One of my favorite “junk TV” shows is a catty little fashion show called “What NOT to wear”. Basically the witty, yet snotty, hosts hijack some poor fashion disaster, trash her hideous wardrobe, and then take her on a shopping spree in New York City. They give her shopping guidelines to follow based on her body type and her previous fashion faux pas. I have often wished that someone would give me some fashion guidelines for dressing myself in another country. It would make things a whole lot easier.
I stand in my closet and think, “Hmmm, What to wear, what to wear…” If I were in a country where the locals went naked, would I consider following the local trend? Probably not, but how “native” am I willing to go? Sometimes that’s not a difficult adjustment to make and sometimes it’s super challenging. For example, here in San Jose, Costa Rica a modest woman does not wear shorts in the city. I wear pants, jeans, capris or longer skirts. Now the locals can also wear super short skirts if they want to, but not shorts. I personally get stared at enough as it is, being a white woman with blue eyes, so I prefer not to wear mini skirts and get too much of the wrong kind of attention. It’s not a sacrifice; it’s my preference. Actually it’s the jeans that cause me the most consternation. When it’s hot, jeans feel like insanity! Yet people wear them… and wear them tight! UGH! This American thinks that is crazy uncomfortable.
As a Christian we also have a tighter set of fashion standards that we have to think about too. For example, I have a friend who grew up in Africa. His parents were missionaries to a tribe of people who basically wear strings tied around their waists and nothing else. In an early attempt to bring Christian modesty to the tribe, the missionaries imported a box of T-shirts and passed them out to everyone. The people were thrilled! However, the missionaries were less thrilled with the results. The following week all the women showed up at church with circular holes strategically cut in their T-shirts to make nursing their babies a convenient activity while the pastor preached with a tomato-red blush on his white face. Fail!
So the question remains for the conscientious missionary: Are you going to “go native?” Do you wear what the locals wear? Or do you require that they convert to Western clothing when the convert to the Western Jesus? If I am a woman in a Muslim country, do I veil? What is Biblical and what is my culture and what is my responsibility to the people that I want to minister to?