In the last post, I wrote briefly about the ITM conference that was held last month. One afternoon during the conference I sat and talked with one of our missionaries who lives in San Lorenzo. I had never talked to him before and it was really interesting to get a small glimpse into his life.
Julio is from a Chimane family in the region of the Beni where ITM works. He had a difficult upbringing, moving frequently and often being left on his own. As we talked, one of the things he shared with me was how the Lord has begun to soften his heart since he came to know Christ. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that in his culture no one sheds a tear when a child dies. The way he described it, the death of a child is not very different from the death of an animal, and in some ways children are, in fact, treated much like animals.
This got me thinking about the power of God, not only to change individual lives but to change a culture as well. There are many in our society who imagine remote, isolated tribes as living in a tropical paradise. They get angry at the idea that Christians would bring their "Western" religion into these "unspoiled" communities. Setting aside the idea that true Christianity is not Western or American, what they don't realize is that many people who have been isolated from the modern world do not live in paradise. They die of preventable illness, have high rates of infant mortality, and often live with superstitions and beliefs that keep them in bondage to fear—and can lead to tribal warfare and murder. Often, women and children are given little value. Most importantly, they live and die without ever having experienced the light of Jesus and the true life that's experienced in Him.
So, yes, we need to be careful to distinguish between the Gospel and the aspects of our own culture that can easily become intertwined with our faith. But we certainly should not feel sorry or regretful when we bring the Gospel into a culture that has remained in darkness without the light of Christ!
Books have been written about this concept, and many missionary biographies testify to the power of God to transform lives and cultures. There's no way I can cover the topic in a blog post (and I'm not very long-winded). But even as a Christian, sometimes I can let my culture influence my thinking. My brief conversation with Julio was a reminder of the many people growing up like him in the remote regions of Bolivia—people who are not living in a blissful jungle paradise, but who need to hear about Jesus and are just waiting for someone to tell them!