Dee Coale driving our “trike” like everybody else did.
The inherent nature of Missions is that a Missionary is going to another country. He is there to teach those who are void of Bible knowledge, things which he has an abundance of knowledge in. Somehow, this situation seems to translate to other subjects as well. Missionaries begin teaching about the way they do things “back home.” They find themselves saying, “The way we do it back in…”. While the people might find it interesting to begin with, what the fails to realize is that this can be a very condescending statement. If it is repeated enough times, the indigenous people begin thinking that the missionary is stressing superiority in the way things are done in his home country. Or, they think the missionary is criticizing the way they do things in their country. When in Rome do as the Romans do, don’t do as you do! This is how a missionary can gain the respect of the people he is trying to reach.
When my parents moved our family to live in the Panama Canal Zone in 1971, they instilled in us kids that we were going to live like the Panamanians lived. At that time, there was a clear difference between how the Zonians and the Panamanians lived. The Panamanians were poor, but if you crossed over into the Zone, the Americans lived well. Since most of the Americans where Caucasian and most of the Panamanians were negro, there was a racial problem that was really more of a national problem more than anything else. Fortunately, my parents did not believe that way and they taught us differently. So, most of the things our family did for recreation, we did with Panamanians outside of the Zone. Most of my friends were Panamanians: Not Zonians. We ate Panamanian foods and did Panamanian things. We were in Panama, so we did as the Panamanians did.
Practically speaking, this meant that we had to learn even the basic things of life all over again. This began with learning to speak the language. Anytime we were around Panamanians, my parents told them, “Don’t speak English to our children. Speak only Spanish.” This is how we learned to speak Spanish. If we wanted anything, we had to speak Spanish. This was just the starting point. We had to live, eat, speak, dress, etc. like the Panamanian people did. Where I once before had been able to speak casually to anyone, I could now only speak like a little child, but I learned fast. Why? Because, when in Rome do as the Romans do.
Forgetting to do things the way the people of the country does creates an imaginary line of separation. This line says that the missionary is superior while at the same time says that the nationals are inferior. The only way a missionary can get rid of this line is to begin living like they do. Don’t expect them to adopt your way of living. You are an outsider until you begin to “do as the Romans do.”
10 Things Missionaries Forget