Overcoming Cultural Barriers

The native american indian reservation in our area has been an ongoing concern of churches and ministries here. The issues of racism and culture clash in our region are between the native american people and the white people. While most people might not want to perpetuate the us/them mentality, history has created a cultural barrier that seems nearly impossible to overcome.First let me be clear that I have no experience in ministry to native americans. I speak simply as a concerned believer, raised in the midst of this aspect of racism in our culture, frustrated with the reality of the barriers that exist.

Outsiders often come in to this region critical of the fact that the church has done nothing about ministering to the poverty and need on the reservation. However, the reality is that there have been and continue to be many attempts to serve and to help.

Quite a few years ago, I remember listening to a native american pastor explain the frustration of preaching the gospel because it is rejected as the white man’s gospel.The damage that has been done to their identity as a people is so great. There are no easy answers. I pray that someone can inspire them with a message of dignity, opportunity, and hope that will allow them to reframe their story and their identity in the light of the gospel.

In the meantime, there is so much to learn and mentalities to be confronted in becoming a person who understands authentic ministry that is missional and incarnational rather than condescending and imperialistic.

This short video seemed appropriate to the situation.

(ht:Backyard Missionary)


12 thoughts on “Overcoming Cultural Barriers

  1. Grace,

    Great video. Huge problem. Thanks for bringing it up.

    I facilitate mission work in the 10/40 Window. I see so many “missionaries” who struggle with this imperialistic mentality even though they often don’t realize it. I see many issues; just two of which are:

    1. Most of us don’t really know how much of what we call church is cultural and how much is Scriptural, so we end up exporting what we know.

    2. Most of us don’t know how to disciple people in other cultures, meaning we don’t know how to teach them to trust the Holy Spirit to be their teacher and to guide them to all truth. Perhaps this is because we don’t know how to trust the Holy Spirit ourselves, or… Perhaps we don’t really trust the Holy Spirit to guide them to the truth as we see it.

    Anyway, my experience has been that this is a major issue in missions. My hope and prayer is that more folks will catch a vision for trusting the Holy Spirit to build the church in each culture as the Spirit desires. My hope and prayer is that we will allow the Spirit to teach us to trust him and the simple gospel so we can stay out of his way and see the kingdom come among the unreached.

    Until ALL Have Heard,


  2. I don’t know if this will be helpful to you, but I heard a man named Richard Twiss (He’s Lakota/Sioux) speak at Off-the-Map. He is President of Wiconi, an organization designed as a ministry bridge-builder between Native and Non-Native people. Primarily I think he wants to work with people to spread the message of Jesus to First Nations people without aiming to “liberate” them from their native culture.

    Can I post HTML links in WordPress? Anyhow, if you Google Wiconi, it should be the first hit you get.

  3. I heard Richard Twiss as well, and he is an excellent resource for learning.
    I live in a town that is half-native, and I want to know how to help…how to bless.
    Richard said alot about respect. Respect their culture….respect them. Be willing to learn from them…love them in their language, so to speak.
    I have much to learn….

  4. Excellent post. Such an important issue for the church in North America. I read an excellent book (well, I confess, not the whole thing, but I will finish it one day) that was an excellent historical narrative of the Native American experience. It was called “In a Barren Land: American Indian Dispossession and Survival.” As I read, I kept wondering to myself, “How come I didn’t learn anything about this is school?” I also live near a reservation and got the book out of a desire to learn more, with the hope of doing something… not sure what yet. I don’t know – it is hard to help uninvited, especially considering all the historical and racial baggage. But maybe I can pray…

  5. The main problem (which the video points out) is that many want to make others into our image rather than make disciples of Christ. In other words, we want Mini-Me’s rather than little Christs. This is because we confuse sharing religion with sharing Christ.
    We are called to share the gospel wherever we go (unto the ends of the earth) and so if one is called by God to another culture, I don’t see a problem with that. It is when we share our agenda versus God’s Good News that we get into problems.

  6. Eric,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your voice of experience in this area.

    Trusting the Holy Spirit is a key issue. Overall, beyond just missions, I don’t believe the church has trusted in the Holy Spirit’s abilities for transformation and discipleship.

    Erin and Che,
    I believe that Richard has been in our area before. Respect would be an obviously important value. Also, what Che added about also being willing to learn and receive would favorably affect our attitude and demeanor in serving.

    I can certainly relate to the feeling of being under-informed and ill-equipped to approach the situation.

    Very important point that we understand and share the gospel rather than attempting to export the cultural trappings of our religion.

  7. I had an opportunity to travel to a number of native reservations in September, shooting a video documentary about a Fresh I.E. ministry tour (www.freshie.ca). I was blown away by the brokennes I witnessed in these communities, but at the same time they youth are so hungry for hope, change and purpose in their lives.

    There is an opportunity for ministry to these people, but few seem to get through to these youth.

    Ministries and social services have been tried over the years in these communities, but as you say, they have been from a “white man” worldview. I agree that we need a new culturally informed and equipped approach in these communities…..

  8. Eric,
    Honestly, I think the answer will be in finding the “men and women of peace” within their communities and finding effective ways to come alongside in support and encouragement of their leadership and ministry. I believe due to the history, presenting the gospel and discipleship are a challenge even for an indigenous leader. As I think about it, I wonder if they will have a “Martin Luther,” someone who can inspire hope and dignity.

  9. Cultural sensitivity can be overanalyzed sometimes to the point of paranoia. We look at the plight of those less fortunate than us & we begin to feel ashamed for our own situation…

    If one really is motivated by the love of God, it will be communicated through whatever cultural flavor it is infused with. That does not mean one does not adapt or respect or learn about the other culture being reached, but remember, “love does indeed cover a multitude of sins…”

    I cannot be responsible for the other culture’s prejudice & bias & suspicion of my motives or methods. They also have some baggage to dispense of if we have any chance of interacting…

    I am not responsible for all the white man’s atrocities committed against the Native Peoples of North America. My family going back many generations did not own African American slaves. I am not a victim of being their problem. They have enough of their own before projecting anything onto me.

    Yet all of these issues need to be addressed, especially if any significant inter-cultural exchange is going to happen.

    Being despised for being white, middle class, educated & living the American dream (my apologies to the Canadian posters) is as much of a hurdle as the awkward attempts at extending some form of help to those less fortunate. Let’s be real. God is more than aware of the situation & the pride problem is extensive on both sides of the cultural divide.

    It may not be possible to accommodate one thing some Native Peoples want: simply have all white people go back to Europe & return the lands back to the original inhabitants. Or turning over all thriving businesses that have been established on former Native lands.

    For indigenous peoples, overcoming their own negative self-image something that only God can effectively accomplish. And the unfortunate history of how westernized Christianity was thrust upon them in the past cannot be ignored. That must be addressed & repented of if possible. The gospel must be presented as mankind’s best hope, not just the white man’s way. But if you are white it will be a realistic hurdle to overcome.

    I think genuine interest in their culture a big part of establishing rapport, but I would not think getting together for a couple of beers (alcoholic concerns) or shooting some hoops (basketball) would be appropriate. Maybe befriending Native Peoples in such a way that both parties would be comfortable is something needing Holy Spirit guidance, insight & fresh revelation…

  10. Joseph,
    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I found them very interesting. There are aspects of this cultural barrier that are dependent on change in the hearts and attitudes of the native people, while at the same time we are aware of the reality of the hurdle that must be overcome. Definitely a situation that could use some Holy Spirit wisdom and intervention.

  11. Rejection of the white man’s religion is legitimate, just look at the History of Christian religion. All the bloody wars since Christ. And what good did Christianity do for the Natives? It separated families, when children were taken to boarding schools it did nothing to bond children with their families, their native community and they loose their cultural identity as a result. And why so many denominations? It’s just common sense!

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