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South Africa: Sharing Lives for the Gospel

TMAI training centers instruct a wide variety of students all over the world and in all kinds of cultural contexts. More than 15 different languages are represented by the graduates of just one training center–Christ Seminary in South Africa. Though that might seem like a challenge, and it is, a far greater challenge to overcome involves the worldview grids through which information is filtered.

David Beakley, who serves as a missionary and Academic Dean of Christ Seminary in Polokwane, South Africa, stresses that cross-cultural teaching is not just about raw information. “People can absorb Bible survey classes, Greek, and Hebrew,” he explains, “but they absorb that information within their own context and theological boundaries. This is the foremost challenge of cross-cultural missions. You’d be surprised at how much a person’s worldview shapes basic biblical concepts, such as sovereignty, sin, and witness.”

As a case in point, he explained that certain western discussions would be completely lost in his church. “Same-sex marriage and abortion are virtually irrelevant here. There is no reflection on them, no commentary about them, and people don’t grasp the issues. But here, breaking the sense of community is considered one of the worst sins possible; and the way this social stigma interfaces with various biblical principles is complex.”

So what can a missionary do to overcome this greatest challenge?

Hang-Out 3x5

On Friday nights, seminary students “hang out” at the missionary/lecturer’s house.

“You’ve got to bring people into your house,” says David. “You have to eat with them and receive them in close community with you. Let them use your silverware, plates, and cups. There can be no perceived differences in class or social level. Let them use your bathroom. Talk about their families and visit their homes, speak their language, whatever language it is, and enter into their world. Unless you’ve actually lived with the people, you really don’t know their world; and if you don’t know their world, you don’t know what you’re dealing with in the classroom.”

This is not a new method. It was Paul’s missionary method long before it was TMAI’s. To the Thessalonians he wrote that he was eager not only to share the gospel with them, but also his very life (1 Thess 2:8).