Book Review: All Missionary Work is Relational

For a link to buy Making Friends With the Taliban or to join in the discussion about it, go here

 

Making Friends With the Taliban is the story of one Christian missionary’s work in Afghanistan.

Dan Terry built his work in this war-ravaged country through what I have been told by other missionaries to the Middle East is the only way to do it. He did it by building relationships.

This can be difficult for Westerners because our internal clock is set differently than that of people in other parts of the world. We are accustomed to running by the clock. We want meetings with focus and clear-cut agendas which we follow check, check, check down the list, then set a time for another meeting and adjourn.

This not only doesn’t work in other parts of the world, it is highly offensive and rude. The successful missionaries I’ve known, the ones who actually accomplish things in other cultures, are either able to re-set their internal clocks to run on local time, or they are made that way to begin with.

I think usually it’s the latter. From what I’ve seen, God calls special people for this work. They look the same as the rest of us, but they are not. To begin with, there’s the question of fear. The missionaries I’ve known have been quiet, gentle people who wait on God rather than storming heaven. But they are also surprisingly nerveless in situations that would send me right over the top of the wall.

Getting lost doesn’t faze them. Rocky boats on high seas don’t ruffle them. Falling out of trees and getting bashed hundreds of miles from medical care is all in a day’s work. I once had a missionary friend describe getting stabbed at a roadblock with the gentle comment, “we ran into some rascals.”

They are also gifted with great hearts for the welfare and well being of other people that the rest of us might just want to run away from. Their ability to not even see the external trappings of people and look straight through to the person has never ceased to amaze me.

Dan Terry evidently had all these abilities in large quantities. He was one of those special people God calls for this special work of nurturing, raising up and equipping people who are trapped in centuries of living as the downtrodden and the forgotten.

A woman missionary friend of mine who had spent years in Egypt told me, “Everything in the Middle East is relational.” Based on this book, it would appear to be the same in Afghanistan, only perhaps more so.

Dan Terry had the gift of relationship mission building. It allowed him to do things few other Westerners could. But it also alienated his more clock-and-agenda-bound colleagues in his missions sending organization. This conflict of ways reached the point that the organization eventually severed their relationship with Dan.

I’ve seen this same sort of thing with missionary friends of mine who were affiliated with other agencies and who worked in other parts of the world. Based on what I’ve seen with my friends, I think it may have been more than a misunderstanding between Dan Terry and his missions organization.

Professional jealousy of a type that might surprise the more idealistic was the primary motivator for troubles between my friends and their colleagues. They could, as Dan Terry could, work with and convert people who the rule-bound missionaries could not even really talk to.

In their field of Papua New Guinea they successfully converted hundreds of people to Christ while their co-workers stayed isolated with their books and their grudges. All this was intensified by the fact that they were the only Americans there, which evidently made them crude and rude in their colleagues’ eyes.

God calls special people to do this work. There is a place for the academicians and bean counters in missions work. But a lot of times that place is not in the field. People being what they are, this can create hostility and jealousy.

Making Friends Among the Taliban is the story of the work of Dan Terry, a missionary who had “it.” He had the ability to do the kind of relational work that any successful missionary must have. He was punished for this ability by this missions society and ultimately let go by them. That is their disgrace, not his.

This book does not have the clear narrative style of a page-turner, and it also doesn’t have the heavily-footnoted scholarship of an academic study. But if you want to read an outline of the work of a man who knew how to do relational missionary work, I can’t think of a better source.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X