Last week I posted a blog, “Why impose Christianity onto other cultures?”
There’s a lot of outrage about how Christianity has been used to uproot and overthrow beautiful native cultures. And the outrage is valid. It’s been done really poorly, being used for the purpose of conquest or even worse motives for a lot of history. And anyway why do we think our way of doing things is better than theirs?
One of the commenters wisely reminded me of the ways evangelism was the excuse for a lot of horrible things. She mentioned, “Slavery and its entire shit-pile of theological justifications,” “Missions-as-genocide by Europeans in countless instances,” and “The wiping out of entire native populations by forced labor and rape, while priests were complicit because they were supposedly saving native souls.”
She wasn’t the only one to object. And even though in my post it was me who was critically asking missionaries why they think it’s okay to impose Christianity on other cultures, and even though I made no statement agreeing with what they are doing, I do agree with what they are doing.
What I want to communicate in this blog is that although sometimes it is done very, very poorly, sometimes evangelism is very, very good. If you have concluded that because of the horrible ways it has been done in the past, it is always wrong, I hope you will listen to these stories.
A few years ago I went to Ethiopia to record stories of miracles. My dad is part of an evangelical movement that has planted more than 2000 new evangelical churches in rural regions outside of Addis Ababba. Catholicism, Orthodox, and Coptic, all versions of Christianity are already deeply rooted in Ethiopia but according to those I interviewed much of it has become stagnant, life-less, and often mixed in with local pagan religions. Paganism and Islam is also very present there. Paganism especially in the rural cultures.
The commenter mentioned above asked me to please get a more balanced sampling of the people I interviewed. She said I needed to interview the natives, not just the missionaries. Lucky for me 6 out the 8 interviews I did were of natives who had been converted and believed so wholeheartedly in the gospel that they now put their lives at risk to go spread the gospel to other villages.
And a risk it is. Many of them said because of the opposition they faced it was often a life and death situation when they went out to evangelize. But when they would sit and pray in their house until they got a word from God, sometimes that word was to go to another village that day and see what God had for them to do. Often upon entering they were confronted by the witch doctor and weird spiritual battle would happen. Sometimes, however, miracles started happening. Like the very first story in my very first interview. When this native missionary walked into a new village he saw a dead woman. They were waiting for the rest of the family to get there so they could bury her. The missionary asked if he could pray for her. After 8 hours of praying the woman started breathing. The next day the missionary came back, the woman was asking for his God, and many were saved. I have 200 pages of similar outrageous stories straight from the mouths of the people who experienced them in this book.
This was often how the evangelism started. The missionary would feel called to heal someone and when they did, many of the people who saw it wanted the God that would heal them for free (the Witch doctors charged money). And they would pray for the people. But then the pastors would then teach them the new Christian ethic to live by. Respecting and loving each other. Honoring your wife, and cherishing your children. Often in these cultures the women were second-hand citizens, made to do the hardest work, like carrying firewood on their backs for miles, and the children were treated and whipped like animals, while the men often lounged in the cities, drinking. The new Christian ethic asked people to do otherwise. I wish I could tell all the stories of changed lives here. They’re in the book.
On top of the new way of living they were bringing, there were Americans who were involved with this mission who were bringing technologies to help them farm and get clean water. In partnership with the Ethiopians they were practicing and experimenting with more modern farming techniques in the Ethiopian soil so that they could send this technology with the pastors who could share these techniques and help them provide for their region better. They were doing similar technological innovations to help bring clean water as well.
The Americans also brought in medical aid so that, even though it wasn’t a sustainable fix, they were able to give aid to many of the people. On the trip I went on 830 medical patients were treated, and 100 dental patients.
The missionary ministry was also giving grants to widows who otherwise would not be able to start their own businesses.
And a lot more.
And they were doing all this because they believed Jesus did things in “word and deed.” Jesus told them about his kingdom to come, as well as asking them to help him bring his kingdom of love and peace and respect and hope to the world today. Right now.
In short, the gospel brought these people a better ethic, and a better standard of life.
I read the back of an old King Arthur type of book the other day. And it mentioned how King Arthur sought to cast enlightenment on the dark ages. And although I know it seems a tragedy for one people group to impose their culture on another, just assuming it is better, maybe some types of enlightenment are better ways to live than some types of darkness. And some people may have ideas on how to do life which are better than others. Kinder, more loving, more informed ways of doing things that brings more peace and, comfort, and health to more people.
After hearing the way some of the Ethiopian cultures lived, with violence, domination, abuse, and fear, I was convinced that some ways of living really are better than others.
And these missionaries were bringing a better way.
So, please remember that just because we’ve seen a lot of religion push their ways onto unsuspecting, vulnerable cultures and done horrible things through it, other times, when done with the right motives and the true compassion of Jesus, it can actually be a very beautiful, invited thing.
Here is a link to the book and to the video interviews.
And here is a never-before seen interview I did recently telling about the book and the project!
Raw Spoon, 5-25-17