Who is teaching whom?

For many years my wife, Ulli, and I served in a ministry context where little
emphasis was placed on grasping the worldview and cultural understanding of the
people we were trying to reach with the Gospel. We knew that we were missing a
big piece of the puzzle, but did not know what it was.

Then, through some fascinating God-ordained circumstances, we ended up taking
the full training course with Ethnos 360 in Missouri (then called New Tribes
Mission). We were 53 and 49 years old at the time and sitting in classrooms
with young people, most of them half our age. We were so glad they had opened
up this training to us, even though we worked with a different mission.

How we wished we had received this training at the beginning of our missionary
experience! We had been working with a Siouxian tribe at the foot of the Rocky
Mountains in Alberta prior to taking this training. Upon returning home we were
eager to put into practice the things we had learned.

On our Reserve lives a man, Bill (name changed), who considers me his father. 
Having only seen his biological father once in his life, he adopted me as a
father-figure. I had witnessed to Bill about Christ many times, but to no
avail. He was stuck in his traditional beliefs.

While we were away at training, an interesting turn of events took place. Bill
got interested in studying the Bible. Before I left I had given him a Bible in
simple English. There was a problem, though. Having dropped out of school in
grade three, he was illiterate. However, Bill started to practice sounding out
the words as best he could. With endurance he taught himself to read.

Upon our arrival home he asked me to teach him the Bible. That was an answer to
prayer! With my newfound comprehension of how important an understanding of a
person´s worldview is before being taught, I said this to Bill: "I am prepared
to be your teacher, but only under one condition. You need to agree to be my
teacher, as well." (I actually wanted to defer my teaching him till later, but
he would have none of that.)

As we started with Genesis 1:1, it became quite apparent how necessary it was
that he would teach me as I taught him. As we talked about the Creator, I asked
Bill, "In your tribe, what do people say about the Creator? Can you teach me?´ 
"That is easy," he replied. "There is the Great Spirit who started up creation, 
but the actual creator is a Woman Spirit. She does all the real creating."

I just about fell off my chair. I had worked with and preached in this tribe
for 18 years before we left for our training. I had spoken much about the
Creator, never realizing that I was missing the mark every time I did so. I was
saying the right words, while they were still hearing a wrong message.

It is my desire that no one ever will make these colossal mistakes we had made
simply because we did not have the proper training - training that focuses on
listening, understanding, and then drawing the right conclusion before we start
to teach.

Story by: George Hertwig, Missionary with FirstStory Ministries

Find out more about Ethnos' Cross-Cultural Mission training offered in Canada at emanatetraining.ca or in the US at ethnos360.org/training/missionary-training-center