Missionary Misconceptions and Mistakes

Missionary Misconceptions and Mistakes

Every missionary delights in recording the souls he knows he has won to Christ; but how many try to figure out, the losses that have accrued to the church through their mistakes?

By FREDERICK LEE, Associate Editor, Review and Herald

The trial-and-error method seems to be the most generally used system of human en­deavor. Although experience is the most exacting teacher to be found, it is nevertheless the one most universally employed. It seems necessary for most people to blunder through life, making one mistake after another, before they can add to their knowledge some of the most precious lessons of life. Thus it is that so many older people say, "If only I could live my life over, how differently I would do on certain occasions."

It may not be too disastrous to live by the trial-and-error method, if we live among peo­ple who know and understand us. But if this method is used in a mission field by one who has crossed seas and continents as a repre­sentative of the best that life has to offer, we cannot compute the dire results for the religion of Christ.

Every missionary delights in recording the souls he knows he has won to Christ ; but how many try to figure out, the losses that have accrued to the church through their mistakes? That is something that we do not like to think of, but it is something that should be given very careful consideration by every Christian who lives among non-Christian peoples. The people in foreign lands have been very chari­table, often overlooking the mistakes of the missionary. They have listened to his teach­ing and said it was good. They have looked upon his humanitarian acts and thanked him for them.

In the past the missionary has heard little criticism on the part of the non-Christian as to his life and work. This is because the nationals of non-Christian countries have taken the missionary in and accepted him at face value. With a simple and humble faith, mil­lions have looked to Christian missionaries as the exemplification of the good life, even though they may not have been willing to follow in the Christian way.

But it is different in these days of disillu­sionment. The so-called Christian nations have not proved to be the centers of liberty and justice that the non-Christian world had hoped. They have seen that the professed followers of Christ have often assented to the unrighteous and unchristian deeds of their countries. The World War, in which the na­tions of Christendom flew at one another's throats, even with the sanction of the Christian churches, and employed millions from non-Christian nations to help them in the bloody work, brought bewilderment and doubt to that part of the world which had hoped for much from Christianity.

The anti-Christian and the anti-God propa­ganda that has been circulated recently in many non-Christian lands has done much to break down the prestige of the missionary. Then, too, the teachers of higher education in so-called Christian lands, with their freely ut­tered ideas of doubt concerning Christian doc­trines, have been an undermining influence in the work of the missionary.

Although the missionary may now have greater facilities for work, yet he has a defi­nite resistance to meet that was little seen in the early pioneering days. How much better equipped the missionaries of these days should be, then, in experience, understanding, and Christian diplomacy ! The missionary no longer works in a corner. That which is done today in a far-off village may be heralded to the world tomorrow. The inadvertent act of one who thinks he is not observed may have a far-reaching effect.

Most of the unforgivable mistakes of the missionary are the fruitage of some miscon­ception. If the national of another land is confident that the missionary is endeavoring to understand the people for whom he is work­ing and is trying to adapt himself to, circum­stances in a sympathetic way, he will overlook many mistakes. The peoples of mission lands have an understanding of the frailty of human nature. They do not expect the missionary to be a god. But they do expect him to come in the spirit of Christian helpfulness, and with a kindly bearing.

Some of the misconceptions that cause greatest offense might well be mentioned. Just because they are ofttimes poor and uneducated, the nationals of other lands are not necessar­ily or inherently inferior to the missionary, They have merely been unfortunate and with,. out opportunity. If one would look about him in almost any land which, has known long pe­riods of civilization, he could find those who are just as cultured, intellectual, clean, and privileged, as any he finds in his own land. And, on the other hand, a missionary or anyone else can find in his own land the very types he may see and despise in other lands.

Most peoples, except the very primitive, have a history and culture of which they are proud. They are inwardly unwilling to bow and scrape to any one, and when this is done it is only because of force of circumstances. But the missionary should never take an ad­vantage of his position. If he does, his work is crippled. Consideration and courtesy should be manifest to the very lowly. One must feel "brother" in his heart when he utters that spiritual-bond word in any language. One should respect and praise the best that he sees in others, and be reluctant to criticize any national weakness. It is never fitting for a guest to find fault with the service that he receives.

Another misconception is that there is only one good way to perform an act, and only one right attitude to take on all occasions—the way one's own people have done it. The mis­sionary does not go to other lands to change customs and ways of doing things; provided, of course, that they do not conflict with funda­mental Christian principles.

He who has his eyes open will learn many good methods of doing things, and will be sur­prised at the different ways in which one can approach almost any problem. The positive and aggressive attitude toward life which has been developed by intensely modernized na­tions does not always bear the best fruit, nor even bring the quickest results.

One must not be too positive when dealing with people of another race. That is the best way to defeat most plans. The missionary must remember that there is a natural barrier between him and those to whom he goes. He must ever endeavor to break down that barrier as much as possible. But any opinionated attitude, and "high-pressure" method, any haughty manner, will raise the wall of separa­tion. In fact, the tactless and inconsiderate missionary will by his very actions build a barrier so high that he will be unable to make close contact with the people.

Persons who are naturally contentious, who quibble over fine points, who love to argue and carry their point, to the discomfiture of an­other, might better stay in the country where they are best understood and where their ac­tions may be overlooked. The words of Paul are most applicable to the missionary in these days, "The servant of the Lord must not strive ; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves." 2 Tim. 2:24, 25. Too many representatives of the Master are obliv­ious to their own bungling ways. Protesting their peaceful intentions everywhere they go, such persons unconsciously stir up strife. The mission field is no place for the contentious man or woman.

One should have lips that speak truth in love, hands that are raised only to bless, and a heart that can take in the whole world, if one would be a successful missionary. The missionary will be tried and tempted on many occasions. His spirit will be provoked as was Moses', but he should beware lest he speak un­advisedly with his lips. He should remember that his words and actions may often provoke the people for whom he labors. He should keep in mind the words of Paul, "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." Col. 4:6.

Other Dos and Don'ts

Other points that often need to be reiterated may be listed as follows:

Strive to be Impartial. While you must put your trust in men who have won your confidence, remember that they may not be as worthy of your trust as some others. Never permit a group of men to absorb your whole attention, or be your only counselors. Widen your circle of advisers. Try to win the confi­dence of all your fellow workers.

Be friendly, but not familiar. A mis­sionary may he able to speak out his thoughts to those who understand the background of his life without harm's being done. But uttering careless words and whimsical remarks, making unseemly comparisons, and criticizing fellow missionaries, nullifies his influence. The one who permits his tongue to run away with it­self, who knows not when to speak or to whom to speak, will be a constant source of difficulty.

Strive to Understand and Be Understood. In order to do this, it is imperative that the language of the people be thoroughly studied, and their customs closely observed. Any in­different attitude toward learning the language and customs will be reflected in one's attitude toward the people.

Be Patient; Be Trustful. A hasty, im­patient spirit spells disaster for the missionary. A suspicious, distrustful attitude repels those who are in need of help. It is better to lose a minute or an hour than to lose a soul. It is much better to lose a dollar now and then than to drive all men from you. Do not try to rein people up quickly to a standard which you think is right. Do not use disciplinary meas­ures unless it is absolutely necessary and it is your prerogative to do so. Take the longer way by giving instruction, line upon line, here a little and there a little. Never accuse any one of a misdeed, unless you are absolutely sure of what you are saying. Always be afraid to be absolutely sure about your opinion of any one in a strange land. Never be abrupt


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By FREDERICK LEE, Associate Editor, Review and Herald

December 1938

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