The Unfundamental Conversion

We Say We Believe in God’s Presence . . . Until We Are Missionaries

February 13th, 2014 | Posted by Lana Hope in Faith | Missions | Religion | SE Asia

DSCN2755At my old church in South East Asia, we prayed one prayer more than any other. Or maybe two. But there was one prayer that kept coming up over and over – Lord, let your kingdom come, on earth. Or, let your glory fall on this place.

I have a problem with the whole idea of using humanitarian aid with the ulterior purpose of de-converting people from their religion. It seems, well, patronizing. I went to some villages where the people were literally starving. Their homes were less than the size of an average bedroom in the states, and during the rainy season, they had to take boats to their front porch, and their homes leaked. They were formerly people who lived in the slums, but the government kicked them out and put them in flood land in order to clean up with the city.

So the missions organization decided to build the people each new homes (or at least pay for the materials – the people can contribute to building it their way), and pay for the kid’s school fees. But there was only one catch. In order to receive the goods, each person had to listen to a sermon one hour per week, and the missionary would tap a stick if someone tried to get up and leave.

Not only is this patronizing, but it’s also ironic, coming from Christians. Christians say they pray and believe in the work of the Holy Spirit, but then when it comes to the practical daily life, they’ll force people sit there and hear their word, thinking this is more likely to bring a convert. It demonstrates lack of faith.

I thought of this recently when I read Laura Parker’s post about the ethics of converting children in a foreign country. She asked us to think about if this was our children someone was trying to convert to their religion, and what if, we were the ones whose children were starving, and we lived in a country where even an elementary education cost more money than we made in a year, and what if our husband had walked out, and what if, we could not find a job, and what if, a Buddhist organization came in and offered to help, at the expense of converting our children to their religion.

In reading the comments on her blog post, one thing repeatedly struck with me. Missionaries are often sold on the idea that we have to patronize people with the gospel, or they will never believe, or they will never enter the faith, or they will go to hell.

But this is in total disregard to God’s presence. What we saw in Acts, for example, was people believing because the spirit of God moved among the people. That’s one reason I became a Calvinist back in the day. Calvinism really does take the pressure off evangelism and says the Holy Spirit is necessary for revival of the heart.

Calvinism may be oversimplified as I think there are actually many reasons people convert. But you know one of the most common reasons I get from atheists for why they don’t believe? Lack of evidence, and/or, they’ve never experienced God, so have no reason to believe.

If missionaries are really serious about the gospel, then it should be enough just to feed the little children. For the power of the gospel is in the presence of God, and if we have the presence of God, then the foreign people will know it. In turn, it speaks for itself.

If these particular missionaries do not have faith for the gospel to be known in the lives of the children without converting someone else’s kids, then it makes me pause for a minute and wonder . . . what do they believe the power of the gospel really is?

Again, I still don’t think de-converting people from their religion should not be the reason we help people, and I wish I knew how to rid missions of this motivation altogether. Nevertheless, no matter where we live in the world, Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit. We do bear God’s love. This is why seeking God’s presence as a collective whole is so important. As we know from Acts, God’s presence does not just result in belief, but it also results in much healing, and in my opinion, if there is one thing we need most, especially in western countries, it is healing.

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  • jesuswithoutbaggage

    Very good points!

    Back in my fundamentalist days the word was that the church was being attacked by the world all around us, and if we didn’t do all we could to defend God and the church–Christianity could disappear.

    Even then, my thought was that if God can’t preserve his own church he is not a very strong god. And what chance did I have to accomplish what God could not accomplish?

    • Lana Hope

      YES YES. This too. It’s more widely known now that the church is spreading in other countries (probably because of the internet), but yes. Sometimes Christians think their God is a whimp or something.

  • sgl

    seems to me the vast majority of christians believe in salvation thru correct belief, and nobody but christians (and often, only their sect) have that correct belief. so, you’ll have to convince large numbers of christians to be universalists of one sort or another, and realize that just maybe god sent a few prophets to other cultures too, and not just one tiny tribe in the levant. given the colossal battles over evolution, etc, i’d say good luck with that!

    only a small minority (my guess) of christians have any sort of universalist view like you. until the theology changes, while there may be a thin veneer of civility over it, it will always have a “turn or burn” flavor to it.

    • Lana Hope

      Your correct, and also, it’s not just protestants. Other Christian religions groups (Mormons, JWs, etc) also are on a mission to save people.

    • This has always bothered me too. Also, why is God’s plan for the Southeast Asians that they be kept in the dark for 2000 years until Western missionaries get around to them? And is it God’s plan that they be desperately poor and hungry so they are more open to the Christian message? That seems so cruel. Why wouldn’t God send another Son to save them, say, 2000 years ago? It just seems so arbitrary, cruel, and unfair…

  • Is this isolated incidents or is this the average way which missionaries conduct themselves? I like to read missionary stories but I often wonder about the untold stories that I don’t hear about because it might be dirty laundry or just not religious enough for people.

    • John, specifically what do you refer to? Most missions organizations who work with young children in extreme poverty use it as a means to spread the gospel to children. Isn’t Compassion an example? In some cases, we are dealing with orphans, and so the kids don’t have families. IN some cases, though, they have families. I don’t want to say 100%.

      • I refer to this-
        So the missions organization decided to build the people each new homes (or at least pay for the materials – the people can contribute to building it their way), and pay for the kid’s school fees. But there was only one catch. In order to receive the goods, each person had to listen to a sermon one hour per week, and the missionary would tap a stick if someone tried to get up and leave.

        • Lana Hope

          Oh, okay, well, then the answer is no. Most organizations don’t make people listen to sermons every week. I would not say “most.” But perhaps enough that this discussion should take place in our churches.

          • So then your discussions are center solely around your personal experience, correct? If so just be careful not to make it a tag effort. Sometimes we can use a certain experience and unwittingly tag others as saying they do similar and broad brush people in a negative way without realizing it. That is what I was getting from your post here.

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