We’ve been reading a book called Ethnic Realities and the Church: Lessons from Kurdistan. It is a record of mission work in Kurdistan from 1668-1990 and is packed with wisdom that is relevant to missionaries all over the world. Even the American church could stand to learn a few things from Blincoe’s research.
The book’s main idea is to show and explain the failure of Christian mission and the lessons missionaries can take from it. It is a very interesting overview of the work many brave men and women have done to reach the Kurds.
The initial mission, “the great experiment”, was to revive the ancient Christian church of the East that in their turn will share the vision and evangelize the Kurds and other Muslims in their area. It didn’t happen. The missionaries reached the existing churches and ended up working with them for years. After over a century of missionary work those churches have never adopted the love and passion for the Kurds. They openly considered them their enemies that they could never serve. To the Christians in the area the Kurds were illiterate, ignorant, good for nothing, without literature or history, a terror to the Christians, robbers, murderers. In the 20th century, the missionaries realized that they were the ones who need to go and serve the Kurds. They were not many, and the difficult living conditions, diseases, political conflicts, and hatred from Muslims often led to death of many.
The author served the Kurds himself for several years. After his research he gives several brief missiological insights and suggestions for missionaries to Kurds. He stresses the importance of “putting on Kurdish culture”, which includes language as well as other parts of the culture: Kurdish dance and music, stories and proverbs, and clothing, which is “the wrapping of their national identity”.
Since we are in a language ministry, there is one particular segment of Ethnic Realities on the importance of languages that really stood out (pp. 150-151), so we thought we’d share it here on our blog:
The years of the Depression and World War II were difficult for the [Lutheran Orient Mission Society]. Uprisings and government reprisals made movement difficult. Reverend Henry Mueller served from 1929 to 1936 in Soujbulakh as an evangelist. In 1934 Mueller reported that his ministry increased as his language ability improved:
Last winter and spring we were very largely confined to activities in the city, consisting of personal visiting among the merchants in the bazaar and with their friends in their houses at night. In turn I had more callers and visitors last winter than ever before. It is so much more interesting now and fascinating to know their tongue, rather than to be relying upon an interpreter. There is a great satisfaction in being able to sit with these mountain people, to converse quietly and confidentially, to know them heart to heart, and not as the outside world loves to brand them as a cruel and fierce people. It is vastly more general to find in all that universal craving, the hunger that centuries of Islam has failed to still. Almost unwillingly at times they are drawn by the wonderful parables so numerous in our Bible. It’s the message, the Gospel, that ever elicits attention [Jensen and Oberg, The Messengers of God, 1985:87, italics by Blincoe].
Henry Mueller is the first missionary in Kurdistan to write that he knew the Kurds “heart to heart”; what a proof that language learning unlocks the secrets of friendship and knowledge!
Wow. Missionaries started serving the Kurds in 1668 but it wasn’t until 1934 that one of them could say that he knew them ‘heart to heart.’ Knowing the local language makes a huge difference!
If you are involved in missionary work to a different culture, consider investing time in learning their history, language, and way of life to make the most of every effort you put into this work.