Thursday, May 24, 2012
Happy Birthday Buddha. Part Three.
In my last post I attempted to make the case that we need to develop specialized training for Christian missionaries in East Asia working among Buddhists. After writing and publishing my post I read an article by Dr. David J. Hesselgrave for the International Journal of Frontier Missions entitled 'Reaching Japanese Buddhists, Where do we start if we want to do better?' (PDF) which affirmed what I had written, but also made the case much better than I had done (while also taking a shot at the field of studies I pursued as a graduate student).
A pretty challenging quote from the article: "What are the prospects for more specialized training? Currently, missionary education is in flux. In addition to those changes referred to previously there is a trend toward re-naming the discipline itself. Mission studies are now becoming “intercultural studies” in various schools. Valid reasons can be adduced for the change. But if we have learned anything about words it is that they are not just labels, just “sound and smoke,” as some would have us believe. They have their own power. It will prove difficult to re-name the discipline without reforming the offerings. In all likelihood the tendency will be to shortchange biblical/theological/religious studies while strengthening the study of culture and culture-related subjects. If so, intensive study of mission theology (which has been fairly important in the past) will be neglected. And specialized study of the various religions (which seldom has been available in recent years) will still be overlooked." (emphasis mine)
Following this Dr. Hesselgrave makes his case boldly, "The growth and success of programs designed to provide classroom instruction and hands-on experience in reaching various Jewish and Muslim groups should serve to heighten awareness of the need for specialized training. If there is a need for special preparation for missionaries to Jews and Muslims who share so much of our own religious tradition, how much greater the need for enhanced training when targeting those with whom we share little more than a commitment to transcendence?"(emphasis mine)
This article was published nearly two decades ago and I can attest to the prophetic nature of his assessment of missionary education. While I received a great understanding of cultural dynamics in my grad studies, there was little treatment of the development of the theology of missions nor specialized study of various religions.
While in grad school I was fortunate to take a class offered to the community through the Billy Graham Center titled 'Encountering the World of Islam,' which greatly improved my understanding of missions to Muslims. I also spent extensive time in the South Asian community in Chicago and spent nearly two years in a church planting internship among a predominantly Hindu people-group. I was fortunate to have a team-leader who is one of the leaders in specialized Hindu mission strategy and I learned a lot from him.
Now that I am in Korea, and hoping to go to Japan in the future, I feel that I have not invested my time and my studies as wisely as I could have. I still do not know about Buddhism nearly as well as I should considering I plan on investing my life in this field.