Paul preached at Thessalonica for 3 weeks before leaving the area because of persecution (Acts 17:1-10). When he left, a solid church was planted whose faith was spoken of throughout the world (1 Thess. 1:8). Yet, churchplanters in the poor parts of the world often find that unusual difficulties attend their labors such that the work often takes a longer time. Here are a list of 14 difficulties that we have found over the last decade.
- Literacy: Many people struggle with reading either in actually pronouncing the sounds, or in a heritage that enjoys and values recorded ideas.
- Vocabulary: Languages spoken in poor areas often lack basic words for abstract ideas. For example, Xitsonga does not have words for “right” or “wrong.”
- Communication: The missionary’s and the people’s categories of thought are usually dramatically different. And the missionary’s accent is often thicker than the maize meal they ate for lunch.
- Character: Poorer cultures usually do not have a heritage impressed with the Bible and a Protestant work ethic.
- Escape to the cities: Many people go to the cities. Often the most gifted—the kinds of people a missionary would want to train as a church leader—gravitate toward the centers where jobs are available.
- Finances: People often struggle to buy Bibles, procure building materials for a church building, and support a pastor.
- Religion: Most Africans in the rural areas view life through an animistic lens. Good and bad are assumed to have come from some interaction with spirits rather than as the direct plan of God or the consequences of choices. Since the spirits are limited (not infinite), then good things are necessarily limited as well. This produces jealousy, fatalism, and economic despair. Then getting back to the linguistic categories mentioned above, animism does not have a place for personal guilt, atonement, or repentance.
- Heresy: The Christianity in most of sub-Saharan Africa is some form of the prosperity gospel. This is a false religion, not merely another Christian denomination.
- Globalization: Because of technology, religious terms and superficial affiliations are spread widely. However, this has only inoculated people from the truth not prepared them for the gospel.
- Fatherlessness: Few families have a father at home. Whatever character a father is supposed to cultivate in his children is largely lost. Since the world is an interconnected web, when you remove one strand (in this case fathers), it mars the integrity, usefulness, and beauty of the whole system.
- Immorality: Marital intimacy has been so profaned that there aren’t really categories for anger or outrage at fornication.
Did people in the first century face these same difficulties? Yes, in some form or other, but in degree, these weights are intensified for today’s missionary. Let future missionaries be forewarned and thus forearmed. Let those holding the ropes pray with knowledge.