–Originally published on FWB21 August 29, 2011–
We are busily preparing for a move to the mountains of North Carolina to attend the Center for Intercultural Training with our teammates. One of the textbooks we are reading in preparation for class opens with an excellent illustration on the importance of contextualization and cross-cultural training, so I thought I’d share it with you.

A typhoon had temporarily stranded a monkey on an island. In a secure, protected place, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and in need of assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish.

A tree precariously dangled over the very spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down, and snatched the fish from the threatening waters. Immediately scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature. (Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Connections, 14.)

We certainly don’t want to act like that monkey! Cross-cultural training prepares and informs us in order to minimize damaging behavior that may result from acting out of ignorance. Here are Elmer’s thoughts on the story:

First, the monkey was courageous, had good intentions and noble motives. He also had zeal. However, his motives were misdirected because of his ignorance–he could not see beyond his own frame of reference. He believed what was dangerous for him was dangerous for the fish. Therefore, what would be good for him would also be good for the fish–a crucial assumption. As a result, he acted out of his ignorance or limited frame of reference, and ended up doing damage rather than the good he intended. Unfortunately, the monkey may not even have known the damage he did, because he may have walked away leaving the fish “resting.”

Why Bother?

We bother because we do not want to be “monkeys.” Because the eternity of people is at stake, we want to be the best possible representatives of Christ. If people refuse to become followers of Jesus, we hope it will not be because we were obnoxious, reckless, sloppy, irresponsible, ill-prepared–or because we were well-meaning but badly informed “monkeys.” We can do better. (Elmer, 15-16)

God, help us do better!