Why Westerners need to listen up

“You Westerners plan, strategize, and analyze. We Asians do. We act. Then we reflect and consider,” an Asian Bishop told me over coffee a couple years ago.

Well, there’s some truth in that. Our Asian brothers and sisters get out there and do evangelism, plant churches, baptize new believers. Just this week I heard of a Bhutanese pastor in the US apologize to a colleague (originally from Iran) that he had so few people ready for baptism when the Bishop comes in a few weeks. “Yes, I only have 25 adults for baptism” to which his colleague responded, “Oh, I don’t think the Bishop will mind. In fact, he’ll be quite happy to baptize 25 people.”

Whether Westerners fear failure, get paralyzed by analysis, or are lazy, I don’t know. Talk to your priest or pastor and ask if your church could plant a new congregation this year and see how he reacts. And whether our Asian brothers are merely impulsive, or courageous and zealous, again I don’t know. Only God reads their hearts, and ours.

One thing I do know is that Westerners need to listen. Paul Borthwick has done the global church a big favor writing his latest book Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? Listening to our non-western brothers and sisters is a topic he devotes an entire chapter to.  A few ideas resonated with me and, perhaps, they will with you, too.

Be a friend to a non-Western Christian  

Not much has changed since Bishop Azariah of India was famously quoted as telling the Edinburgh Missions Conference in 1910, “Give us friends.” He’d probably not think that “liking” someone on Facebook really equaled friendship. And he’d probably not consider a Western Christian doing his “thing” (speaking, training, financing, fixing problems, etc) equaled friendship either. Listening implies a person has something to learn from another person. Listening to a non-Western Christian friend may alert us to our blind spots, our shallowness, our self-preoccupation.

Learn from their suffering

When you shell out $3000 for a short term mission trip to Asia or Africa, it’s hard to realize your plane ticket may have cost more than the average pastor’s annual salary. And, therefore, it’s tough to imagine how a Westerner can even start to appreciate their hardships. One pastor we visited in Tanzania on a trip some years ago was blind and had five or six children. His church was a half-built mud block structure.. His parish was only accessible by walking miles down unpaved roads. His parishioners were poor. Our non-Western brothers may ask us, “Show us your scars, and then we’ll believe that you understand the same gospel that we’ve embraced.”  That’s a start.


Learn from their ministry context

Half-way through a five-hour worship service in Nigeria, the Bishop’s wife came up to me and asked if I was hungry. “Well”, I smiled, “perhaps…”. That was enough. She exited to the local market only to return with some goodies for this weaker Western brother! There must have been over one thousand people in the cathedral and yet she was thinking of me.

The Bishop launched forth in an emotional and energetic sermon. At one point, he placed his hand on top of his head and asked the entire cathedral congregation to follow. As he preached in the local language, I wasn’t sure what he said, but afterwards I asked why he placed his hand on his head. “Oh, we were asking the Holy Spirit to fill us and placing our hands on our heads is one way to do that for yourself”.

Nigeria is a complex place. Westerners come with their quick-fix, their latest and greatest, and fail to scratch the surface. I felt privileged to encounter a worship service where my physical and spiritual needs were attended to.

Listen up, will you! You might learn something! Yes, and I might too.






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