Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Missions, Bible College Style

In Bible College I had to memorize, in order, every city in all of Paul's missionary journeys. At the time it seemed like an insanely pointless amount of information. Thus, I chose to boycott. So much so that when it came time to take the test I scored a mere 67%. With that I think I schooled that professor, don't you?

(In all fairness, I now see the error in my thinking. I was a junior year youth ministry major. It wasn't until my senior year that I discovered that teenage substance abuse directly correlates to Paul's missionary voyage to Macedonia. Who knew?)

Speaking of missions, my junior year I signed up to take a class called Cross Cultural Communication. The professor teaching this course was stellar. He was a cultural anthropologist, an expert in Hebrew culture, and a contributor to the footnotes of the NIV Study Bible. He was one of those professors who could rock a tweed blazer and smelled like a cross between Greek mythology and black coffee. He was cool. Unfortunately, when that semester rolled around, he was called away to the Holy Land to unearth something amazing. Much to my chagrin I got to unearth something equally amazing: his craptastic replacement, Professor Laffy Taffy.

He was not an anthropologist. He was not an expert on culture. But he did have missions experience: one month in England in the mid 80s. That's right, my friends. Laffy. Taffy.

He began his first lecture by laying the foundation for over seas missions: "clothing the natives." (his words, not mine) He was convinced that no matter what a person's culture dictated, no one could accept Jesus without being dressed. Especially women. He called it offensive and disrespectful to God.

As one class bled into another (and I say "bled" as in slow and painful torture) this lecture became a regular touch point for him. My toes curled every time. The text we were reading for the course opposed such philosophy, but I'm not sure he read the text. Or could. (Okay. That's bad and I apologize in advance.)

About three-quarters of the way through the semester we had a guest speaker. He was a lifelong missionary to a secluded people group in Africa. He was now retired and came to share his life story. He described, in vivid detail, medical missions and Bible translation. His story was fascinating. He ended by opening floor to our questions.

I raised my hand. (Like I need to tell you where this is going...) Though the details are sketchy, here's what I asked: "Given your career as a missionary I'm hoping you could shed light on an issue for me. When sharing the love of Christ with unreached people groups is it necessary that the women cover their nakedness in order to accept the Gospel?"

He grinned and related the following story.

When he and his wife first began their ministry in Africa a large portion of their financial support came from one particular church. He frequently sent that congregation letters to update them on how his work was progressing. On one occasion he sent several photos. The women of the church were horrified to see the women of that tribe were naked from the waist up. In response to the ungodly, offensive nature of the native women the church banned together to collect t-shirts for each one. The shirts were then sent to the missionary - as a surprise - for those impoverished women.

Several weeks later the missionary sent another letter to the church. In it he enclosed a photo. He relayed that the women were overjoyed with the colorful t-shirts. So much so, they CUT SPECIAL HOLES IN THEM SO THEY COULD WEAR THEM AND STILL FEED THEIR CHILDREN. The picture showed a large group of smiling African women wearing new t-shirts - with the front cut out.

Then he said: "Ironically enough, many of these women went on to accept Christ, with or without their new t-shirts."

I graduated over 10 years ago from Bible college. Those 4 years cost me about $30,000. Every time I get to tell this story I think it's worth every penny.

So what about you? What kind of shirt are you wearing today??








21 comments:

vanilla said...

What am I wearing today? Bible college sweatshirt.

Stacy, that is probably the best missions story I have ever encountered and I've heard a lot of them.

Amazing, isn't it, how a decade or so after the fact we truly begin to understand the value of that tuition expenditure?

Mandy Bache Leech said...

Stacy, that was awesome. I cried I laughed so hard, and then I called mom and read it to her and she did the same. Love that that church thought they were doing something good for those women, but really those women probably (hopefully) taught that church a VERY important lesson. Love it. :)

teamstrand said...

awesome. ironically, I am wearing a shirt with the front cut off.

Emily said...

That is priceless! In our attempts to meet someone else's needs, we had better make sure that it isn't really our needs we are really fulfilling.

Kemma said...

Heh. Instead of a wardrobe malfunction, it was a wardrobe well-function.
I think Laffy Taffy studied under the same tutors as my Aunt. In her church, they did a lot of outreach, and whenever a woman would come to the Lord, the ladies of the church would give her a skirt... "so she could serve". Because you can't serve Jesus if you're wearing trousers. Hmmm? Men were given a tie.
(and now, because all the cool kids are doing it...)
word verification: husemiz.
n. Woman who takes care of home and hearth. >modern vernacular. syn: Housewife. "Who keeps me lookin' so fly? Why it's my husemiz. And she's servin' me in her skirt"

Tasty said...

This makes me unreasonably happy!

Marni said...

That is an awesome story! I hope the photos gently taught the church ladies a lesson. Likely not, but I can hope right?

I'm dealing with a group right now who reaches out to underpriviledged, undereducated women who've had involvement with the Family Courts system and/or Child Protective Services. We teach them job skills, but more importantly we show them the Living God of the Bible. It's a great ministry. Until...some of the church ladies get the idea that you have to be not poor, have common sense, innately know how to parent properly, not smoke, not live with your boyfriend, not practice witchcraft before you come before God for salvation.

(Great Big Sigh) Because God came to save those of us who are sinless and have our lives completely together...

Given that, I would wear a shirt that says "You suck! But Jesus Loves You".

Dog snob said...

Haha, that's funny right there..

Anonymous said...

hope they showed those pictures as slides during the missions slide show at the end of the summer........

Neyhart said...

I love reading your blog :)
And I really love that you called him Mr. Laffy Taffy :)

Neyhart said...

oh, as for what I'm wearing? a tee-shirt I got when I was on a Christian retreat out in Colorado.

Mella DP said...

That's just gallons of awesome.

(I'm wearing a brown sweater, as frontless t-shirts would be a little breezy in Chicago this time of year.)

Beth said...

What am I wearing? Nursing bra. (and a sweater, but that's less funny.) What am I doing? FEEDING MY CHILD while catching up on blogs. Ha! Maybe I should see this as a sign that I need to be a missionary in Africa....Sorry guys. Too much info, I know, I know...send me some t-shirts...

eireann said...

that cracks me up.

and i'm wearing three shirts today, specially for professor laffy taffy. a camisole, a blouse, and a sweater. and a bra. (and i'm still cold.)

eastern ky pastor said...

did Mr. Laffy Taffy think that the God who knows the very hair on your head, the One who knit us together in our mother's womb, would not know what the rest of you was like? Amazing.

Why must we have a double standard about salvation? We acknowledge that there is no deed we can do to earn salvation and then turn around and expect other sinful people to clean up before coming to Christ. Why must we think that Jesus is actually an American and thus all other cultures must be heretical?

I better stop now, before I get myself in trouble.

sara said...

That was fantastic. Laugh-out-loud fantastic.

Skerrib said...

I'm covered three times over, cuz it was a little chilly outside.

Awesome and fantastic story. I always enjoy real stories of missions, contrasted with stateside assumptions and prejudices (my own included). LOVED cool-guest-speaker's response. =)

Rick the Polonian said...

My mom just heard a missionary talking about how he witnesses to those "mohawked tattoed types."

She was rolling with laughter because I got my tattos and mohawk after I came to the Lord.

Apparently, the "change of heart, change of wardrobe" is a cross-cultural inaccuracy.

Word.

Raw Faith Real World said...

Years ago I used to produce multi-media / video projects. One of them was for Wycliffe Bible Translators. I got the opportnity to go through their photo files looking for images we could use in the show. I found some great shots of various people groups. Some of them were the shots of the topless women. I found quite a few too of native women wearing bras as tops and I thought it was weird at the time... you have now shed light on a great mystery.

Jeff said...

You owe me a new keyboard and monitor.

OH - I'm wearing a secular university sweatshirt... because the crap they sell to represent my alma mater doesn't hold up for more than one season...

Tou and David said...

You must have gone to an independent Christian Church/Church of Christ school, eh? Or maybe you go to Southeast now?

We have done it so wrong for so long. Memorizing the cities... not that it's a bad thing... but the things we bypass for others!

Jesus sent out fishermen he discipled--not pharisees he had taught.