As preparation for St Andrew’s Hall, where we will spend five months preparing with CMS for our move to Tanzania, I’m reading Duane Elmer’s Cross Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility. It’s a challenging read, not because it’s stuff I don’t know but because there are so many layers to mine in my own life.
Elmer argues that western missionaries, for all their good intentions, often consider themselves superior – educationally, strategically, historically – to those they go to work amongst. It’s often not conscious and many missionaries are horrified once they recognise it in themselves. They fail because they think they are, or are perceived as thinking they are, superior to those they work with.
Here are the three most important factors for success on the mission field:
- Ability to form solid, long-term relationships with local people.
- A strong sense of self-identity.
- Realistic pre-departure expectations.
Do you know what I’ve been most worried about with going to Tanzania? It’s our ability to pull off the task we’ve been set. I’m worried that we don’t have the technical capability to establish and grow a student ministry at St John’s.
Do you know where technical capability comes in on the list? No.4. Not unimportant, but way behind strong interpersonal skills. I wonder whether this is part of my own latent superiority complex, this idea that I have something to offer and that if I’m not ‘good’ or ‘successful’ at it, then I shouldn’t go.
There’s something good and right to not wanting to stuff things up, especially in Africa which white people have long used for their ill-conceived experiments. And Arthur and I have long been convinced that we’ll have to learn from Africans and construct a Tanzanian shaped student ministry, not just transplant an Australian model. We’ll be the learners. But my own superiority complex means that this task features most in my conceptions of what we’ll be doing. And there are at least three things that are more important.
With that in mind, I’m adding some new lines to my one sentence prayers. I already have
Please give me a special friend to share and talk with in Dodoma.
I’m now adding
Give me the courage to be real with people.
Grant me realistic pre-departure expectations.
One of the great things about St Andrew’s Hall is that it’ll give me a chance to practise these things immediately: to invest in those we’re living in community with; to be willing to be vulnerable with them; to not go in expecting too much or too little, either of the course, myself or others, or the environment we’re in.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.