By Willam Strickland
Some time ago I heard a sermon by David Platt (President of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board). David shared an experience of training a group of Nepali believers who serve in the remote and rugged Himalayan Mountains. He highlighted the eagerness of the people to learn and their boldness to preach the gospel. These folks were sharing the gospel in villages where not a single person had ever heard of Jesus Christ!
David’s words planted a seed that grew to lead me to leave my job as an engineer. I pursued a vocation of mobilizing people to glorify God among the nations. When I started this journey, I had no idea that I would end up training the same group of Nepali believers in the same room that Pastor Platt had in the story that had captured my imagination.
In 2016, I had the privilege to do a training session on children’s outreach with a group of Nepali ministers in the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal. The leaders of this group, Sujan and Jan Gurung, ran a couple of children’s homes for kids in remote mountain villages. The vision for these homes was to raise the children in the way of the Lord and make frequent visits back to the villages where they were from. The children remained a part of their village culture and were equipped to return to their villages as missionaries if they so desired.
Understanding Nepali culture for training
I had met Jan Gurung through a mutual friend in Kathmandu the previous year. About six months later, I was back in Nepal and visiting their ministry at Jan’s request. Her husband, Sujan was hospitable, as Nepali culture dictates, but he was not eager to have a close relationship with my wife and me.
Having recently read Werner Mischke’s book, The Global Gospel, I had incorporated “honor-shame dynamics” into both the style and content of my training sessions. In the first session, I explained how even though children may be of low status in society, they have high value in the kingdom of God. Sujan served as my translator. He was spitting out my words in Nepali as quickly as I could speak them in English. After a short time, however, he began pausing to really understand what I was saying. I wasn’t sure whether or not that was good.
During the first break, Sujan asked me how I had learned so much about Nepali culture. I told him about Werner’s book and how it had not just changed how I understood their culture but how I interacted with Scripture. Although still a bit skeptical, he was interested in reading the book.
The afternoon session was more interactive. Listening to those whom you are teaching honors them. In many Asian cultures, the term “face” is used to describe honor status. I asked, “How do people view their own children? How do they view the children of other parents? Of other castes or tribes?” The style of questioning was meant to allow people to speak up without being embarrassed for a perceived “wrong answer.” I learned so much during that time. Did you know that people value their children’s success above a relationship with them? This causes the large number of “orphanages” promising a better life to Nepali villager’s children.
Listening—a way of honoring
We did four days of training with Sujan and his team. On the last day, Jan approached me privately. She shared with me that our training was different. “Sujan has grown to not like videshis (white westerners) very much. The missionaries we often work with act as if they know everything. He says you empower us by listening to us. You have tried to understand our culture. You actually believe that we can do the work better than videshis. He thinks that our team will train many more pastors in Nepal about the importance of reaching out to children. Not because it is an American idea, but an idea from the Bible that is like a Nepali idea.”
Sujan could not have paid me any greater compliment. I have seen the way many westerners teach in contexts such as Nepal. The theology may be great, but the application often gets lost between cultures. When you feel that the message relates to your people you are more likely to act on it.
Training—a strategic investment
Sujan’s team trains more Nepali people than I ever could. They have access to remote mountain villages that a videshi could never reach. Training sessions with teams like this are so strategic and effective.
This is why Mission ONE spends so much time and energy in our training ministries. We have deep relationships with our partners. We listen to and learn from them. Our training materials are born out of an exchange of ideas with people from different cultures. Cultural relevance and biblical truth are the heart all that we teach.
Mission ONE believes that this type of education is the best way to foster change in individuals and communities. Knowledge can be gained and dispensed regardless of circumstance. The Bible says that knowledge is more valuable than silver or gold and that life and honor can be found in knowledge.
Will you join Mission ONE share what we have learned with both our indigenous partners and the global Church? If you would like to learn more about our training ministries, please contact Werner Mischke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some names were changed to protect anonymity.