This piece was originally published at The Christian Post on August 2, 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. If you’re just jumping in, begin by reading part 1.
In the first post on this subject, I started out by saying, “As missional witnesses, we are called to be ambassadors for Christ, not tourists.” There I spoke of how tourists are often loud and illiterate, whereas good ambassadors listen, are soft-spoken, and literate linguistically and culturally. Christian ambassadors should model these latter qualities.
Another difference between tourists and ambassadors is that tourists often visit for brief periods of time whereas ambassadors often stay for very long periods of time and hopefully come to know the people and the culture in profound ways. As ambassadors for Christ, we are called to remain and step inside people’s shoes and sandals until he calls us home.
One cannot learn a language or a culture over night. One cannot simply read books before going to master a language and a culture. One can do so, I suppose, technically and intellectually, but not with empathy and sensitivity.
Tourists often look for the Walt Disney experiences involving Hollywood cartoon-like, exotic visions of Pocahontas, for example, not indigenous versions that involve Native peoples in the complexities and multi-faceted qualities that they embody. Good ambassadors don’t settle for Walt Disney and McDonald’s-like cultural recreations. Nor do they settle for traveling the typical tourist paths. They expose themselves to the inner workings of the societies in which they live and back street shops hidden to the foreign masses, as they seek to immerse themselves in the culture they now inhabit.
A Holy Land tour will rarely take you down paths that connect you with Palestinians who might share another story than what the tour guides offer. A tour of an indigenous people’s village will rarely give you insights into the lives of these dear people. We need to get off the bus, go down paths that are off the tour guide map, ask questions that are open and inviting, and above all, leave the missions compound and embassy suites hotel, and live among the people.
One indigenous leader in North America told a missionary I knew that if he and his fellow missionaries would come and live and die with them, then they would believe in their Jesus. After all (I would add), Jesus didn’t do drive-by-evangelism. He lived among the people for many years. Christian tourists visit, but only good ambassadors for Christ live among the people and become not simply representatives of God’s kingdom, but as representatives of the incarnate God who moved into the village, they become representatives of the people in whose circles they dwell.