Preparing for Missions in Haiti: Reflections on Language and Western Evangelism

Language is an interesting phenomenon. 

For it to function properly, there must be some form of understanding.  On one hand, many may speak the same language but have little understanding between them.  On the other hand, some may not speak the same language and yet fully understand each other.  This interests me on many levels.  Specifically though, as I prepare to go on a mission trip to Haiti in June, I am struck by how I will interact with a people who live in a context so vastly different than my own.  I initially imagined myself preaching the gospel to them with Bible in hand, since that’s really “what they need.” 

They need to hear about a God who saves and provides!  Isn’t that how evangelism works?  People who are poor and hurting need to hear the gospel because they clearly aren’t doing something right?

I am of the opinion that even though we may wish to believe that we would never think this way, this is exactly how we preach the Gospel in the West (though there are many exceptions).  Do this, and that will happen; here is a formula on how to get past that in your life; here is a list of ways to get God’s attention; and so on and so forth.  We want to fix the world, but our lens in which we see the world is murky with “splinters” and “planks.”  I do not mean our own “sins” and shortcomings, but the ways that we see the world around us in general.  There is a reason Paul says we must renew our minds in Christ Jesus by the Spirit.[1]  It is the death to a fleshly way of thinking, our fallen reasoning, which essentially is conformity to the world.  A quote that best illustrates this is this:

“God is constantly and consistently trying to save
humanity from their reason.”[2]

It is because of our fallen nature that we think the way we do, and what the Spirit of God is constantly working out of us.  So we must “die daily” to our own reason, and simultaneously look at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for true understanding.  In the life of Jesus we see that he depended completely on the Father everyday for guidance.[3]  Likewise, we must live completely dependent on the Father and reject our desire to lean on our own understanding.  In doing so we can begin to truly see how we are to live like Jesus. 

So now let’s return to the Haiti mission trip.  How would Jesus have lived among the Haitians today? 

I think Jesus would first leave any kind of indoctrination of culture and religion behind, and begin to associate completely with those in need.[4]  Jesus became the hungry, the poor, the needy and the broken because He doesn’t want to be known apart from them. 

When I thought about this, I began to analyze the situation in Haiti differently:  I always have food and shelter, while many in Haiti starve without a roof over their heads.  I have fresh clean clothes and a comfortable bed to spend my nights, while many in Haiti are naked and sleep on dirt.  They are diseased, and I am healthy.  So how do I minister like Jesus?

I began to see myself while on the trip weeping over their brokenness, giving my food to them, covering their nakedness, and bearing up their diseased bodies with my own.  In this new vision of how to minister to these beautiful people, I say nothing.  Like Jesus, I put my “self” and my false assumptions aside and become a sacrifice for their gain (however that my look).  This not only speaks the Gospel, but screams it.  Language doesn’t hold me back, because True Love, the Lord God, becomes present and changes the atmosphere.  I make room for their otherness[5] in a way that reveals Jesus. 

Why is that? 

Why do we believe that preaching the Gospel in a “Western Evangelistic” way will somehow invite the Presence of God?  Is God not already there among these people?  I say that He IS there among the hurting and broken, and is just waiting for me to join Him in the dirt.

 

[1] Romans 12:1-5

[2] Dr. Chris E. W. Green, Pentecostal Theological Seminary

[3] John 5:19, 30; 8:28

[4] Matthew 28:35-40 – It is important to note that this verse says “then the righteous will answer”, indicating that they did nothing out of selfish ambition and were only looking to love the way God loves.  This is in direct contrast to those who love in order to receive something from the Lord.

[5] A term that is meant to describe their different-ness from my own.