This piece was originally published at The Christian Post on July 30, 2012.
Much of my work revolves around the themes of diplomacy and advocacy. I sum these up with the term “ambassadorship.” In this series of posts titled “WANTED: Christian Ambassadors, not Tourists,” I am unpacking what it means to be an ambassador for Christ.
As missional witnesses, we are called to be ambassadors for Christ, not tourists.
What do you think of when you think of American tourists? Not good, I bet. American tourists are often called “ugly Americans.” They come across as dopes to many people in other cultures, not good diplomats for America. Tourists are often loud and illiterate in the tongue of another land. Good ambassadors listen, are soft-spoken, and literate linguistically and culturally.
This point on being loud and illiterate reminds me of what a friend from England said to me about many English tourists. If tourists from England ask for a cup of coffee in English in places like Spain, and if the waiter doesn’t understand them, many such tourists don’t ask in Spanish. Instead, they just say it louder. This is a real problem with many tourists from England and America, and for anyone else whose mother tongue is English. While it is not necessary for tourists to become fluent in the languages of their hosts’ countries, it is necessary that native speakers of English not demand that those hosts speak English. Unfortunately, we who are Americans and English often expect everyone to learn our “universal” language and for them to speak our language even in their own land. Good ambassadors learn the language of the people in whose land they live. They learn the language linguistically and culturally, both verbally and non-verbally.
The same applies to good Christian ambassadors. They don’t expect people of “other lands”—different sub-cultures and faith traditions here and abroad—to learn Christianese. Instead, they learn how to contextualize Christian categories to the people’s ways of speaking. In view of God’s Word becoming flesh, and the heavenly message being incarnated in the tongue of the people as Jesus became one of them, we don’t have to make people learn English or German or Christianese for them to get the message. Rather, we put the good news in flesh and blood terms that they can understand, as costly as such terms are, just as it was for our Lord Jesus and for the Apostle Paul, who was an ambassador in chains (Ephesians 6:20). The more we see what God Almighty was willing to do in making the very long journey from heaven to our hearts in a foreign land the more we will see how great the responsibility is to be good Christian ambassadors, like the Apostle. We will move from being loud and illiterate tourists to being ambassadors who listen, learn and become literate in the languages of the divine and human hearts here and abroad.