Do you remember Klingons? No, not the race of warriors in Star Trek. I'm talking about people from our youth--you know--those people who would seem to "cling on" you if you showed them too much friendliness? Well, okay, maybe I was one of those Klingons. Actually, I confess, I was...
I remember trying to enter a particular group of friends from town who were some of the "cool kids." We were at the county fair together and they literally ran around different amusement park rides trying to get rid of me. I was a pretty fast runner and they couldn't shake me. It finally took one of the guys to come talk to me and tell me that they didn't want to be friends with me, so, Go away! True story.
Well, as the years passed by I wizened up a bit. Then came the girls.
Do you remember those girls who were so nice to you? You wondered, "Does she like me? Or, is she just nice to me because she's that way with everyone?" It was the latter. Always the latter; but it never seemed to kill the hope.
Some of the guys I knew who were very friendly had a problem. Over and over girls would get their hopes crushed because they thought this guy liked them. However, he was just being friendly. They took his friendliness for interest and had high hopes. Later when they found out he was just a friendly guy to everyone and had no specific interest in them, they were hurt.
Then, of course there were the girls I liked.
With me, it was a little different. When I was friendly to a girl I usually got a distinct "Go away!" vibe from her. My friendliness didn't spring hope in their hearts. Instead it generated fear. Fear that this strange "uncool" guy might like them. They wouldn't dare act friendly towards me in fear that it might cause me to hope for them. Being rude and generally disinterested usually did the job of letting me know that I didn't have a chance with those girls. So, I would go away. No need to be a Klingon anymore.
We humans are very good at sending non-verbal signals to people that have the same effect of hanging a sign on our cold shoulders that says, "No friendship available here! Go away!"
Much of this arises from a fear that if we are too nice to people (or to certain people) they will get clingy, we'll have to hang out with them and others will think we are like them (when we really view ourselves as being much above them).
Do you think Jesus struggled with this?
I have been writing a lot about how we view people because I have discovered that it is fundamental to how we treat them. And while many may think this is simply about personal Christian virtue, I have learned that it is all about effective ministry, too. And it is completely applicable to cross-cultural missions. How do we view The People?
I am sad to report that many missionaries I know (even right here in The Location) view the nationals as Klingons. "As soon as they get to know you they start asking for money, a motorcycle or a job." And so they subsequently send subconscious messages to the nationals that have the effect of saying, "No money here so don't even ask!" or, "I don't want to be your friend!" While some missionaries throw money around to draw a crowd of followers, others withhold any kind of interaction in fear of drawing people they don't understand and don't really want to get to know. In fact, this latter kind is even more common.
When I was a new Christian and first became interested in missions I was very impressed when I met a missionary. Now after serving on the field and seeing how so many missionaries never learn the language with any degree of fluency, never have any peer friendships with nationals beyond those they employ, rarely eat the local foods or visit nationals in their homes and instead spend most of their time with other expatriates, I have become more cautious in being impressed.
It is easy as a missionary to get caught up in the expat community where people "light-heartedly" complain about the nationals and their culture. It feeds a rather negative view of the people God has sent us to love and reach with his message. It also shows that we haven't come to understand them very well at all. And in the end, holding such a view of them will make us pretty ineffective in influencing them towards Christ.