Tag Archives: cultural blunders

You want ME to teach THAT?!?


In addition to teaching 5th grade, I also teach Bible class for 9th grade.  The theme for this class is the book of Acts.  (I tried to get out of teaching this class by telling our Baptist administration that I’m Pentecostal, but they were willing to overlook that fault.  They just wanted me for my Bible School training.  I asked them, “Do you REALLY want someone who’s Spirit filled teaching ACTS?!?  ‘Cause if it’s in the Bible, I’m teaching it.”  They were nervous, but desperate.)  We have taken a long pause in Chapter 14 to talk about an event that happened on Paul’s first missionary journey.  Because about half of the class is missionary kids, we are really taking time to pull apart these lessons for missionaries that we find in Acts.

In Chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas are in Lystra and they heal a crippled man.  The locals are stunned by this miracle.  They shout in their local dialect, “These men are gods in human bodies!”  They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus and that Paul, because he was the chief speaker, was Hermes.  The temple of Zeus was located on the outskirts of the city.  The city also had a belief that once the gods had visited the city in human form and no one honored them with a sacrifice.  So the gods destroyed the city.  The people didn’t want to repeat their mistake, so they prepared to sacrifice oxen to the apostles at the city gates.

Unfortunately, Paul and Barnabas didn’t speak the local language.  They spoke Greek which was the language of commerce of the Roman Empire, the only language they had in common with the people.  So they were slow to catch on to what was happening, and they didn’t know the history of the gods’ previous, disastrous visit to the city.  So they were at a distinct disadvantage in this story.

When they realized what was happening, the apostles dramatically protested and interrupted the religious parade.  This made the locals irate.  They stoned Paul and threw him outside of the city, assuming he was dead.  He was one tough missionary though.  He got back up and went back into the city.  Paul and Barnabas later escaped with the help of their friends.  It was not a good day for these missionaries, but it was a lesson for us to learn.  It is important to know the local customs and to speak the local language, if possible.

Here we paused to discuss how modern day missionaries can find themselves in similar cultural blunders or dangers.  We talked about how a missionary must consider, before hand, what is actually a Christian, Biblical mandate and what is just part of our culture that we brought with us from our home country.  I gave my class 8 different categories that contain pitfalls for missionaries, things they must consider.

For the next few days I am going to blog about stories that I have heard from other missionaries or things that have happened to me related to these 8 categories:  clothing standards, holidays, governmental or political issues, Church and State relations, vices, virtues, living conditions and material wealth.  So join me for the next few days as I tell stories of how some missionaries have struggled to find harmony between their own cultural assumptions and the reality of the culture they hope to minister to.

Paul said that he tries to “become all things to all people so that he might win some”, but what does that look like, in a practical sense, for the modern day missionary?  I will show you some possibilities.  If you have stories of your own, I would love to hear them!  Leave a juicy comment below.