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Jesus commanded his followers to go into all the world and make disciples! Later as Paul was doing that very thing, he explained that “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:22–23). Paul gave us a great example of what it means to put the message of the gospel first in our lives. Paul knew the liberty He had in Christ. He could eat or drink or follow any custom that he wanted to as long as it was not in opposition to the Word of God. He knew that it was not the outward appearance of a man that God looked at, but the inner. Paul knew this well, but he set aside some of his liberty for the sake of winning people to Christ. When he was with the Jews, he fit into their culture and he followed their ways. When he was with the gentiles, he followed their customs and ate what they ate. I believe he did whatever he could to fit into the cultural context he was in for the purpose of winning souls.
We endeavored to follow Paul’s example when we went to live among a remote tribe in Asia Pacific. As we were living among the people, we saw how they lived and what they ate and then we tried to live close to their lifestyle. We would often even eat with them in their huts. As we studied their culture, I also paid attention to the dress and mannerisms of the respected men in the community. I knew that one day I would be giving them the most important message in the world, so I wanted them to identify me as someone who had become a leader in the community and who could impart important knowledge.
To help do this I chose to take on some of their tribal look. One thing that every tribal person has is a pierced septum. The respected men would often wear a special bird beak nose piece as they stood up at feasts to tell an important announcement. Since I did not find animism associated with the pierced nose, I had them pierce my own septum and then would trade and wear the different nose ornaments. Also for the men, long hair was an important look. They wear their hair long and dreaded and then keep their dreads tucked up in a hair net. For those with really long hair, having it folded and tucked up under their hair nets, they looked as if they had a big mushroom sitting on top of their heads! I too chose to grow my hair out and kept it under a hair net. I would also wear the arm bands and beaded necklaces.
Day after day as we became more fluent in the language, and as we reached out with medicine and compassion, the tribal people began to trust us. As our four boys played each day with the tribal children and as Libby learned to prepare and cook vegetables and weave a net bag, we finally became a normal part of village life.
Finally after 2 ½ years of language and culture study, living day in and day out with the people, we had become important members of the tribal community and had earned the right to speak. We then taught them chronologically and systematically through key Old Testament stories and into the Life of Christ. When we presented the gospel, many of our tribal friends put their faith in the Lord Jesus and a church was born . . . but that story is for another time.
As Christians, I believe it is important to be students of culture wherever we are. We need to be relevant as Paul was relevant. If this means that we lay aside some of our privileges or do something out of our comfort zone, then so be it. We don’t do this for any other reason than to bring people to the Lord. We must become all things to all men for the purpose of seeing some saved! This is the responsibility of every Christian, no matter where the Lord has us.
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