Sermon illustrations

Cross-Cultural Experience

Becoming Aware of Our Lenses

In their excellent book Misreading Scripture with Western EyesE. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien share the importance of recognizing the lens through which see the world:

We speak as insiders, and this has its own challenges. We speak as white, Western males. In fact, we always speak as white. Western males. Everything either of us has ever written has come from the perspective of middle-class, white males with a traditionally Western education. There’s really nothing we can do about that except be aware of and honest about it. That said, we write as white.

Western males who have been chastened to read the Bible through the eyes of our non-Western sisters and brothers in the Lord. For example, I (Randy) remember grading my first multiple choice exam in Indonesia. I was surprised by how many students left answers unmarked. So I asked the first student when handing back exams, “Why didn’t you select an answer on question number three?”

The student looked up and said, “I didn’t know the answer. “You should have at least guessed,” I replied. He looked at me, appalled. “What if I accidentally guessed the correct answer? I would be implying that I knew the answer when I didn’t. That would be lying!”

Taken from Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien Copyright (c) 2012 by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Grievous Sin

In 1988, I (Randy) moved with my wife and two sons (ages two and eight weeks) from Texas to Sulawesi, an island north of Australia and south of the Philippines. We served as missionaries to a cluster of islands in eastern Indonesia until returning in 1996…While in Indonesia, I taught in a small, indigenous Bible college and worked with churches scattered from Borneo to Papua.

One day, I was sitting in a hut with a group of church elders from a remote island village off the coast of Borneo. They asked my opinion about a thorny church issue. A young couple had relocated to their village many years before because they had committed a grievous sin in their home village. For as long as they had resided here, they had lived exemplary lives of godliness and had attended church faith fully. Now, a decade later, they wanted to join the church.

“Should we let them?” asked the obviously troubled elders. Attempting to avoid the question, I replied, “Well, what grievous sin did they commit?”

The elders were reluctant to air the village’s dirty laundry before a guest, but finally one of them replied, “They married on the run.”

In America, we call that eloping.

“That’s it?” I blurted out. “What was the sin?”

Quite shocked, they stared at this young (and foolish) missionary and asked, “Have you never read Paul?”

I certainly thought I had. My Ph.D. was in Paul. They reminded me that Paul told believers to obey their parents (Eph 6:1). They were willing to admit that everyone makes mistakes. We don’t always obey.

But surely one should obey in what is likely the most important decision of his or her life: choosing a spouse. I suddenly found myself wondering if I had, in fact, ever really read Paul. My “American Paul” clearly did not expect his command to include adult children deciding whom to marry. Moreover, it was clear that my reading (or misreading?) had implications for how I counseled church leaders committed to faithful and obedient discipleship.

Taken from Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien Copyright (c) 2012 by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Natomo & Wu Family Photographs

Members of the Natomo family sit on the flat roof of their mud house in Mali, Africa, posing for their early morning photograph. Their earthly belongings are arrayed in front of them. Two kettles, plastic water containers, woven baskets, an assortment of agricultural tools, and a fishing net can be identified among the objects. Their village has no electricity, paved roads, or cars, but a battery operated radio sits at the father’s feet, and behind him on the roof is his transportation: a bicycle.

The portrait of the Wu family from China differs significantly as seven members of the extended family stare into the camera from their perches in a long, narrow boat that floats on the fish pond beside their home. The two adult sons, adorned in hip waders, stand in the shallow water at opposite ends of their vessel. A coffee table in the middle of the bobbing boat, a TV precariously bounced upon it. Other household possessions are staged on shore in front of the Wu’s home-bicycles, electric fans, a guitar, clothing, a sewing machine, a rice cooker, a table, a sofa, and dinnerware. The image evokes the impression of moderate prosperity achieved through diligence and industry.

I first encountered these captivating portraits while waiting for an international flight in Chicago. The art exhibit featured families from around the world, sitting in front of their homes, surrounded by their possessions. The pictures were part of a project envisioned by photojournalist Peter Menzel, who desired to capture the lifestyles of average families around the globe. His book Material World leads us on a photographic journey into the lives and possessions of families from thirty countries.”

Jeff Manion, Satisfied, Zondervan.

The Power of Privilege

In January 1999 I was flying on Saudi Arabian Airlines from Mumbai, India, to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and then onward to London. I arrived at the Mumbai airport to find a long line. Perhaps seventy-five people were waiting to check in, and nearly every one was an Indian man with a very small suitcase…

Like all lines in India, this one was packed closely together, and we were all sweating in the mid-day heat. But I was fairly sure the plane would not take off without us, so I was in no great hurry. As the single ticket agent checked in each traveler at the far-off counter, I prepared myself for a long wait. I had been in line for under five minutes when the agent came out from behind the counter, walked down the line until he came to my spot, and said, “Come with me.” When you’re several thousand miles from home and an airline agent says that, you obey…

So I followed him, up to the front of the line, past all seventy-five Indian men with their suitcases…Without another word he took my passport, examined it, printed out a boarding pass, and said, “You may go.”…

When I realized that I had just been singled out and effectively ordered to cut in line, I was shocked, not to mention embarrassed. I felt a momentary urge to make a small speech…“I didn’t ask for this!…Flushed with surprise and embarrassment, I could not detect the slightest surprise or discomfort in that line of men.

It gradually dawned on me that not only were they not surprised that I had been ushered to the front of the line—they had expected it the moment I arrived. They knew about something I was only beginning to understand: the power of privilege.

Andy Crouch Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, InterVarsity Press.

What Are We Missing?

I once heard the missionary author Elisabeth Elliot tell of accompanying the Auca woman Dayuma from her jungle home in Ecuador to New York City. As they walked the streets, Elliot explained cars, fire hydrants, sidewalks, and red lights. Dayuma’s eyes took in the scene, but she said nothing. Elliot next led her to the observation platform atop the Empire State Building, where she pointed out the tiny taxi cabs and people on the streets below.

Again, Dayuma said nothing. Elliot could not help wondering what kind of impression modern civilization was making. Finally, Dayuma pointed to a large white spot on the concrete wall and asked, “What bird did that?” At last she had found something she could relate to. I have visited the tip of Argentina, the region named Tierra del Fuego (“land of fire”) by Magellan’s explorers, who noticed fires burning on shore.

The natives tending the fires, however, paid no attention to the great ships as they sailed through the straits. Later, they explained that they had considered the ships an apparition, so different were they from anything seen before. They lacked the experience, even the imagination, to decode evidence passing right before their eyes. And we who built the skyscrapers in New York, who build today not just galleons but space stations and Hubble telescopes that peer to the very edge of the universe, what about us? What are we missing? What do we not see, for lack of imagination or faith?

Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World Zondervan, 2003, pp. 17-18.

When Helping Hurts: An American in the Philippines

An American woman visiting the Philippines, observed an elderly woman on the outskirts of Manila. She looked poverty-stricken and walked with the help of a cane down into a ditch alongside a  main road. The American observed the woman struggling and assumed she needed help.

As she approached the elderly woman, the woman began to shake her cane at the American, hurling curse words and a barrage of threats. While somewhat unsure of the situation, the American continued to pursue the woman. It was not until she got close enough that she realized her mistake: the woman was not in trouble, she was just attempting to have her daily “bathroom” visit in peace without the help of an over-anxious, do-gooder American.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material: Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer

See also Illustrations on Culture, The Missional Church, Missions, Western Culture, Worldview