tags: burma, myanmar


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