Each year BIMI teaches new missionaries about culture shock and cross cultural evangelism. When missionaries leave the United Sates and enter other countries, they immediately face the task of adjusting to a different culture. Their success in handling culture shock and adjusting to the new culture will go a long way in determining their effectiveness as missionaries. I made many mistakes as a missionary. However, after a few months I was able to adjust. Things that seemed very strange at first eventually became common place. Wives always riding in the back seat of a car, the husband sounding the horn as he returned from work and the wife responding to open the gate then open the car door for her husband—these and many other Japanese customs became the norm.
When we started the church in Osaka, I determined in my mind that we would do everything we could in accordance with the Japanese customs—as long as we did not have to violate any biblical principles. In other words, we were not trying to build an American type church, but a biblical church in Japan. I knew that when the leadership was transferred to the Japanese believers they would not be comfortable with an American type church.
In the early days of my ministry, I pastored a church that was over 100 years old. Every time there were decisions to be made, I would always hear from some of the members how “brother whoever did it.” As I would meet with the emerging leaders of the church in Japan about decisions that needed to be made, I would often be asked, “What does the Bible say about this?” There was no one before me to refer back to. That was a wonderful position.
The missionary does not go to a country to change their culture but to win souls, disciple believers, and establish biblical churches. If there are things in their culture that are totally anti-biblical the missionary should use his or her influence to change that. When William Carey went to India they had a custom of binding the widow of a man who had died to his corpse and burning the live widow with the body of the dead man. Through the years, he was able to influence the government to make this horrible practice illegal.
In Japan, even though the number of Christians is small, they have had some good influence in the culture. This is good. But that is not the ultimate purpose of the missionary. Regardless of the culture, as one is filled with the Holy Spirit, God will give wisdom as to what to do and what not to do in a certain situation.
When new missionaries go to another country, they would do well to work with a veteran missionary or a national pastor in order to learn how to minister in that particular culture. Regardless of the culture, all men everywhere are sinners. The Word of God is powerful and will do its work in any culture.
One of the greatest compliments ever paid to me was on a trip when I was the only American. During the trip they began to laugh about some of the ways that Americans did things. One of them said “Teacher Sisk is an American, we shouldn’t be laughing at Americans.” Another replied, “He is American on the outside but Japanese on the inside.” We should do all that we can without violating Biblical truth to be like the ones we are trying to win.