Find Your Inner Anthropologist

find your inner anthropologist

Editor’s Note: We’d like to introduce you to Ellen Adkins, a recent graduate of Kennesaw State University with a degree in Cultural Anthropology, who served as our intern during the Spring 2015 semester, and is currently attending Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY for her graduate work. She has served in Ireland and the UK, including field site demographic research for the IMB. Ellen attended the “Help! We’re Going On A Short-Term Trip!” seminar in January 2014, when it became obvious she and CULTURELink shared a common passion: enhancing cross-cultural effectiveness through discipleship. Over the next few months, we will be sharing several of the articles she wrote for us during her internship.

Go to the people.
Live among them.
Learn from them.
Love them.
Start with what they know.
Build on what they have.
—Lao Tzu

When you think of an anthropologist, you may conjure up images of Indiana Jones running through ancient tombs in search of hidden treasure. Or perhaps you think of grey-haired academics tromping through the steaming jungles to study obscure cultures. In actuality, anthropology is simply the study of humans, past and present.

While anthropology is not traditionally a field that views missionaries kindly, there is much that we can learn from anthropologists. Anthropology can bring us to a better understanding of cross-cultural situations; it can help us relate to people from other cultures, and it may aid in the communication of the gospel to a global audience.

The following are anthropological principles to apply to your life as a missionary:

  1. Immerse yourself in the lives of others.

Jesus did just this. He moved from heaven and joined humankind. It’s not enough to merely observe a group of people from a distance. You must participate in their lives. Move into the neighborhood you are trying to reach. Eat their food. Celebrate with them. Actively participate in their culture.

  1. Learn the language.

Learning the language of your host culture is much more than just a necessary evil or a missiological fad. At the very birth of the Church, God performed a miracle in which each person heard the wonders of God in a language that penetrated his heart. Even more astonishing is that all of these people spoke a common trade language. The lesson? The gospel penetrates most when spoken in the language in which people dream, love, hope, and hurt. Even if most people in your host culture speak English, it’s still a good idea to learn, to some extent, their native language. You will be shocked at how something as simple as saying hello to a shopkeeper in his own language can break down barriers.

  1. Embrace cultural differences.

In the book of Revelation, we get a glimpse of what the kingdom of God looks like. It is comprised of people of every nation, tribe, and language. This image is not one of cultural uniformity. Rather, it is a picture of vast diversity that is amazingly unified. Only God can accomplish this! The oddities and quirks of a culture that you may find frustrating may be the very thing that delights God and brings Him glory.

  1. Identify a starting place.

God is at work in people’s lives long before we ever arrive on the scene. Do not believe that you are bringing God to a place He has never been before. Our goal is not to bring God to the people; rather, it is to open our eyes to see where God is already at work. As you form relationships with those who are not yet believers, look for ways in which Jesus is already working in their lives—then identify it as such. Find aspects of their everyday lives and culture that enable you to make them aware of the living God’s love for them and His activity in their lives.

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