I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Jim Harries this morning at Anderson (IN) School of Theology. He is an "embedded" missionary among the Luo people of Kenya, Africa. He wouldn't call himself that. It's my way of describing a man who has chosen to live as a Luo in order to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus. He's been doing this since 1993. He also seems to be an student and practitioner of Pragmatics, Discourse Analysis and Relevance Theory. I admit that his talk took me way outside my box and made me think (that is what seminary is for). One question he asked was "Does the Gospel have something to say without it being about resources?" One of his concerns is that western missionaries go into the African context with all their resources and this negates a real delivering of the Gospel. The hearers will say what the missionary wants to hear in hopes of cashing in on what the missionary represents to them. So much gets lost in the translation from English (and English speaking societies with their values and perspectives) to the other. There's a lot more to it but I'm still processing it. I'd advise going to his website for more.
One response I have is that this staying close and showing love is the work of all of us. It is the right path in business -- Steven Covey (no great theologian) says that we are to seek first to understand, then to be understood. It is the right path in the family as generations expect each other to understand. It is the right path in Christian ministry and church life. In my work as a chaplain, I walk into a foreign culture every day as I meet patients. We are strangers to each other. I enter their world of suffering and they understand that I am one of those who is connected to the power that could make them well (modern medicine). I am called to be present and seek to serve their need. We speak English, but where else do we connect? How can I be vulnerable for God's sake in those short minutes? That is my daily work as two personal cultures cross paths.
Dr. Haries has been at this for 17 years in Africa. I have been after something at least a little similar for 7 years in Central Indiana. May God be served by and bless us both.