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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Under the Mango Tree

Written by: on May 7, 2015

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Under the Mango Tree… The Next Chapter

I will freely admit, I know very little about Asia, Asians, or religion in Asia. In fact, I have never even been curious. That is one part of the world that has never captured my wanderlust. While I studied a bit on Zen Buddhism throughout seminary, I never had a thought creep in about Christians in Asia or how Christianity is practiced within an Asian context. Looking at the title of this week’s book, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up, I immediately thought of my cohort-mate, Liz, and wondered what she would have to say about the book and her experience in Korea. I also wondered what Stefania would add about the first and second generations of Christian immigrants in America, practicing in a new context, yet holding on to their culture and practice.

These thoughts swirled throughout my imagination even before opening the first page, yet there I sat under a full-bloom mango tree surrounded by Catholics and touch of voodoo while reading Simon Chan’s Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up. (Talk about context! Context is everything.) I grasped tightly onto to one key concept Chan emphasized — community. Christianity is not intended to be an individualistic lifestyle or religion. What one does affects the whole, and as such, the Christian life is communal.[1] This was a prevalent theme in Chan’s chapter on shame and honor, and throughout the book.

Under the mango tree, I sat perched high above the road and watched as Haitians drove by on their whizzing motorcycles, passing lady after lady, each of whom carried a large bowl or bag atop her head on her way to market. Men gathered at the corner, playing dominoes and drinking Prestige, and little children were dressed in their crisp uniforms on their way to school. Community. This is community. The Haitian culture is built upon community. There is little to no economy, the education system is in shambles, and the job market does not exist. Faith and community are the only two things a Haitian can cling to with their heart and soul. When one is in need, others surround him and come to his aid. When one has a job, he provides for his entire family, which may be 20+ people. When it is time for elections, communities come together to keep visitors safe from impending turmoil. A car breaks down on the side of the road? No problem. Several men will help to push the car out of traffic, and a traveling priest will stop to pick you up. I witnessed each of these things happen within just a few short moments of being in my second home, Haiti.

I had only been in the country a day before a friend and Episcopal priest, Father Estil Colbert, called to ask if I would preach two services on the upcoming Sunday. This was not the first time I would preach in Haiti, but reading this book, I wondered if my sermons were actually speaking to those who were listening. Was I explaining Christianity in a way that connected with the hearts of Haitians? Within hours, I was driving through a bustling community or rural mountainside with my Haitian brother, Ancy Fils-Aime. As we rode along, Ancy stopped every few hundred yards to role down his window, yell a greeting to a friend, and wave to another. Everyone seemed to know everyone, I observed, and everyone knows everyone else’sstory. I asked Ancy what we should preach on Sunday, and he answered, “You are Haitian. You know how Haitians love stories. Tell your story.” And so, I spoke on my life-long journey of becoming a follower of Christ. After the service, for the first time ever, a Haitian came up to tell me he liked my sermon.

I tell you this story about my week in Haiti, as it was through this lens that I was reading Grassroots Asian Theology. Chan addressed how the concepts of a variety of theological topics, including the Trinity and work of the Holy Spirit, are presented in Asian contexts. When I arrived at this quote, “Asian Christians are better positioned to appreciate the corporate and relational nature of life, both as sinners and as Christians,”[2] I realized that Asian theology might be comparable to the Haitian doctrine. Relationally centered, corporate lifestyles are predominant in each culture. I came back around to a theme that seems to have emerged all year long – the theme of listening and hearing one’s story. Too quick do we try to impose our own thinking and way of doing onto others without truly understanding the context and culture of those with whom we minister and serve. Relationships change us, and as my friend Stefania once told me — theory is built on what we know within our comfort zone. Theory needs to be adjusted depending on context, and you can only fully understand your context through relationships. Theory without the practice of relationships is unhealthy. How ought “we” do theology and Christianity in Asia? It seems to me that when is comes to telling the story of God and His redemption, context, listening, and building relationships to promote understanding would surely be a step in the right direction. But, equally important, the progress and spread of Christianity in Asia must evolve organically from the hearts and mores of the people of Asia.

 

[1] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), Loc. 1343.

[2] Ibid., Loc. 1363.

About the Author

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Ashley Goad

Ashley is the Global Missions Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. She's a UNC fanatic, Haiti Enthusiast, Clean Water Activist, Solar Power Supporter... www.firstserves.org www.solarunderthesun.org www.livingwatersfortheworld.org

14 responses to “Under the Mango Tree”

  1. You’re under the mango tree…. again. I just wanted to point that out. I think you need a mango tree at your home in Louisiana, but I don’t think it would be as much fun as being under a mango tree in Haiti. I’ll be back later to comment/respond to your blog post. 🙂

  2. Ashley…
    Okay I am back, not to give you a “hard time,” but to muse a bit about your insights. I’m glad you were reading and took time to write while sitting under a mango tree. What stands out first and foremost is the comment of Ancy, “You are Haitian.” You mentioned that context is everything. But what makes the two one is that you are in relationship and that relationship has formed you, not because you have judged it but because you have become a part of it — part of the country and part of the people.

    I also realize that I “read” scripture differently if I see it through the more appropriate lens of a honor shame culture. However I wonder what do we do when a cultural context is not honor shame but more guilt oriented, how do we translate or perhaps more appropriately recognize God’s intent for the Church as we experience it? I wonder what will we see amid the confluence of Hong Kong? (And truthfully I had not thought about that until I read your post and began to think of what a melting pot of western and eastern we will experience). Thanks once again for expanding my comprehension and inviting me to sit.

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Carol, do you ever look back several years and stand in awe of the person you have become…and attribute that to the cultural experiences, the travel, and the people you meet? Looking back, I am amazed of how God has shaped me through the years, and how He molded my heart to truly try to understand the Haitian culture. For better, or maybe worse, I view the rest of the world through that Haitian context, or lens. Like you, I wonder how Hong Kong will further bend that lens and how we will walk away from that trip changed. I continue to quote Mandela and many of our speakers from CapeTown. Amazing how a few short days can impact a mind for a lifetime. Whoa… 🙂

  3. mm Julie Dodge says:

    I think you hot the point, Ashley. When you preached in a method, using the communicative conventions of the culture you were in, you were better able to communicate the truth of your faith. Story telling works better in oral cultures. Thus, understanding various Asian cultures and how they think, perceive and communicate, can increase our ability to share in that context. As Paul wrote, we are to become all things to all men that we might win the more. Nice work ashley.

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Story telling. I love a good story. Today, I was reading through Genesis, and I thought of its origins. Was Moses sitting in the wilderness with a crowd, and to calm them down, he told them the story of God’s creation of the world? Did he tantalize them with stories of kings, miracles and family genealogies? And how is it that I can remember a story told ten years later, but can barely remember the book we read last week? No wonder Jesus used parables. I’m really excited to hear a sermon, or two or three, in Hong Kong to see how big a part storytelling is in their worship services. Think it’ll be noticeable?

  4. mm Deve Persad says:

    Having just returned from under my own set of in season mango trees, it’s a joy to know that you are enjoying that blessing once again, Ashley! Even moreso, I appreciate hearing the story of this sermon that you preached – being affirmed as “a haitian” and having someone commend you for your message for the first time there is awesome. It indicates that you in fact have taken time to listen, and feel the rhythm of what God is doing and how He is doing it. It also reminds of me of just how mystically amazing it is that God can use the story of His pursuit of our lives and encourage the lives of others. Thanks for being faithful to that.

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Deve, welcome home! I can’t wait to hear about your trip to El Salvador. Before this trip, it had not quite clicked at how important our personal story and our act of telling stories are. It is an act of humility and trust, and serves as a connection with the audience or individual. I really like that… And you, my friend, are so well versed in the art of storytelling. Your blogs and sermons are masterpieces…to me, anyway!

  5. mm John Woodward says:

    Ashley, as always, a enjoy your posts because they put our reading into a missionary context. Very well done!

    As I read the book I thought, what would Ashley’s take on this book be from a missionary-traveler? I agree so much with what you have been learning this year: “Relationally centered, corporate lifestyles are predominant in each culture. I came back around to a theme that seems to have emerged all year long – the theme of listening and hearing one’s story.” Amen! I so appreciated Chan’s view on the value of listen and hearing, and how important this is for the missionary. In some ways, it seems that these lessons are basic, so simple…but as Chan and personal experience shows, the value of listening, learning and hearing the stories of the people we seek to minister is essential for missions. But what Chan suggests, that I found wonderfully insightful, that as we listen, we might find we have much to learn…God may just convict us! So, it is not just listening to better serve, but listening to hear what God might say to us! Now there is a neat concept! Thanks Ashley for your wonderful thoughts!

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      John! The value of listening and hearing! How will we practice that in Hong Kong…and more importantly, in Thailand?! I have so much to learn. Every trip, every car ride, every conversation opens a new door into new knowledge. It amazes me sometimes, and I think, “Why did I never think to ask that question and know this answer?”

      How can we teach the practice of listening? Is it enough to teach by example, or how can we be intentional in teaching our students, fellow missionaries, fellow Christians? A world of questions, clearly!

  6. Liz Linssen says:

    Hello my dear Ashley
    It’s so beautiful to read your experiences in Haiti. And there certainly sounds like a lot of crossover with some asian cultures. In Korea too, community is everything. Isn’t it amazing how cultures can be so similar, yet world’s apart?
    It was lovely to hear how you shared your story in your sermon and how it touched people. I guess story-telling is something that every culture loves.
    Keep telling your story my dear! 🙂

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Liz! Sweet Liz! I thought of you so much while reading this book! I wondered if your personal experiences paralleled the words and theories of Chan. And yes, there certainly does seem to be a lot of similarity between Haitians and Asians, but I have a feeling I will be shocked upon arrival in Hong Kong. As you say, so similar, yet so different!

  7. Richard Volzke says:

    Ashley,

    Thank you for sharing your story. You stated that, “Haitian culture is built upon community.” It is sad that is something many US Christians will never have the opportunity to experience. Our churches are so individualistic by nature that I do not believe we can ever move away from that mindset. The Bible gives illustration after illustration of God calling His people into community worship, prayer, repentance, etc. For some reason, the US church has lost sight of this biblical truth. I worry that we’ve lost the knowledge and ability on how to live in community with one another.

    Richard

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Richard, the more I have studied on my “problem statement” and research question, the more I come to the answer you have stated here. We don’t know how to live in intentional community. I’ve sat on numerous porches at night with mission teams in Haiti… They may be from the same church, but it was not until that conversation that they realized they lived two houses from each other. We are so caught up in our own individualism that we have forgotten what it means to live in community, to cultivate relationships, and to listen and love one another. That there may be the most eye-opening answer to why cross-cultural parnterships fail in Haiti. You may have answered my dissertation question in one paragraph! 🙂

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