Do You See It? Learning to See Across Cultures

The West African national pastor walked confidently in a straight line across the open, bare field. There were no fences or markers that I could see, yet he told me we were walking right along the border of land to be purchased for a new training center.

Finally, I stopped and said, “Wait a minute! How do you know this is the boundary line of this property?”

My good friend stopped, looked at me, chuckled, and said, “Can’t you see it?”

"No," I responded somewhat exasperated. “It's an empty field. There is nothing to see!”

“That is not true,” he said. “You must have eyes that see it. You are not seeing correctly.”

Then he began to open my eyes to see in a whole new way. He pointed to a few dried-out plants standing in a row about 20 feet ahead that we were headed toward. Then he pointed out we were walking straight toward them along a very slight, almost imperceptible ridge in the ground. And he pointed back to another short row of stubble behind us, also on the same ridge. Yes, now that he pointed it out I could see a sort of line, but what was it?

Line in the Sand

A living fence
It was what remained of a living fence that had marked the boundary of this land some time ago. A living fence is made by digging a trench and filling it with fresh-cut branches. Then the trench is filled in with dirt and watered heavily for a few weeks. Slowly, the branches begin to root and form a living fence line. In the picture below, the horizontal line of dry brush in the middle of the picture is an example of a living fence in the dry season.

Why use fresh cut branches? You can’t use fence posts (no treated posts available here!) as we know them because they will be quickly destroyed by termites. But termites won’t eat fresh branches or living plants and that makes a living fence very effective. And even after it dies out, it leaves a faint but discernable line in the soil—if you have eyes to see it.

My friend continued to educate my eyes. “Do you see that dark green tree there? Do you know what that means? It means there is good water on this land.”

“Ah, yes,” I said. “And that is the same kind of tree over there about 25 yards to the left, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” he responded. “Your eyesight is improving.” Later my friend pointed out another kind of tree that means there is salt in the land, a common problem in this low delta region.

After walking further, he pointed to a bit of a mound of dirt and plant material. “Here is the corner. Can you see where we go from here?” It took a moment, but yes, there in the sun-parched soil, I could make out the faint boundary line. My friend chuckled again and said, “Very good. Soon we will make you into a good farmer.”

The missionary’s dilemma
It is one thing to look at a situation but it is quite another to see with understanding. It is one thing to hear what is spoken, it is another to listen with understanding.

This is the missionary’s dilemma. We come to a new scene or situation in a culture we do not know and we look with western eyes. We try to associate what we see with what we know from our home culture. But often, we cannot see anything we understand. It is all too easy to conclude that there is nothing to see.

We need help to understand. We need new eyes to see correctly, new ears to hear. And that is one of the most difficult jobs of being a missionary. And it’s no different when we’re at home.

It’s a challenge to listen to a neighbor from another culture or lifestyle or even a loved one. Ultimately, it is God-given compassion for the other person that motivates us to work hard at seeing and hearing with real understanding. Ultimately it is the Spirit of God who must give us new eyes and ears to do His work.

“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him …

“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. — Luke 24:13-16 & 28-31 (ESV)

Lord, teach us to see.

*Last name withheld for security reasons. 

Richard* in Muslim Ministry West Africa Reflection on May 15, 2017

Subscribe to MTW Online

Please login to continue
Forgot your password?
Recover it here.
Don't have an account?
Create an Account

Register for a Free Account

Name
Email
Choose Password
Confirm Password

GET INVOLVED

West Africa Medical Mission
Trips - 1 to 3 weeks
Hospital Administrator
Longer
Physician
Longer
Evangelist
Longer
HELP REFUGEES IN ATHENS, GREECE
Trips - 1 to 3 weeks
Mercy Ministry in Nicaragua
Trips - 1 to 3 weeks

The Question

From a children’s home in West Africa came the earnest question: “May we be baptized please?”

SEE MORE

Does It Matter How We Communicate the Gospel?

The disciples “spoke in such a way” that many believed. But if God alone draws people to Himself, does it even matter how we communicate?

SEE MORE

Addressing the Problem of Dependency

Local believers said they hadn’t felt listened to, they'd just been told what to do. When we saw them in a new light, everything changed.

SEE MORE

Medical Missions Overview: A Video

MTW medical trips help churches by providing medical clinics as an outreach and to help with church-planting efforts. Watch and learn more.

SEE MORE

Five Ways to Mobilize Your Church Members for Unreached People Groups

If you want your church to grow in passion for unreached people groups, immerse them in the Bible, and show them God’s grand story.

SEE MORE

"Can We Say that Jesus Is God?"

As a young Muslim man studies the Bible for himself, he encounters the unmistakable divinity of Christ.

SEE MORE

Pray for the girls living at the Presbyterian girls home in West Africa. Many of them are coming to faith and asking to be baptized!

Pray for Muslims who are investigating the truths of Christ in the Bible to come to the conclusion that He is God.

Pray for missionaries to remain faithful in the mundane and not get caught up in striving to perform for the praise of others. 

Pray for three Rohingya refugee boys, taught by an MTW missionary in Southeast Asia, who have now immigrated to the U.S. Pray they will come to know Christ!

Please pray. The West African nation of Gambia is witnessing its largest anti-government protests in more than 15 years. Local partners are asking for prayer. Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh has declared a state of emergency, days before he was supposed to cede power after losing elections last month.

Pray specifically for the refugees in Berlin who our missionaries are building relationships. Pray that these refugees would come to faith if they do not know Christ.

Please pray for the refugees in Metro Atlanta we are seeking to serve. Pray they would know the love of Christ.

Pray for refugees in Greece to find safe haven. Pray for our missionaries seeking to serve them well.

Pray for MTW's ministry to refugees in Greece, Germany, Ukraine, Uganda, Panama, and the U.S.

Pray for unreached people around the world who have little to no access to the gospel.