On Mission Trips, Remember the Ethic of "Stranger"


On Mission Trips, Remember the Ethic of "Stranger" | Olu Menjay, BWA, Baptist World Congress, Mission

Global Baptists visit before a morning Bible study on Luke 4:18-19. Bible studies were offered in eight languages at the 2010 Congress of the Baptist World Alliance.
Are there ways in which a Christian may experience "exotic" places in the world without exploitation? Like Jesus, we must embody the attitude of a stranger or a host, as appropriate, in the areas we serve.

 

In exploring the task of the stranger, we are reminded in the majestic remark: "I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you welcomed me…"

 

Most of the time, the implications of Jesus' words push us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty and welcome in strangers. Most important, we are to be kind and hospitable to the other.

 

But it is easier and more rational to accept the role of a kind and gracious host. Our interpretation of Scripture stops with "Be kind to others."

 

Now listen again to Jesus: "I was a stranger (myself)." If we are to be as Jesus was, we cannot be satisfied only to assist the stranger. Instead, we must be the stranger ourselves.

 

Becoming the stranger put us in a seemingly awkward position, with a lack of control.

 

A stranger is secondary and defenseless. Strangers spend time listening and trying to understand the unfamiliar and unusual territory. Strangers cannot be hateful, obnoxious and arrogant. Strangers must be humble and not self-imposing.

 

Anyone who crosses a frontier has no business claiming superiority in that unknown environment. Becoming a host in such a situation requires time and investment in human relationship.

 

We must also know the responsibility of hosting if we are to impact the exotic world. Jesus did not only serve as a stranger, but also as a good host to tax collectors and sinners.

 

Jesus once challenged his host in these words: "When you give a lunch or dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbors, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again." (Luke 14:12-14)

 

To have an effective and efficient impact in unusual or exciting places, we must understand the role of a host who serves not in expectation of a payback but in anticipation to serve the unlikely candidates without reservation and to restore dignity to the outsider and marginalized people.

 

The Emmaus Road story, found in Luke 24:13-25, occurred three days after the crucifixion of Jesus. It offers us an example that assists us to become missionaries in unusual contexts.

 

The two disciples were too preoccupied with the disappointment about the death of Jesus and the future of their own existence as they discussed the hottest news about the disappearance of the body of Jesus from the tomb as reported by the women. But Jesus walked with them, and their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus.

 

Jesus became a stranger, an outsider. Jesus engaged the two disciples with a question, which sought to clarify the discussion they were having.

 


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Strangers, in an unfamiliar and exotic context, must always seek first to understand and not to be understood.

 

The answer to Jesus' question by Cleopas squarely identified Jesus as a stranger, who did not know the hottest news in town about Jesus of Nazareth's death. Jesus, the stranger, was patient to listen to the entire report offered by the disciples. At the end of the disciples' news account, the stranger entered the conversation, challenging their interpretation and acceptance of the prophetic pronouncement. Jesus could have stopped them immediately. But he waited for the disciples to complete their report and responded to them.

 

Strangers must seek an appropriate window of opportunity in contributing meaningfully.

 

Jesus, this stranger on the Emmaus Road, offered reasons for his hosts to draw closer to him because of his contribution to the conversation.

 

Strangers should not get involved in distasteful and impolite discussion about which they have no clue.

 

The stranger Jesus, in this encounter assisted the disciples to understand the meaning of their own encounter. He explained to them what they could not quite get and changed their attitude from the hopeless road to the hope road, from skepticism to optimism.

 

Because this stranger was accepted and respected, his status changed from a stranger to a justifiable guest. They were obliged to invite him to go along with them.

 

There was no arrogance or superficiality in this encounter. Jesus was the stranger who questioned, listened, responded, reinterpreted, accompanied, did not impose, was courteous, was invited and became a guest.

 

These attributes, as established in the account of the Emmaus Road, should be our attributes as we enter an exotic context.

 

Jesus acknowledged the disciples on their own terms, in their own context, with their own anxieties. Focusing his interest to what they were interested in offered him the means of entrance to a crucial stage of their lives. Jesus hung around for the ideal occasion to engage their agenda.

 

The encounter between stranger and host provided a meaningful moment for clarification. Meeting at the table, a moment that took a long process, was a liberating moment that was indeed a missionary moment for the disciples.

 

Jesus, the stranger, eventually became a guest, and finally became a host serving the disciples bread.

 

Emulating the example of Jesus puts us in an excellent seat to serve in an exotic context.

 

Olu Menjay holds a doctorate in church history and directs the Ricks Institute, a boarding school outside Monrovia, Liberia.

 

This column is excerpted from Menjay's manuscript delivered to the focus group titled "Immersion or Tourism" on July 29 at the 20th Baptist World Congress, meeting in Honolulu.

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