(Appeared first in Mennonite Mission Network’s Beyond Ourselves, October 2011. Shared with permission)
By Ervin Stutzman
This issue of Beyond Ourselves features worker blogs. It’s a helpful way to get a perspective from the field. In June, I had a similar opportunity when I met with a small group of mission executives who were interviewing three veteran Mennonite Mission Network workers in the Argentine Chaco—Willis and Byrdalene Horst and Keith Kingsley. They shared about the dramatic shift in mission strategy and practice they had experienced among the indigenous people of South America. In keeping with the long-time mission workers who had preceded them, they paid particular attention to the ways that they could support the work that God was doing among the Indians of the Chaco. Rather than seeing themselves as a sage on the stage with authoritative answers, they committed themselves to being a guide on the side, learning from the Scriptures alongside the indigenous people. They learned to read the Bible in an intercultural way, exploring the meaning of Scripture as understood through a different cultural lens.
This idea, of course, is as old as Christianity itself. The early Christians (re)interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures in light of the coming of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul learned to read the Scriptures alongside the Gentiles in Asia and Europe who embraced the way of Jesus.
The Horsts and Kingsleys learned to listen for the voice of the Spirit as the Scriptures were read aloud to the Toba people. They sat in a circle with the people, discerning together with them the meaning of Scripture for their lives. Whereas this was once called cross-cultural work, they prefer to call it intercultural work. The mission workers are not simply bringing insights and teaching from their own culture and background; they are receiving insights from those who are hearing the Scriptures in their own language for the first time.
As I interacted with these veteran communicators of the gospel, I thought about the priority of Mennonite Church USA that we call intercultural transformation. Like the mission workers from Argentina, we must learn to sit in circles with people from other cultures, listening for the Spirit of God in our midst.