For a missionary to develop an understanding of Cambodian forms and meanings is essential in order to be able to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. This is done through systematic study of the history, culture and worldview of a nation, but cannot be purely academic. Fluency in the local language, even to the point of understanding the differences in tone and body language are essential for understanding the true meanings of the words. Assimilation into the local culture (i.e. living in a remote village or among a non-English speaking Cambodian family) is an invaluable way to understand the deep meanings of a person’s heart. This takes years of a submissive, learner and servant lifestyle. The world will not be won to Christ by weekend warriors who arrogantly stumble through a country passing out tracks to illiterate people and binding the spirit of every idol they see with no regard for local cultural forms and methods. No, the role of long-term incarnational missionaries will never be replaced.
Understanding requires a missionary to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead them, step by step, through conversations, relationships and in their studies. It is through the Holy Spirit that people will be convicted of their sin and desire a relationship with Jesus Christ (John 16:8). Missionaries are just the humble messengers that God has chosen to spread his good news of redemption from sin. Praise the Lord, that He can still use missionaries in their utter foolishness! (I am one, I know how foolish we are!)
A Contextualized Gospel Message
In considering a message of the Gospel which is to be contextualized into a culture, it must be accepted that the Bible is the source of the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Bible is absolutely inerrant and inspired by God. The Bible is the source of authority, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, for all believers. The message should not be so changed that it becomes a syncretization of Jesus being a good Buddhist, or Isa being a really good Muslim. Both the sender and receptor cultures, however, need to be evaluated and understood in order to communicate the saving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that what is being understood is accurate and relevant.
The task of being a communicator of the Good News of Jesus Christ is an important and challenging task. Missionaries must be well trained, humble, willing to learn and go to great lengths to understand the receptor culture. As I am a missionary to Cambodia I am constantly learning, gaining new insights and seeking more understanding from local people.
Cultures and languages constantly change and are even impacted by personal experiences, so individuals also may have different understanding and meanings than another person of the same culture. It is a lifelong challenge to be effective.