Hidden Paths to the Heart
Fifty-eight nuclear subs and the bulk of the Soviet's surface fleet were dispatched towards America. Is this a military exercise or could this be a pre-emptive strike against NATO? The official explanation the Soviets gave was they had lost a submarine and this movement was a massive search and rescue operation. Later, the Soviets ambassador told the American leaders the commander of one of the ballistic missile submarines, Captain Marko Ramius, had taken it upon himself to make an independent nuclear strike against the United States. The Soviets were asking the United States to help them hunt down and destroy the submarine.
This scenario, of course, is taken from the movie Hunt for Red October. The American military was afraid the Soviets had a renegade on their hands and were scrambling to develop a defense. Dr. Ryan, a CIA analyst, knew a great deal about Captain Ramius and felt he was not a mad man, but rather, his actions indicate he is probably planning to defect. Unfortunately, Dr. Ryan was having a difficult time trying to convince a concerned military. Giving him one chance to prove Captain Ramius wanted to defect, they airlifted him out to a submarine in the middle of the Atlantic. He had only a few dozen hours to find Captain Ramius and prove his defection. Throughout this movie, Dr. Ryan had to use his special insights of Captain Ramius to find the submarine and orchestrate the defection.
Near the end of the movie the American and Soviet submarine commanders are standing face to face. During this tense moment, Captain Ramius makes a humorous comment to one of his fellow officers. To the surprise of Captain Ramius, Dr. Ryan starts to laugh. Captain Ramius asked Dr. Ryan if he speaks Russian. Dr. Ryan replied in Russian, "A little. It is wise to study the ways of one’s adversary. Don’t you agree?"
In English, Captain Ramius answers, "Yes."
As Christians desiring to share Christ, we should not, of course, consider unbelievers our "adversaries." Yet, we should follow this principle of having a sound understanding of the people we would like to reach. Although this principle is obviously essential for foreign missionaries, it also applies to all other types of ministries. The better you understand a culture and its subcultures, the more effective you will be with your outreach.
You should study the culture, customs, sports, etc. of the people you want to reach. It is especially important to fully understand their history. I cannot emphasize this enough. When you understand the forces that have shaped their society, you will have a much better understanding of what makes them tick. Knowing how a person thinks and what they value is essential if you want to reach their hearts.
The Japanese culture is a good example of this. This culture is considered to be one of the hardest to reach because they view things entirely differently from westerners. In fact, they are quite different from the other Asian countries.
At first glance, there are many things in this society we find confusing and even contradictory. For example, Japan’s inhumane treatment of POWs during WWII was as bad as Nazi Germany. Their brutality, violence, and total disregard for human life were staggering. Yet, the streets of Japan are some of the safest in the world. There is very little violence in this country.
The thing that makes this phenomenon even more puzzling is the contents of some of their leisure reading material. Many of their magazines have detailed drawings of women being brutally raped and tortured. (Source: Japan: Sword and the Chrysanthemum, Coronet Film and Video.) You would think this would create a society rampant in violence. Well, the answer is yes and no.
Within this culture, it is not a simple issue of whether a certain act is "right" or "wrong." As westerners, we usually view certain wrong actions as being inherently wrong, whereas the Japanese would view it as being wrong only under certain conditions. For example, during WWII, the prevalent attitude of many Japanese was that non-Japanese were considered "inferiors," therefore, it was not considered wrong to mistreat them. To make matters worse, since the Japanese viewed the act of surrendering as the ultimate dishonor, they felt POWs did not deserve any honorable treatment. This is part of the reason it was not considered wrong to rape, torture, and even murder POWs.
I would like to point out most of the victims in these violent Japanese magazines, mentioned earlier, are not Japanese. It is not honorable to do these things to a Japanese person. This is the reason the streets of Japan (which is filled predominantly by Japanese) are safe. Although I don’t think it is openly discussed, the superior/inferior perspective is still a central part of Japanese culture. This is why I don’t think they view reading these violent magazines as being dishonorable.
Although this barbaric behavior appears to be driven by national pride and ethnic hatred, it goes much deeper than that. Doing what is "honorable" drives much of their culture. More specifically, it is important not to do anything that would bring dishonor to their dead ancestors.
An in-depth study of the Samurai and Shogun is needed to better understand this culture. If you can understand what they view as honorable, you will have a solid foundation of their value system. If you understand their value system, it’ll be much easier to reach their heart.
If you are going to a foreign country to be a missionary, there are many ways to learn about the people of that land. The following are several approaches you should consider:
There are over 1,000 documentary videos available on various countries. You should be able to find many of them at libraries (which usually provide them for free) and at large video stores. I have watched a large number of these videos to give myself a better understanding of the world around me. A side benefit of studying numerous cultures is it gives you a better understanding of the people you met on a daily basis. I realize time is a premium, but I think missionary schools, Bible schools, and seminaries should strongly encourage their students to watch a large number of these videos.
Probably one of the biggest mistakes missionaries have made in the past 400 years is assuming they can share Christ with Indians (or other diverse ethnic groups) the same as they would with their neighbor. Not only is this approach ineffective, it is usually counter productive. When missionaries fail to careful study the culture and religion of these Indians they are trying to reach, one of two things can happen. First, the Indians may resent what appears to be a total disregard and disrespect to what they hold sacred. As a result, they may become hostile to your message and to "outsiders" in general.
Second, a failure to clearly understand their concept of God can result in unintentional misunderstandings. Instead of leaving their pagan gods for Jesus Christ, the Indians will combine their religion with Christianity. There are many examples of this, such as the people in the Caribbean, whose religion is a combination of voodoo and Christianity.
George Santayana said, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it!" (Actually his original statement was, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," but I like the current paraphrase better). Studying the successful and unsuccessful mission endeavors of the past can profit you a great deal.
There was a cannibalistic tribe (Sawi) in New Guinea that placed a high value on treachery. They were a cruel people who viewed treachery and deception as a virtue. Since overt killing didn’t require much skill, it held no real pleasure for them. However, they obtain great pleasure from winning a person’s friendship and confidence for the sole purpose of murdering them. The part they cherish most is the look on the victim’s face the moment they realize they’ve been betrayed. Just before they kill their surprised victim, they would often say, "We have fattened you up with friendship for the slaughter." This philosophy of betrayal is so highly prized amongst this people that they were thrilled to hear how Judas had betrayed Jesus. (Source: Peace Child, Regal Books Divisions.)
How can you reach a people like this? More important, how do you live amongst a people like this? You will always be wondering, "Are they only being nice to me for the sole purpose of betraying me?" Another question is, if two tribes really want peace, how would they bring this about. Obviously, any overture of peace would be viewed as a setup for treachery.
Don and Carol Richardson found the answer to this question deep inside the Sawi Culture. The tribe that was "in the wrong" would give the other tribe a baby to raise. This child is called a Peace Child. As long as this child lives, they must maintain peace. In this situation, treachery is not allowed.
Seeing the similarities between the Peace Child and Jesus Christ (God offering His son for our redemption), the Richardsons found an opening to share Christ. In summary, Jesus Christ is God’s Peace Child to us. Since Jesus Christ will live forever, we can have everlasting peace with God.
It is fascinating that a culture, which appears to be lawless, is actually governed by some very strict laws. Every culture has a set of rules that govern how it acts and thinks. Fully understanding a foreign culture is imperative if you want to reach them for Christ. Your success or failure as a missionary is dependent upon your understanding of their culture. This is why culture is just as much a barrier to the gospel as is a foreign language.
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