Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission beyond Our Borders by Gary V. Nelson, Gordon W. King, and Terry G. Smith

Thesis of the Book

             Missions are compared to a mouse and an elephant at a party.  Although the elephant is having fun, the mouse ends up crushed.  Essentially, that story depicts the manner of Western missions in the Global South.  Although missions may have good intentions, quite often there are disastrous results for the Global South (like the mouse).  The thesis of this book is that missions is changing and must continue to change so that we may truly partner with the Global South rather than continue being unreflective about the outcome of our missions.  The Global South has much to offer that we can learn from and it is important to hear their voice as we work together to live out the Kingdom in our world!

Evaluation of Sources Used

            Yes, the sources helped to support the thesis.  The sources implemented were from notable theologians, such as Marva J. Dawn and Lesslie Newbigin.  These sources were not merely mentioned, but were often quoted to provide support for the main idea.  However, that was not the strongest point for the sources used.  This book put into practice what it was preaching through its pages.  Authors from the Global South were also implemented into the composition of this work.  C. René Padilla, for instance, was referenced quite often and to great extent.  This strengthened the argument of the book on the sole basis that the authors were willing to listen to other parts of the world and their perspective.  Thus, their actions spoke louder than their words: “We have much to learn from our ministry partners in the Global South.”  They also implemented other sources from contexts outside the Global North.

The sources used also included “secular” sources.  This provided “outside parties” that have taken note of these problematic issues that confront those engaged in cross-cultural missions.  A great amount of data concerning the issues of poverty, war and genocide, environmental concerns, and other problems set the backdrop for the discussion about “partnering” with the Church across the world.  This was helpful to see that being missional is a holistic endeavor that must include the indigenous peoples and leaders, if there is to be a good and lasting impact.

Development of the Main Idea

             Missions have become a much more de-centralized endeavor.  Previously, missionaries and missions agencies were at the center of outreach to other parts of the world.  In recent years there has been a decrease in the local church’s reliance upon these missionaries as the only source of information.  Due to globalization, the world has become more accessible to people geographically located in other world areas.  This accessibility has not only inculcated a desire to be involved with the “borderlands” but it has also encouraged local churches to undertake missions on their own.  The missionary has become more of a tour guide than previously.

Globalization is often seen as a “flattening” of the world where everything is becoming more uniform and accessible.  Although there is a great degree of that, there is still a great deal of diversity and inequity in the world.  The world is both “flat and spiky.”  Working cross-culturally means that we must be aware of the cultural differences and issues that may be potential “spiky” areas.

Many well intentioned missionaries or groups have entered other cultures and created disastrous results because they came in as the “experts” rather than in humility, asking how they might best serve the community.  The result ranges from distrust, to confusion, to anger from the indigenous population.  The Northern “partner” is often left disillusioned or unaware that their endeavors were harmful… thus, the vicious cycle is repeated.  Resources are sometimes wasted on useless projects that could have best served in other ways.

Partnership is not merely a good idea, but it is a theological necessity.  The Church is never fully whole if it is not the universal Church.  We have much to learn from our Southern partners.  PLA (acronym meaning Participatory Learning and Action) helps us to remember that we are engaged in mission together.  And, ultimately, the mission is not ours but God’s mission in which we are invited to participate.  As such, the community determines the need and we simultaneously learn and act toward a collective solution.  This empowers the local church while helping it to keep momentum through the partner’s contributions (i.e., time, resources, knowledge, people etc.).  There is an overlap that should link both partners inseparably together for cooperative transformation of both communities.  It is long-term discipleship together.

Ultimately, partnering together takes diligent work and listening.  It is vital to understand the context and culture, to know the heartbeat of the community, and to fully understand its potential and limitations.  To have an effective and sustained impact on an area, it is important that we weigh all of the necessary information before acting.  This means that we should take seriously the knowledge of those that live in the culture.  They are resident experts on what will likely work best.  This does not mean that we can play an important role, but it does mean that we cannot walk into a place thinking that we know best.  Otherwise, we may only waste time and energy.

One of the strongest points to me was the planning element.  It is helpful to see that we are “intercultural” partners, rather than cross-cultural partners.  This means that we engage the issue together on equal footing, working together.  As such, it is important to get the local community involved and “rolling the wheel” first.  Then, as this happens, there will be momentum added as the other church contributes to the overall vision.

However, the strength of this element in the book is also its weakness.  In cultures, like North America, that value planning and are time-oriented, this planning may be seen as the obvious progression of steps.  But, in event-oriented cultures planning like this may be a foreign concept and not easily or readily translatable to that context.  As a result, the planning suggested in the book may drastically need to be altered to fit the context.

The mission is not merely about converting people or completing projects.  These are minor goals compared to the overarching goal, which is to connect people as growing disciples to the living Christ.  As such, we are equipping one another as partners for this all-encompassing mission!  We must ask how our partnership is aiding us in discipling others.  We must move beyond charity and allow our works of compassion to embody justice.  Really, it is about “normalizing the Kingdom” in a broken world.

Personal Evaluation of the Book

Overall, I thought the book was insightful concerning the ways that missions has morphed and detailing the ways that it still needs to be sensitive to issues in the Global South.  Missions must be a partnership that goes beyond merely “saving souls.”  Rather, it is a partnership where both may be edified and built up in the faith.  It is about transformation.  This transformation is challenging because it calls for mutual accountability and discipleship.  It is long-term partnership that engenders active listening to all parties concerned.  And, it engages the issues that continue to promote oppression and the resulting resentment from the “bottom billion.”  I would recommend this book, especially given that it emphasizes the theology of missions in considering how we should embody our call as a missional people.  That is something with which we must continually wrestle.

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Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission by Mary T. Lederleitner

Thesis of the Book

            The globalization of the world and its cultures is increasing movement to cross-cultural partnerships.  With these partnerships inevitably come conflicts over money and resources.  As such, it is vital that we increase our “cross-cultural intelligence” so that we may work more effectively together.  Cross-cultural partnerships must be mutually held accountable in using their resources and equally empowered to live out the mission of the Church in our world.

Evaluation of Sources Used

            The sources implemented throughout the work were helpful in solidifying Lederleitner’s position.  Many of the sources used detailed stories about cross-cultural conflict that helped to illustrate specific areas of potential conflict in our interactions with others.  As a result, this made Lederleitner’s concepts and points easily understandable.  There were a great number of sources used and many of those were fairly recent, utilizing recent research.  This also strengthened the writing.

One particular area that Lederleitner’s sources was very evident and provided content to her argument was the concept of “negative attribution.”  Duane Elmer developed a form that outlined the process of negative attribution.  These three steps helped to highlight the easy path we often take when others’ actions do not meet our expectations.  This observation was further solidified by C. S. Lewis’ observation that we often make excuses for ourselves that seem justifiable while negating others’ excuses as inexcusable and wrong.  In these ways, Lederleitner made a strong case for a need to re-assess our partnerships and accountability between those cross-cultural partners.

Development of the Main Idea

            There are several factors that determine the way that cultures handle money and resources.  One of the most fundamental cultural perspectives that shape this conversation revolves around individualism versus collectivism.  Individualism places responsibility on each person to take care of themselves.  Collectivism, in juxtaposition, holds that the community’s needs are greater than the individual’s needs.  This can be a potent arena for conflict.  It is vital that proper communication is exhibited in these situations to keep confusion and disappointment to a minimum.  This means we are careful in receiving gifts (they may be attached with promises) and making sure the details are outlined in what is being promised between the partners.

Issues of power, face, and status can also play a major role when dealing with money.  People in America are generally considered to be on the same footing.  Thus, status plays less of a role.  But, other countries place a great deal of emphasis on status.  In these cases, it can be seen as a great insult for someone of lesser position to help someone in a greater position.  “Face” is the “essential requirements placed upon him by virtue of the social position he occupies” (45).  When someone “loses face” it reflects poorly on their character and identity.  Again, how we handle issues of power and money should take these things into consideration.  Is it appropriate or would someone be shamed by our actions?

The concepts of universalism and particularism are helpful.  Universalism is the belief that rules apply to everyone in every circumstance.  Particularism is the belief that rules are subject to the context and the relationship of those involved.  Rules are to be adapted.  How cultures deal with ambiguity and time can be significant.  Cultures uncomfortable with ambiguity will try to outline everything and may be disappointed in others that do not operate on this level.  Likewise, time is a matter that impacts our involvement with others.  Monochronistic versus polychronistic cultures is another arena for potential conflict.  Monochronistic viewpoints look at time as linear and limited.  Thus, efficiency is prided.  On the other hand, polychronistic is more interested in the people rather than what they can simply accomplish for the organization.  Both have significant advantages, but we must also consider their potential pitfalls, especially when working together.

Our culture inevitably shapes us.  Our interaction with our culture trains us to interpret actions and events in specific ways.  However, as we interact with other cultures, those same actions may mean something different in that context.  The result can be a misinterpretation of actions.  When those actions don’t meet our expectations, we often assess them as wrong.  It is important to be careful when trying to interpret others’ actions.  It is best not to rush to conclusions, but to seek out information that may shed light on the situation.

Paternalism and colonialism are still alive and well.  They often disguise themselves as seeking the best interest of our partners, but cloak the underlying superiority complex.  On the flip side, just because that has been the case in the past does not mean that is the way it is now.  Measures of accountability may be necessary aspects of partnership.  The motivation behind the call for accountability determines whether it is superiority complex under a thin veneer of paternalism or colonialism.

Part of our responsibility in establishing these partnerships is not to create dependency.  In doing so, the ministries of the indigenous people can become anemic.  If funding and support is then cut, the ministry may very well fold because the people have not been equipped.  That is what partnership is about: equipping others to do every good work.  The illustration of the missionary helping people cross the bridge to find resources is a great story.  It teaches us the importance  of equipping people so that ministry is sustainable.  This can only happen as we give value, dignity, and mutuality between partners.  We are looking for sustainability, not merely short-term impact.

Conflict will naturally happen as cultures have different expectations and those are not always explicit.  As such, we must learn to navigate the sometimes tricky waters of cross-cultural partnerships.  Likewise, when there are misallocations or fraud, we must find creative solutions.  In some instances, such as misallocation, direct conflict may not be the best approach.  It may actually cause someone to lose face and only aggravate the situation.  On the other hand, fraud may require a more firm approach, but even within this there can be a measure of grace extended to those individuals.  We believe that even the most horrific situations are redeemable and we desire to move in those directions as people respond to those opportunities.

Personal Evaluation of the Book

I thought this book was helpful.  Although it covered many of the same concepts as other books on missions and money, it did provide helpful analysis and potential solutions for avoiding these cultural conflicts.  The suggestions for working through these cultural conflicts were the most helpful aspect of the book.  The stories included helped to illustrate the cultural conflicts that arose in various partnerships.  As such, it was easy to see that these conflicts usually had good intentions behind them but caused distress because both cultures were unaware of the other’s modus operandi.  Overall, I would suggest that others read this as a good primer for cross-cultural interactions and partnerships that are mutually beneficial and accountable to one another.

Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships by John Lingenfelter

            The underlying argument of the book is that each person is a unique blending of cultures.  Every person makes decisions that are largely convergent from these cultural biases.  Conflict arises from situations where cultural norms are violated.  The tension that is produced can be lessened or alleviated by being aware of one’s own culture and the presuppositions of other cultures.

Lingenfelter calls for an “incarnational” ministry, which he refers to as “150% persons.”  This demands persons accommodating and adapting to cultural norms of other cultures so that communication might happen between people.  Understanding the expectations of other cultures is essential to relating well.  This can be communicated in a number of ways: language, temporality, territoriality, exploitation, association, subsistence, bisexuality (conduct for males and females), learning, play, and defense.  Grasping these fundamental elements can help one comprehend the values of the culture.

With the exception of Jesus, nobody can fully embody another culture.  We may come very close to being totally acculturated, but we are often so shaped by our own culture that we never fully embrace the foreign culture in which we minister.  Despite this fact, Lingenfelter asserts that we are to adapt to other cultures so that we might be able to communicate the Gospel in ways that will be received.

Much of the miscommunication and tension that is experienced in cross-cultural ministry results from a lack of understanding our own culture and that of the culture we are trying to reach.  For instance, in America we are very time-conscious whereas other parts of the world are event-oriented.  The result can be frustration due to differing value systems at play.

Having personally experienced some of these tensions or seen them in others, I can readily identify with Lingenfelter’s position.  Cross-cultural ministry can be made more difficult when people’s expectations are not the same.  That is typically why the number one rule for mission trips is always: “Be flexible!”  Missionaries and missions team leaders will usually instruct their teams to take their cues from the native people and culture.  We are there to serve, not be served.  This inevitably means that we must adapt.

Lingenfelter incorporates a number of sources in his work.  Primarily, the author uses personal experience to begin the discussion concerning cross-cultural ministry and interpersonal relationships.  This is the testing ground for Lingenfelter’s particular vision for intercultural mission and relationships.  This is a valuable and pertinent way to form and assess the validity of various theories of intercultural ministry.  If the model does not hold up to observable tests, then it is a faulty or incomplete theory.  However, on the negative side, personal experience can also be marred by one’s own shortcomings and biases.  Although I do not feel Lingenfelter is unfair in his assessment of things, it might be the case that my own cultural bias is too similar to his own to not be persuaded by the underlying logic.

Lingenfelter’s other resources included works concerning theology, psychology, and cross-cultural ministry.  The sources were fairly recent material.  However, the material on cross-cultural ministry and psychology are a bit dated.  It would have been appropriate to have more sources to back up the substantial claims that are being made.  For one, psychology and our approach to cross-cultural ministry has drastically changed even within the previous decade!  Citing more contemporary works, especially for psychology, would significantly bolster Lingenfelter’s assertions.

The theology resources were fairly recent and were written by notable names in their field.  This was a positive aspect of Lingenfelter’s used sources.  However, the scarce few resources used suggest that this particular work may be limited in its Biblical scope.  That’s not to say that the author did not reference Scripture a great deal.  He does.  But, that does not necessarily entail that it is a well informed argument and is less likely prone to eisegesis otherwise avoidable.

The first possible cultural conflict revolves around the issue of time.  Some cultures are time-oriented and others are event-oriented.  Time-oriented is concerned with punctuality, efficient use of time, goal-directed activities, and dates and history.  Event-oriented is concerned with details of the event, full consideration of problems until resolved, relaxed on time constraints to complete something, completing an event is the reward, and focused on the present rather than past or future.

Judgment is the second tension point discussed.  Lingenfelter divides “judgment” between dichotomistic thinking and holistic thinking.  Dichotomistic thinkers see things in absolute categories, emphasizes being right, and are concerned with patterns and systematic organization of information and experiences.  Holistic thinkers are more “open-ended”, does not like being confined to one role or category, and information and experiences are disorganized and not necessarily connected.

Crisis orientation and Noncrisis orientation is the next tension described.  Crisis orientation expects crisis, plans accordingly, seeks quick resolution, follows a pre-planned procedure, and looks for experts for solutions.  Noncrisis orientation downplays the possibility of crisis, focuses on actual experience, holds off on making decisions, looks at all of the options, and is wary of “expert” advice.

Tension concerning goals occupies the following chapter.  Task orientation versus person orientation can cause great distress.  Task orientation, which is our typical modus operandi, focuses on task completion.  Person orientation tends to value the people or groups who are working together over the completion of tasks.

Tensions concerning self-worth stem from achievement focus against status focus.  Status is something that is “ascribed,” whereas, achievement is something that is “acquired.”  Status deals with someone’s connection through birth or rank.  Achievement deals with accomplishments attained by a person.

There are two ways to potentially deal with vulnerability: concealment or willingness to expose.  Concealment protects one’s self-image at all costs.  It is difficult for these individuals to receive criticism or risk failure.  Quality of performance is essential for such individuals.  The other side of the spectrum is just the opposite.  They are willing to risk failure, work to complete an event, and are open to alternative points of view and criticism.

The book demonstrates the proposed thesis.  The combination of Lingenfelter’s experiences in the field and the basic argument, supported by his sources, are coherent and seem to be true in my own personal experience with cross-cultural ministry.  Furthermore, it is generally true between people that are working together and experience conflict or tension due to opposing values, even within the same or similar cultures.

I like the book because it provides a simplified way to assess cultural bias and to better understand what makes people “tick.”  In moments of tension or discomfort working with others, it helps highlight the core issue.  The author states that cultures are either moral or immoral.  I would argue a slightly different understanding.  Culture is a “good” thing.  It seeks to create order within the world, which is a Divine imperative for Creation.  Culture becomes “sinful” when there is an improper arrangement of good things.  Conflict of cultures does not necessarily entail either party is “sinful.”