Surprised Foreigners Know About It

by Gavin Lymberopoulos November 15, 2018

After a foreign preacher presented the gospel to a group of people in Asia, a local pastor asked if it might be better to train an indigenous person to preach to his countrymen. The pastor went so far as to express his desire for “believers in [Asia] to think of the gospel as uniquely their own and to be surprised when they learn that foreigners also know about it.” [1] The pastor’s intention was not to diminish the role of cross-cultural preaching, but to encourage the even more difficult task of developing indigenous leaders who know and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. This emphasis is taken directly from passages of scripture such as Titus 1:5, where Paul says that he left Titus in Crete to “appoint elders in every town.” It is unlikely that Paul wanted more foreigner Christians to come in and lead the local churches. Instead, Titus was to find and establish local leaders. After traveling to the Middle East and Asia this year, I was encouraged to learn firsthand that our partners’ primary goal is to establish and support indigenous leaders who strive to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This vision produces fruit in a variety of ways, but I’ll highlight three areas which can guide our prayers and fuel our gratitude.

First, supporting indigenous leaders maximizes the effectiveness of outreach. When a foreign worker shares the gospel, it is easy to dismiss Christianity as a religion for Westerners or Americans. But when a local person (who intuitively knows the language, customs and values of a country) shares the gospel, it is far more effective. This does not mean foreigners are completely ineffective in outreach, but it does make clear that our priority is to reach locals, who can then lead the outreach to other locals. As Hwa Yung, a retired bishop of the Methodist Church in Asia, writes, “what we need are more theological ‘mangos’ [an indigenous fruit] and not ‘bananas’ [a foreign one.]” [2] Again, the point is not to diminish the role of cross-cultural workers, but to clarify their goals.

Second, supporting indigenous leaders maximizes global theological development. When the Gospel takes root in a culture, it highlights and magnifies specific dimensions of the “manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10). Consider the fact that Asian Christians have a robust understanding of biblical honor and shame. As one Chinese proverb says, “A man of honor will feel ashamed by a single question to which he does not know the answer.”  The result of this Asian cultural emphasis is that they more intuitively understand passages like 1 Peter 2:6-7: “For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ So the honor is for you who believe.” Or Romans 10:11: “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” Here Paul is drawing from Isaiah 49:23, which affirms that “those who wait for [the Lord] shall not be put to shame.” To illustrate this biblical theme even further, consider Romans 5:5 where Paul writes that “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is evident from these verses that the categories of honor and shame are important for our understanding of how the Triune God healed our broken relationship. When we overlook this emphasis, we fail to understand that the Father will not put us to shame for waiting on him, but instead will give honor to those who believe and hope in the Son, all because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. As this statement demonstrates, when indigenous leaders understand and articulate the gospel, their cultural emphases will bring certain riches of God’s lavish grace to the foreground. The more this occurs, we will “not only learn from each other, but be corrected by each other [as different cultures] contribute something valuable to the worldwide understanding of biblical truth.” [3]

Third, as indigenous peoples understand the gospel, and rearticulate it in the context their cultures emphasize, the foreign teacher will also become the student. In my own life, I rarely think about honor and shame, but now that my Asian sisters and brothers have brought it to the foreground, I better understand the revelation of the Triune God. This “mutual encouragement” will not only sharpen and enlarge our understanding of the Scriptures, but it will also strengthen and invigorate our worship. The more we know about God’s lavish grace, the greater zeal we will bring to our praise.

Hopefully you can see that we have much to celebrate when we consider the work of Tenth’s global partners. They are laboring faithfully to reach and raise up indigenous leaders in their various contexts. Let’s pray for their perseverance in this effort, for the people they are ministering to, and for our own desire to learn of the riches of God’s grace, as more and more tribes, peoples, and languages praise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.