Science in Christian Perspective



James 0. Buswell III, M.A.

From JASA 10 (December 1958): 22-23.

I would like to commend to the readers of this column a unique journal, Practical Anthropology. Now in its fifth volume, this journal is published by and for Christian anthropologists, and studies "t e function of Christianity in a cross-cultural sense." According to its Statement of Purpose. it is "designed, for example, to be of benefit to missionaries and to students preparing for missions in that it discusses the problems related to an effective communication of the Gospel across cultural barriers . . ."

An idea of the growth of Practical Anthropology can be gained from the fact that during 1957 alone its circulation jumped from 350 to over 900.. and it's still growing. The subscription rate is $2.00 per year (six issues), or $5.00 for three vears. Address Box 307, Tarrytown, New York.

Below is reprinted an editorial from a recent issue (P.A., Vol. 4, No. 3, May-June. 1957, pp. 101-104) by the editor, Dr. ~Villiam A. Smallev. Mrs. Reyburn, mentioned in the editorial, is Marie Fetzer Reyburn who, with Smalley, authored the Anthropology chapter in Modern Science and Christian Faith. She and her husband have contributed many stimulating articles and reports from the field to the pages of Practical Anthropology.

Proximity or Neighborliness?
By William A. Smalley, Ph.D.

Missionaries talk about "going out to live among the people" (although anyone who has seen a typical mission compound will not take that cliche too literally), but how many have ever thought of being neighbors to these "people" nearby?

In our western world individuals may be thrown into regular contact, even close physical proximity over long periods of time, and not have more than the most superficial social intercourse, if any at all. This is most true of our large cities where people in adjoining apartments may never meet each other, or if they do, may have no more than a formal and polite social interchange. Even in smaller communities, however, the boss who works daily with his men may have no other contact with them (except for the annual Christmas party), and people who bow in church may never meet during the week.

It is not until we reach the very small rural community in the United States that we find a high degree of neighborliness between people in close proximity, where everybody knows everybody else. An indication of the fact that in our culture we do not always put high value on such relationships is that we may add to the previous sentence: and where everybody minds everybody else's business.

In our highly complex society we have built cultural devices for keeping people close by from being neighbors unless for some reason we choose to include them. These barriers provide a protection for us, keep us from having to associate with people who are not compatible, whose race or education or social status is different from ours. We can withdraw within the barriers for security from people and social patterns which conflict with our own.

Some missionaries live in large cities where this urban pattern of proximity without neighborliness may be well developed. If they bring in their insulating mechanism as part of their cultural baggage it is not particularly conspicuous, although even in the urban setting it may be an almost insurmountable barrier to effective communication on an individual level. Such missionaries have to rely on the mechanics of playing church and mass evangelism to do what has historically been most effectively done by the personal contact of one dedicated soul with his neighbor.

It is in the rural mission areas where proximity without neighborliness stands out in such painfully brutal fashion. Typically, the mission builds a compound on a hill a mile outside of the village. A cluster of huts may be built on the least desirable part of the compound for servants and hangers-on. Non-western school teachers and preachers have their quarter, too. It is hard to imagine a more effective physical way of isolating the missionary from the people "among whom he is living."

But the psychological isolation is far more serious. As one missionary put it. "The Africans know to which missionary door they can go." A conversation which was reported to me is not an extreme case. One missionary had learned that a Bible revision committee which included both Westerners and Africans had refreshments served during the morning, and asked, "What do you do with the Africans?" When he learned that they were served too, he asked if butter tins were brought in for the Africans' coffee. When he learned that they were served from cups no differently from anyone else he was horrified, considering it most unsanitary.

Missionaries protect themselves from the people around them by a host of devices. They may never participate socially either in the local culture or through inviting people into their homes. They may not learn the language really well. They may be contemptuous of the uneducated and revolted by the unclean. They are not interested in the things which interest people. They are therefore remote, distant, and terribly cold.

On a recent trip in Africa I saw two examples of missionary neighborliness which I would like to contrast to the above. One was in the home of Dr. and Mrs. Wesley Sadler, Lutheran missionaries among the Loma people of Liberia. (In their case the "among" is not figurative.) The Sadlers' home is on the edge of a Loma village, just a few yards from the nearest Africans' houses. It is not, however, that close proximity which makes the Sadlers neighbors,. but it is their spirit.

During each evening while I was there, anywhere f rom two to f ive or six of the villagers, men and women, would drop in. They would come indivdually, and stay for just a few minutes. They came naturally, without the embarrassment which marks the entrance of an African tribesman into so many missionary homes. They stopped and chatted for a few minutes. and then left. They were at home. The usual barrier was not there. Equally revealing was the Sadlers' reception of their visitors. It was the reception given someone with whom you are on the very friendly relation of frequent contact. The visit was taken for granted, and it was enjoyed.

Sadlers raised their children under that thatched roof in Woozie, the little Loma village. They studied Loma life and language not just as anthropologists and linguists (Dr. Sadler's Ph.D. is in linguistics) but as interested neighbors. They liked their neighbors and wanted to know them better. I have never seen happier missionaries.

The other example of missionary neighborliness which I saw took place when I was visiting Dr. and Mrs. William Reyburn in the Camerouns. We heard drum beats one evening and went to investigate. A group of students were "playing." They had formed a circle, in which they were dancing and singing, while one person danced in the middle. The person in the center tried to perform some antic which was different from what anyone else had done. When he had finished he would point to someone in the circle who would take his place. Reyburn took a few steps so that they would not think we had come to criticize. He made everybody laugh, and then we sat down to watch.

Before long the dancer in the center pointed to Reyburn there on the bench, and he went into the circle to jump up and down. Before long I had been invited too, and we were all jumping up and down to the beat (I was at least trying) for about half an hour. Once I got over being self-conscious it was fun.

The next day word of the Africans' appreciation came through to the Reyburns: "It is the first time anyone (meaning missionaries) ever played with us."