Western missionaries desperately need to remember there are excellent churches in Africa. There are faithful, God-gifted preachers in Africa. We are not the “saviours of the African church.” Christ is the Saviour. We come only as servants of and partners in the gospel. And we need to remember that the Western worldview is not the Bible’s worldview.
I am still learning how to distinguish between the expectations that God places on Christians in Scripture and those which are from my Western church culture. I wish I was a faster learner.
We need to remember that the Western worldview is not the Bible’s worldview
How To Help a Western Missionary Land Well
My aim is to help people understand, at least from my limited experience, how African pastors can help Western missionaries to land well. Relocating is difficult at the best of times. But moving between remarkably distinct cultures is never easy.
I hope that this short piece will shine some light on these challenges. The desired result, however, is not merely sympathy or better understanding. My aim is that Western missionaries will be better equipped to serve the African church, with the support needed from the African church.
We Don’t Know What We’re Doing
I think some Western missionaries need to learn this as well! When we arrive, unless we have lived in the country concerned before, we don’t know how to do anything. We are unsure why there are security guards, sometimes with guns, outside shops. This is not common in London. We don’t know how to buy a car. We don’t know how we should queue. No insignificant issue for a Brit. And a hundred million other very small things that you don’t ever normally need to stop and think about.
A friend of mine who has been a missionary here much longer than me said “it’s like being a baby all over again! You need help with everything.”
Please be patient with us. Help us when we get it horribly wrong
This can lead to significant anxiety and certainly means you use up a lot of energy just doing the simple things. It makes you less efficient at everything, even when you do start to know what you’re doing. So please be patient with us. Help us when we get it horribly wrong. And help us to laugh at ourselves later.
Western Missionaries Don’t Know How To Relate
Of course, some of us are overly forward and walk into relationships like a bull in a china shop. If we crash and burn we’ll just pick up the pieces later. Others of us are much more reserved. We’re afraid of getting local customs and social niceties wrong. For instance, in the UK when I welcome you to my house I offer you a drink. Is that what I should do here? When I say goodbye, I walk you to the door and when you are out of the door I give a final wave and then close the door. Is that right here, or will I be thought of as rude if I do that?
If no-one tells us then we will simply be thought of as rude, when actually we are trying really hard but are just ignorant
Either way, we need people to be patient when we get it wrong, and someone to tell us when we get it wrong. Telling someone they have done something wrong may even be a problem in the culture we have landed in! But if no-one tells us then we will simply be thought of as rude, when actually we are trying really hard but are just ignorant and need someone to educate us. Please, give us the benefit of the doubt and try educating us gently!
Building Bridges for The Kingdom
All of the above goes to say that we need people to make an effort to help us, so any spiritual gifts we have can be best used for the benefit of the ministries we have been sent to. We are here because we love the Lord Jesus Christ and we believe he has sent us to Africa to bless the church and the people here.
But if we Western missionaries are left to do all the heavy lifting in building relationships – working out how to live in your culture so it increasingly becomes our culture, understanding how and why churches function the way they do – it is going to take us a very long time. We are going to make many and large mistakes.
We are here because we love the Lord Jesus Christ
You are likely going to think us rude or even imperialistic. But in reality, we are simply lost in what to us is a very strange world. But when you and other church members invite us into your homes, we can learn how to host and feel more comfortable trying to host. We can ask all our strange, though often simple, questions, and more quickly work out what we are supposed to do when and where. Are there people who can help us get our driving licence? Are there others who can point us to the right plumber and tell us how much we should expect to pay?
Mutual Partnerships Are Healthy
Missions is God’s global work. It is his agenda, entrusted to the church universal, not owned by any continent or tradition
To adapt what Chopo said in his article To Western Missionaries: From an African Pastor: there is much we Western Missionaries can learn from the African church and God willing vice versa. “Missions is God’s global work. It is his agenda, entrusted to the church universal, not owned by any continent or tradition. There is therefore great potential for healthy mutual partnerships between churches locally and internationally,” in all kinds of gospel endeavours.
I for one don’t want to end up building my own little kingdom! As Paul said to the church in Rome, we are here to, “impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:11-12). If we are going to do that well, we need your help!