Editor’s note: This is the first article in a three-part series on “The Only Cause That Counts.” Click here for the next article in the series and here for the final article.
Think for a moment about the many intersections that are part of your life. I have lived my whole life in the midst of intersections of language, culture and faith, which make me hungry to understand how the gospel relates to these places.
I was born into a large Swiss extended family in Argentina. My parents’ colleagues and our neighbors were friends from Sweden, Finland, Germany, England, Spain, Italy and the United States. We all lived in the center of what was then the fifth largest city in the world. There were always people around me — at home, at play, at church — who needed translators, and I realized early on that translators were not just translating words. Multiple times, I heard translators re-interpreting what foreigners had said. Many times, the interpreter wouldn’t even translate because it would be considered crazy talk cross-culturally. I grew up understanding that what makes sense in one culture doesn’t necessarily make sense in another one. Missing important cues in cross-cultural intersections can cause pain and confusion, even among people who love each other and want the best for each other.
Yet I saw the gospel spread! People met Christ in Buenos Aires, and later started house churches as they shared their faith. Later, as a young pastor, I planted a church in Rochester, New York, mainly made up of Cuban refugees. Churches started in Cuba because people I had led to Christ paid exorbitant prices to visit their families in Cuba, so they could share Jesus with them. I saw firsthand that the gospel transforms everything. It moves like fire through cultural and cross-cultural networks. In my first pastoral assignment, people from the church who had little knowledge (except that Jesus Christ had changed their lives) communicated the gospel in Belize and Puerto Rico and saw their extended families changed by God’s power. But I also saw how common and how painful cross-cultural miscommunication could be, even among people who loved the Lord and wanted to see His kingdom advance.
I realized that to become an effective and responsible participant in God’s mission, I had to pull back many layers and get to the core of the gospel. To me, if the gospel and the church didn’t make sense at places of intersection, they just didn’t make sense. I remember reading one of my husband Paul’s books for a seminary course that explained the word “missiology.” That moment, I realized it was describing me. I understood that if I wanted to be greatly used by God, I needed to get a proper missiology for the church.
Missiology is all about intersections. It is the discipline of communicating Christian faith cross-culturally. It made sense to me, because it gave me language to understand my own spiritual journey. It gave me frameworks for how to build on what was happening in Cuba, Belize and Puerto Rico because of our ministry, even though Paul and I had not yet been there. Missiology helped me understand how I could become a responsible participant in God’s mission in the midst of cultural complexity and social change.
Missiology became my scaffolding to organize everything in my brain as I did ministry and dreamed about a better future for my corner of the church. It has been such an important tool for me, that I am now passionate about teaching and sharing it with others.
The world needs more Christians who know how to engage their own communities and cultures from a proper missiology for the mission of the church. Understanding missiology helps Christians to communicate their faith so that others are attracted to commit their lives to Christ, and to develop more leaders to do the same. If you are hungry to understand how Christian faith relates to the intersections in your life, read my next post for a deeper explanation of missiology.
Delia Nüesch-Olver is the Latin America Area director for Free Methodist World Missions. She began this role in 2008 after 35 years of ministry experience as a cross-cultural church planter and pastor. She also served as a professor of global urban mission at Seattle Pacific University. She is an ordained elder and has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology.1