Removing Unnecessary Obstacles to the Gospel
Crossing cultures is a rich and rewarding experience which is often not easy. And sharing the gospel message across cultures can be particularly challenging. We all have cultural blind spots and, as a result, it is possible to communicate the gospel in a way that could be misunderstood by people from other cultures. Sometimes we cannot distinguish clearly what constitutes the gospel and what is merely a part of our cultural background and experience.
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As we seek to reach the nations for Christ, it is helpful to do what we can to understand the culture of the people we are seeking to reach. Since the gospel is relational, and best shared through meaningful friendship, learning about and identifying with people is essential. Christ modeled this in the incarnation, as did Paul in his ministry to the Gentiles.
While ministering in China, Hudson Taylor emphasized the need to make the effort to shed our cultural trappings and to enter into the culture of those we are seeking to reach with the gospel. He encouraged missionaries to live among the people, dress like them, eat like them and commit to learning about their language and culture.
We believe that by doing this we remove unnecessary obstacles to the reception of the gospel. And so we continue to seek to help brothers and sisters who have a burden to reach East Asians with the gospel to improve their understanding of East Asian culture and mindset. For many years we have been training and equipping Christians who are reaching out to East Asians who live both in and outside of Asia. We have done this through in-person training in partnership with churches and international student ministry organizations.
The training is very practical. For example, Westerners tend to value choice and options; we feel we honor our guests by offering them selections so they can have what they personally prefer—it may be as simple as a choice of a beverage to drink. Yet such decisions can put unhelpful pressure on our East Asian friends who don’t want to risk asking for something that might cause you more inconvenience and disrupt harmony in your relationship. They may struggle to answer. As a result, it is more comfortable for them if, when hosting, you just serve them what you are having and not worry about offering choices.
Another example: As believers, we understand the biblical definition of “sin” to be falling short of God’s perfect standard, applying to both doing what is wrong, as well as failing to do what is right. In some East Asian contexts the word “sin” translates most literally as “to commit a crime.” People do not generally see themselves as criminals, so simple claims to the fact that we are all sinners, can cause many to write off the gospel as irrelevant for them. Realizing this, it is important for us to be able to explain sin as the Bible defines it in contrast to how they understand their culture’s word for “sin”. Our training offers help to overcome this and other challenges as we cross cultures with the Good News.
Recently we have begun to develop training courses for online audiences. That is what we are doing through Connecting2Culture.com, an initiative of OMF International. These courses are asynchronous, meaning participants work through online materials at their own pace over the course of several weeks. The courses are run for groups of participants in different parts of the world, and there is an interactive element through forums in the courses where you can share your thoughts with others taking the course, and others can then respond.
Learn more about our course offerings at Connecting2Culture.com.
We hope you will join us and be better equipped to establish meaningful relationships with East Asians to the glory of God.