This month marks the long-awaited arrival of the remaining members of Team Arequipa. Since our last newsletter, two more families arrived - Jeremy & Katie Daggett and Jake & Jaclyn Blair. We are now a seven-family team, which means we all have some new dynamics to get used to for the brief months we are all together. We appreciate your prayers for our time, that we will provide for each other the exact balance of support and challenge that we need to grow and pursue the mission of God as it plays out around us here in Arequipa. Also, that we cover all necessary and relevant topics before the McKinzies make their transition back to the stateside mission field in early January.
I participate in the health team meetings with lots of questions and input but the project that I hope and pray I get to be a part of is in its very beginning stage: the dreaming stage. Truly, it's one of my favorite stages, but not a very informative one. I was encouraged, however, to share my dreams. To show you once again, from a newbie perspective, what it's like to dream and plan and learn to work on Peruvian timing mixed with the big ideas of a new missionary who is in the middle of cultural adjustment with life 'busy-fied' by two small children! As you read, envision with me and join me in prayer for God's hand, his wisdom and guidance to be completely integrated into this project.
This is the standard response when our study of the New Testament deals with first-century church practices that we no longer observe. The usual contenders are direct commands such as “greet one another with a holy kiss” or, paraphrasing, “women must wear head coverings.” The observation is not wrong, per se. These certainly are cultural practices. But putting it that way reveals a key assumption about both the Bible and church practices: that some things are in the category of “not cultural.” We fancy many of our practices are universal and immune to the dangers of “cultural relativism.” This assumption, I suggest, is wrong. “That’s cultural” doesn’t get us very far, because everything is cultural.
If that opinion sets you on edge, well and good. You might explore those emotions in order to empathize with the cross-cultural missionary. To come humbly into a foreign culture seeking to bring the kingdom of God to expression in contextually meaningful ways means experiencing the loss of the pat solutions “That’s cultural” provides. The experience blesses us with the realization of how much of our taken-for-granted way of life as a church community is actually meaningless or confusing in a new context—maybe even meaningless or confusing in our home context, but I digress. And the experience blesses us with the discovery of new ways of representing the good news about Jesus, ways that would not have occurred to us because they are cultural and are, for that reason, the right ways for a particular community in a particular place to say and do the gospel.
Obviously, sorting out the relationship between culture and gospel is a big conversation. Oceans of ink have been spilled to that end. I merely mention these concerns by way of introduction to the analysis of culture under way here in Arequipa. Without indulging in too much self-deprecation, I confess that one of our shortcomings over the last six years has been a failure to engage in significant cultural analysis. I think we knew better but gave other concerns priority. Anyway, I’m glad that the arrival of fresh missionaries affords the opportunity to address that failure. The Arequipeño churches we have planted stand to become significantly more indigenous as we foreigners learn to be more culturally appropriate and help lead the church into the freedom to express itself more naturally. It’s an exciting thought!
This December, with the help of Bill and Holly Richardson, the church will gather for a time of reflection and re-visioning. The foreign missionaries who set many of the church’s current practices in motion will seek critical feedback from our Peruvian brothers and sisters in order to place many of our own assumptions prayerfully under scrutiny. The recent arrivals will bring the fruit of their cultural analysis to bear as questions about the meaning of various cultural practices—religious and otherwise—and about the possibility of adopting new practices that might express the gospel more clearly from and to the Peruvian worldview. We are all so thankful that at this juncture, we share the conversation with godly Peruvian disciples. Please pray for the insightfulness of our research from now to then and for the Spirit-led discernment we will need as a community when it comes time to make new decisions. We ask God for the faithfulness and the innovativeness that service to God’s kingdom requires.
On October 7th, we arrived in Arequipa. Over the last several months Jake and I have been asked if we’re ready numerous times. At times I’ve struggled to answer this. Though we have thoroughly prepared through prayer, reading, team meetings and missions conferences I struggled with doubts and feelings of inadequacy. If I read all of the theology, missions, and culture books that people have recommended I might be ready by the time I’m 83.