You hear stories from time to time of missionaries who become
pluralists relativists. I can see how it happens.
It might be that you go into another culture with the idea that you’re bringing something unique, only to discover that it’s already there. Red Twin tells me that it’s a nonsense to think that only Christians have a personal relationship with God; her Muslim friends do not feel distant from Allah, and attest to feelings of closeness.
Or it might be that the story you tell just doesn’t get traction in the new culture. A key point in my Christian growth was realising that only Jesus deals with sin, but what if that concern is not high on another culture’s radar?
So I can see how you end up having a crisis, asking, do I actually have anything to offer here? Does another religion work better in this context than Christianity? Are different religions just each culture’s own way of worshipping some general divine presence? I reckon it’d be pretty easy to fall into thinking like that.
Except for Jesus. If I thought Jesus was just a philosophy rather than a real person; a dead historical figure rather than the living ruling king; a good way to live instead of a mighty Saviour; if I thought any of those things, yes, I’d probably say, keep with the philosophies, myths and way of life that makes sense in your own culture.
But Jesus isn’t about having the right doctrine so much as putting your trust in him. He’s not about having a particular experience of him so much as simply just knowing him. So my goal is not to convert people to (a form of) Christianity so much as it is to convert them to Christ.
This is the heart of cross-cultural work, not that you must have the same experience of Christ as me, but that you recognise that Jesus Christ is the bigger YES to the yearnings of my culture and the desires of yours. My form of Christianity may not answer the religious inclinations of a Tanzanian, but Jesus fulfils them.
And so this is how I avoid losing confidence in cross-cultural work. You don’t put your faith in your form of Christianity or even your theology, but in Christ himself.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.