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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Missionary Racism

Racism, in whatever form, always tends to debase the other person. It is an affront to God, the Creator of multiple races. To help me discern if my posture towards a cross-ethnic person is adult-to-adult, I might ask myself: Would I treat a fellow missionary in this manner? Would I feel comfortable if I were treated in this manner?

What can a young Caucasian person preparing for ministry in a cross-cultural setting do towards correcting unrecognized attitudes of racism?

Make friends with people of other cultures before going overseas. Invite them to your home. Interact with them on their own turf: visit their homes; share meals; participate in their ethnic celebrations; visit their places of worship. Try to find a cultural milieu similar to or identical with that of your anticipated field of service. Growing multiculturalism in North America makes such an experience increasingly possible.

In large centers you can now immerse yourself in the activities of a community of Afro- Americans, or Latin Americans, or Muslims, or East Asians, or Chinese. Substantial interaction with people of other cultures should be a necessary component of crosscultural missionary training.

Contacts with such persons can be made at their business places, in their markets, or on the sidewalks of their residential neighborhoods when people are at leisure. In most cases, such people are honored when they discover that we Americans want to learn more about their culture.

Some structure that provides guidance and requires accountability will accelerate the learning process. Sometimes this can be provided by a Christian service assignment, or by a faculty advisor. Language Acquisition Made Practical by E. Thomas Brewster and Elizabeth S. Brewster provides a very helpful method to follow for learning language and culture.I

When Eudene and I arrived on the field, the language learning process seemed to us like traversing an arid desert. We felt alienated from the people because we couldn’t talk with them. I discovered a time-proven axiom: Learning the language well at the outset opens the way to building deep and meaningful relationships for one’s entire missionary career.

I found it very helpful to develop friendships on a deeper level with a few nationals—friendships strong enough to bear the weight of their constructive criticism. I can trust such a person enough to ask, “Would you help me by pointing out to me any times where my behavior is perceived by nationals as putting them down?”

Diligent efforts to get acquainted with cross-cultural people bring rich dividends. We will discover traditions that enrich us. We will recognize qualities of character that challenge us. We will treasure the gradual unfolding of a unique tapestry of relationships. When we come to know a people this well, little space will be left in the hidden recesses of our mind for remnants of unrecognized racism.

While each of us must work at our private agendas of correcting prejudicial attitudes, there is also need to focus our attention upon inequities that cause human pain and social dislocation on a much grander scale.

Levi Keidel, Conflict or Connection

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