Saturday, February 03, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions”

One of the recent trends in evangelicalism is the short-term mission trip. Instead of giving decades of one’s life to ministry for the cause of Christ in some faraway country—as legendary missionaries of the past like William Carey, Hudson Taylor, David Livingstone or Amy Carmichael did—today’s would-be missionary can give a couple or so weeks of service sacrificing little, risking little, investing little.

Without getting into the pros and cons of short-term mission trips, I have to confess I’ve never had even the slightest urge to go on one (I know that will sound like near-heresy to some). I figure, why should I go to another country for missions work when I’m already doing “cross-cultural missions”. You see, for the past 6 years my family and I have been involved in a predominantly white, non-denominational, evangelical church.

I hope no one will find my association of the term “cross-cultural missions” with involvement in a predominantly white church offensive. I’m simply acknowledging a cultural and sociological reality: There is a vast world of difference between the white evangelical church and church in the Black community. In fact, the move to a predominantly white church has meant learning a whole new way of “doing church”.

I’ve always been in church. My great grandparents were faithful church attendees and brought me to church every Sunday from the time I was 2 months old. Not only was I in church every Sunday of my life (unless I was sick—a rare occurrence), but I’ve been active in the church since childhood, ever since my great-great aunt “made me” come and play the organ for the brand new A.M.E. Church she became a part of way back in 1972. I was 9 years old at the time. So, for over 34 years I’ve been involved “up-front” in the church. I was active in the church even before I knew the Lord (I’ve been a Christian for a little over 26 years)! However, all my church experience, until 1998, was within the “Black Church”—within a Black local church in the Black community, within an historically Black denomination.

When we left the A.M.E. Church in 1998, we immediately united with a Black evangelical church (a Black local church which was part of a majority-white evangelical denomination). There were some significant differences between this Black church in a white denomination and a Black church within a Black denomination (a subject worth a blog post of its own), but I was still dealing with Black folk.

But, when my wife and I made the decision to attend a white church, we made a decision which (probably more so for me than for my wife) was earth-shaking. I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic in speaking of our decision in those terms. Leaving behind the comfort and security of Black people on Sunday morning meant leaving behind everything we had known and become used to. It meant leaving behind familiar sights and sounds. It meant singing new music or singing familiar music (hymns) in new ways. It meant a different way of worshiping, a new way of praying in public, and listening to a different way of preaching. It even meant learning a new language: “evangelical-speak”.

So, whenever the subject of short-term mission trips comes up, I think to myself, “I don’t need to go on a mission trip to experience and minister to another culture; I’m doing that right now!”

(To be continued…)

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