Is It Really a Setback?

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A correspondent with much closer first-hand knowledge of missionary work in Kazakhstan has written to say that although he shares my frustration with Borat, he is not convinced that the film will prove to be much of a setback for gospel work there.  In the interests of cultural understanding, I am excerpting some of his comments here:

"I am a little peeved by the negative view this movie will give of Kazakhs and of Kazakhstan. Now they will think they are backward, corrupt (though there is some corruption present in the government, that corruption is improving, especially since all the wheels of the economy are oiled up), and repressive. So, I agree the image of Kazakh's and Kazakhstan will be affected in America, but to relate this to the missionary endeavor in Kazakhstan might not be appropriate.

"First, though the city life of Kazakhstan, especially in Almaty, is increasingly being Westernized, the influence is particularly European, more than American. However, the rural life is going on as it has for centuries. The barriers to the gospel in Kazakhstan are not related to American culture, but Kazakh culture--to be Kazakh is to be Muslim--though very, very, very few practice, much like most Christians in America. I see your point, if they see the media that comes from America, then they might conclude, well, we Muslims are at least moral, you Christians are not. This is true in a general sense. When it comes to Borat, Mr Cohen has been producing garbage like this for years on end. Do a search for his name on youtube.com and cover your eyes and ears. I don't think people in Central Asia will associate Borat with American culture at all. He is intentionally crude and a shameless self-promoter who mocks central asian culture. They would be offended at him as a fellow Central Asian, not as an American or Westerner. Perhaps if we focused on what is true contrasted with what is being reported as being true, then Americans wouldn't get a false view of Kazakhstan, and the missionary endeavor to that country wouldn't be seen as overly burdensome.

"Second, I don't think missionaries in Kazakhstan should be discouraged by this Borat movie at all. Though the categories of Westerner/American/Christian are muddied for most outsiders, the gospel is neither Western nor American. I have known several missionaries serving in contexts experiencing serious crises with American culture/politics, such as China during the Hanoi island incident, Bangledesh after 9/11, Lebanon after 9/11, etc, I have met people in other countries who assume that every American is a Christian, but even in those contexts, more than not, people do not transcribe all their negative feelings toward a country on an individual. As long as the individual has a hearing and an opportunity to live a transformed life before a people group, then the gospel can never be overrun by American culture. Missionaries do not represent America, they represent Christ. American culture can never, and should never, be substituted for kingdom culture!!! I am not saying we should not resist sinful influences in American culture, but we cannot become discouraged.

"The truth of the matter is that the movie is intentionally misrepresentative of Kazakhstan. Yet I really doubt the Borat movie will cause us any trouble at all. When I share the gospel with people in Kazakhstan, the biggest barriers are nominal Islam and atheism, not American culture."

Posted November 5, 2006 @ 3:09 PM by Phil Ryken
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