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Review: We are not the Hero: a Missionary’s Guide for Sharing Christ, not a Culture of Dependency

‘We are not the hero: a missionary’s guide for sharing Christ, not a culture of dependency,’ Jean Johnson, Deep River Books, Sisters, Oregon 2012.

Review by former CMS Mission Personnel Secretary Peter Blowes

‘We are not the hero’ encourages mission practitioners and supporters to think before they act in cross-cultural contexts, so as to avoid creating cultures of dependency, and to help grow multiplying, indigenous and sustainable churches.

Uninformed love does not always in fact, communicate love. And in cross-cultural missions, a well-meaning financial gift or act of service may not result in the intended outcomes.

Author Jean Johnson learnt Khmer language and culture by living with a Cambodian family in Minnesota in the years immediately after the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. But when she joined a mission team in Cambodia, she initially fell into the prevailing ‘missionary mould’ and forgot her hard earned lessons.

Jean says, “I went to Cambodia with the hope of making disciples who make more disciples. I eventually discovered that the means I used to accomplish such a goal became the very stumbling block to achieving this goal. I had unintentionally created unhealthy dependency on my resources, my expertise, and my culture. People who are psychologically and financially dependent on outsiders do not tend to mobilise themselves to make disciples among their own people and beyond.”

In this book, Jean shows why it is so important to encourage the use of local resources in cross-cultural mission. She says, “in all areas of life we pass on a genetic blueprint by modelling. Modelling breaks down if the means are non-reproducible, if we use resources that are not available in the local context or are too expensive for the average local person to access, we have sabotaged reproducibility.” (p.77)

Having learnt her lessons the hard way, twice, Jean is now committed to making missionaries aware of the many pitfalls she fell into. She outlines good principles and practical advice in the quest to ‘make disciples of all nations’, rather than ‘spread Western cultural Christianity or solve the world with American dollars’.

This book brings together a wide range of experience from around the world over the last few decades and wise insight into cross-cultural mission. It has a helpful emphasis on oral sharing of the gospel truth. One weakness of the book is that it does not clarify who, within a local culture, will interpret the written text of Scripture for Bible storytelling and other non-literate forms of communication.

This book will challenge missionaries, supporters and mobilisers to think afresh about how we go about mission.