The Missionary and National Differences

In a world fractured by national and racial prejudices this writer has dearly set forth important guiding principles for home and overseas Christian workers.

President, Middle East College, Beirut, Lebanon

When Paul was converted on the way to Damascus he did not shed his personal characteristics; he was still a member of the tribe of Benjamin and a citizen of the Roman Empire. He was a new man as far as his relationship to the truth was concerned, but his knowledge of Greek and Hebrew remained with him. He was now a tool to be used for an entirely different purpose, but as a tool he retained his original qualities.

Now that Paul was to preach the gospel he could use his birth and education as "an entering wedge." He could meet peo­ple and enter places that otherwise would be forbidden to him. He could use his He­brew and Greek as a means of communica­tion, and sometimes for gaining a hearing. His knowledge of prejudices and attitudes of mind, his acquaintance with history and culture, enabled him to present truth and defend it in a way that only he could do because of his background and experience.

Thus it was that he could go into syna­gogues and preach Christ with great effec­tiveness. No one could gainsay him. They could drive him out, of course. They could use physical violence. But they could not answer his arguments. Thus it was on the Acropolis. If men were willing to listen at all, they could be convinced. Thus it was, too, that he was able to protect himself against injustice. "Is it lawful," he once asked, "for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?" He could ap­peal to Caesar and thus extend his ministry in time and space.

But whatever he was, he subordinated it to the one purpose of preaching the gospel. If eloquence and a knowledge of the heathen poets enabled him to secure a hearing, he would use it. If it prevented him from presenting Christ in all His sav­ing power, he would set it aside. He would not permit his being a Jew or a Roman citizen to limit his witness for Christ. He would not let education hinder his approach to anyone. Thus he said he wanted to be "all things to all men," if by any means he might win some.

It is this subordination of all his talents to the one purpose that made Paul so ef­fective in his ministry. He did not deny what he was. He did not seek to hide his identity. He simply never thought of it un­til he needed it for his work. just as the master craftsman is more concerned with the product of his labor than the quality of his tools, so Paul was more concerned with his witness for Christ than the personal characteristics he might possess. Not that tools are unimportant or should be neg­lected; it is obvious that the quality of the finished product can depend as much on the tools as on the skill of the workman. But the workman displays his product rather than his tools, and Paul took pride in those he had won to the gospel rather than in any talents that he possessed.

The preaching of the gospel in these days requires the same devotion that Paul had. And no doubt God is calling Pauis here and there, who because of their birth and citizenship and educational back­ground are able to do a work that no other can do equally well. They are placed in their home countries or abroad as God sees they can make the finest contribution. The question is: Does their witness for Christ predominate or are men always made aware of their cultural background?

In this world of racial differences and national distinctions it is impossible to deny one's race or nationality. Nor is there any need that this should be done. These differentiating factors may be the very means that God has chosen to take the gos­pel to "every nation, kindred, tongue, and people." Racial qualities can bring to­gether as often as they can divide. God brings a Philip to an Ethiopian eunuch be­cause he knows that there is in the rela­tionship a key to unlock a heart. Racial and national differences are not to divide in the church; they are to be sublimated to reach a higher purpose. The gospel will reach the ends of the earth because in each local­ity there will be a church or a company of believers or a witness, which because of race or nationality will be able to reach men in a particularly efficient manner.

The church is ever missionary in its spirit and goals. It is ever reaching out to meet other peoples. In this sense there al­ways are foreign missionaries. But the mes­sage is not a foreign message; it meets the need and finds a response in every human heart. It is not long before what has come from a "foreigner" becomes "national." There are nationals who can take up the message and pass it on to others. So long as we have people coming and going in the world, people settling down in foreign ter­ritories, so long shall we have the opportu­nity of passing on the message, and no doubt God uses individuals when He finds in them the characteristics that enable them to reach hearts better because of their place of birth or country of origin.

Differences of race and nationality con­front everyone in practically every part of the world. But it is the foreign missionary who meets it constantly. Sometimes he is expelled from a country. Sometimes he is not allowed in. At times he is allowed to en­ter a territory, but his activities are re­stricted. At no time has the missionary been accepted everywhere with open arms. But at this time in the world's history, with politi­cal conflicts increasing and cultures clash­ing, it is becoming more and more difficult to preach the gospel. If the missionary comes from the West he is accused of bring­ing "Western culture." His message is confused with some political doctrine—imperialism or a particular brand of de­mocracy. His activities are attributed to a desire to establish his own country's supe­riority or, perhaps, to maintain its suprem­acy. The country of his origin looms large in the thinking of the people, and he is thought of as a tool used by his country for wholly selfish purposes.

How can the missionary overcome these obstacles to communication? Should he deny his foreign extraction? This would be impossible, if not foolish. No one would be deceived by his impersonations even if he attempted them. If our thesis is correct, that God can use a racial or national char­acteristic for a special purpose, then the missionary's "foreignness" is something that God can use to reach those who cannot be reached by a national. His "foreignness" is something that can be used for the fur­therance of the gospel and should be re­tained for that very purpose as long as the need exists. But the missionary must not attempt to do the work the national is pre­eminently suited to do. In so doing he is asking for trouble. He is hindering the cause of God. He is failing in the purpose for which God has placed him there.

Perhaps one of the most delicate tasks that rests on the shoulders of the mission­ary is to know when he should stop and let others take over. The pioneer has a par­ticular task to do, one that is always ad­mired. It involves sacrifice, danger, perse­verance, and skill. But should he always occupy the front seat once the task has been accomplished? It is human to want to enjoy the fruits of one's labor. But should this be done when there are others who can take the lead and carry the bur­dens of the day? Never are there more dif­ficulties owing to racialism than when a man of a given race is doing the work that a man of another race should be doing.

The task of preaching the gospel is largely one of communication. One needs to know the language, understand the peo­ple, and be sympathetic with their ways of living. It is difficult to know how one can communicate otherwise. And yet in the message of truth there is more than lan­guage and learning. The missionary must be supremely and pre-eminently concerned with one thing—his witness for Christ. He must be a Christian first; his other relationships must be secondary. It must be known that he boasts in one thing only, his Lord and Saviour. In fact, he feels that apart from Christ he is noth­ing. He recognizes political associations as necessary components of this present world, but as components that take a secondary place in his thinking and feeling, and which are of value only as they can be used for the progress of the gospel. In this way a missionary can be accepted in society for the message he bears. He will be re­spected and honored for the truth he preaches. And when winds of political or other agitation blow, he is not associated with any of them. If he is opposed, it is be­cause of his faith and not because of his nationality.

Perhaps one of the most difficult prob­lems we face in the mission field today is the problem of nationalism. Nationalism has its roots in a patriotism that is natural enough. But sometimes national feelings run riot into a hatred of everything non-national. In that case it is a curse. We may expect that the evil one will do all he can to hinder the progress of the gospel by rousing feelings of hatred. But it is not for us to denounce nationalism so much as to preach a brotherhood under God that transcends all artificial boundaries of race and nationhood, and we can do that only as we ourselves are not tainted by racial prejudice or class consciousness. Here is the challenge that comes to every missionary. Can he relegate his nationality into the background or does he only find the other person's nationalism distasteful to him? Can be subdue his feelings of pride for his country or is he blind to his own failings and ready to point out the weaknesses of others? The prayer of the poet for the gift to see himself as others see him is also the prayer of the one who wants to break down prejudices without being a stumbling block to his own efforts.

There was a preacher once who never introduced himself without referring to his nationality. He felt that this was one way of gaining favor because the country he was in was politically allied to the country to which he belonged. But a change came about in political alignments. Then he had to change his tune. He no longer referred to his country of origin. He knew this would work against him. But the question arises: Should a worker depend on his polit­ical status for the favor he desires? Should he then, like a chameleon, change his color from time to time? No doubt political sta­tus can be used on special occasions with profit, as we know from the experience of Paul. But the realm of politics does not al­ways reveal justice and fair play. The polit­ical world does not have too good a reputa­tion for honesty and truth. It is therefore dangerous for the minister to associate him­self too closely with those trends when his work calls for a stand for the truth though the heavens fall, and a determination to do the right even though it is far from being expedient to do so. The missionary stands for a kingdom that is an everlasting king­dom whose foundation is mercy and truth, which will be set up, not by any political maneuvering but by the coming of Jesus when everyone has had a chance to decide whether he wants to be with God or whether he will cast in his lot with Satan.

Sometimes there is a tendency to say that an Adventist institution is "American" or "British," or some other nationality, ac­cording to the nationality of the majority of the workers in the institution. This may seem to bring favor with the people or the government. The question has to be asked whether this is not a cheap favor, one that can be a boomerang. Basically, every Ad­ventist institution is a Christian one; our work is international. One of the facts com­mented on by those who travel is the unity that prevails among us, the evidence of a truly Christian spirit. We must ever be true to the principle that the church knows no boundaries of race, color, or nation. In every area there will be those who through birth or other distinguishing factor can be used of God in a special way to reach some who could not be reached otherwise. We need to emphasize essentials, so that we shall not be hindered by dependence on the unessentials.

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President, Middle East College, Beirut, Lebanon

November 1964

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