Strangers in a strange land

The Briefing

The Briefing is a leading evangelical magazine published since 1988 by Matthias Media and founded by Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne. Subscribe here.

Originally Published:
Jensen, P 'Strangers in a strange land'. The Briefing, issue 52, August 1990, pp. 2 & 6.

Tagged: culture evangelism mission

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I recently spent a day with people involved in ministries to ethnic minority groups in Australia. It is exciting to see how God is blessing the work of the gospel amongst many different peoples within our country. The opportunities for gospel ministries amongst the nations of the world have never been greater than are provided for Australians today.

Within our own church in the last couple of years we have baptized Buddhists, a Hindu, a Jew, a Moslem, a Communist, ancestor worshippers, all kinds of people from traditional Christian backgrounds, atheists and agnostics. It really is one of the most exciting periods of Christian ministry in our history. Without the cost of an air fare or the inconvenience of a sea trip, we have the privilege of reaching those who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ.

Australia is such a melting pot of ethnic minority groups that it is sometimes hard to know where to start. But start we must, especially as the Anglo-Saxon part of the population is older than the migrant sector, and the future of Australia is unlikely to be dominated by Anglo-Saxon culture.

Some of the cultural groups are too small to afford full-time Christian workers. Their language and culture is too complex for Australians to cross the barriers easily and quickly to reach them with the gospel. However, in the days to come, as they inevitably cross cultural barriers to be part of our general community, we should be able to explain to their children, or their children's children, the great news of the Lord Jesus Christ in terms that they can understand. This is the challenge for Australian Christians as we head towards the 21st Century.

Many of the ethnic groups we are seeking to reach today are very difficult. They're difficult because they are closed communities, fiercely holding to their cultural and religious norms, and aggressive in their rejection of the gospel. Countries such as Yugoslavia or Lebanon, where religious ethnic tensions have been festering for many years, have spawned a fever pitch of religious hostility that the average Anglo-Saxon Australian cannot understand. When children of these communities come to Christ, the hostility that is shown them is quite alarming. Christian workers have been threatened, and in some cultural minority groups their very life is in danger.

For those of us who come from the majority Anglo-Saxon culture, it is very hard to cross into another culture in our own land to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not really any harder than for a missionary who has to cross cultures in another land, but then some of us have chosen not to become missionaries because we do not have the gift of crossing cultures. The most effective evangelist to ethnic groups is usually the dual citizen (or is it ‘dual cultural person’) who has come to Christ in Australia through Anglo-Saxon Christians and yet can still relate to their own ethnic minority.

However, difficult as it may be for individuals to cross cultural barriers, it seems almost impossible for churches. Just as some migrant groups hold fiercely to their cultural roots, so many Anglo-Saxon churches hold fiercely to their Anglo-Saxon cultural roots.

Cross-cultural ministry is a marvellous theological purifier. As we cross cultures to express the gospel, we have to clarify which issues are genuinely gospel issues, and which are just part of our cultural baggage. This clarifying process purifies the gospel that we are preaching. It is in our churches' best interests to re-evaluate which parts of our cultural heritage are genuinely and essentially Christian, and which parts are idols that we need to relinquish so that others may hear the gospel.

The greatest difficulty that ethnic workers face today is not crossing the cultures to meet the minority ethnic groups—it is relating to the Anglo-Saxon churches. Becoming “all things to all men so that we may, by all means, save some” is difficult when you have to put yourself out to eat strange foods, to speak a strange language, and to share in strange customs. But it is not nearly as difficult as talking to your Anglo-Saxon home church about the changes they need to make to accommodate new ethnic Christians, or about how they can support a ministry that is different to their way of doing things.

It has always been like this—the Apostle Paul had far more difficulty with his Jewish Christian friends than he ever did with his Gentile converts. The way the gospel moved on from Judaism to the Gentile world should stand as a kind of a warning to those of us who are more concerned with the preservation of our culture—our religious culture—than with the salvation of other strange souls.