Do you see it? That little red string. No, it’s not a keychain for your car. That is a Sai Sin, a red bracelet, which is blessed by a Buddhist. These are worn in SE Asia for good luck and prosperity.
I’ve heard a common story from Christian missionaries in Southeast Asia. When an indigenous person meets Christ, they usually feel uncomfortable wearing the bracelet. They say it reminds them of their former religion, so they want to take it off. But then they usually ask something like, “Now that I’m a Christian, what should I wear?”
I don’t tell you this story because I think we should all wear Christian jewelry. (Although, believe it or not, WWJD bracelets did make a brief comeback at local high schools recently!) However, other cultures seem to value physical reminders of their religion. And it’s not just jewelry. Islam has its 40+ holy days. Buddhists have their temples. When people convert to Christianity, they often feel some kind of void. They may miss the physical manifestations of their religion.
So, what do missionaries suggest? Do we say to forget your cultural values? Or does Christianity have a parallel to offer them?
Missionaries in different cultures often come across problems like this one. As solutions, they emphasize Western values: being a Christian is about believing the right things, being a Christian is about morals. Amen and Amen. Believing truth and following Jesus are central to the Christian faith. And yet, maybe we should consider other culture’s needs as well.
In our example above, having a physical, tangible representation of one’s religion makes it more meaningful. The physical emblem gives them hope and purpose.
In these cultures, the Anglican tradition has great value. Anglicans affirm that MATTER MATTERS. That’s why many Anglicans choose physical embodiments to their worship: bowing, kneeling, crossing oneself. That’s why clergy wear vestments and we break physical bread and drink real wine (or grape juice) every Sunday. To many Anglicans around the world, these physical reminders strengthen our faith.
That is just one reason why Anglican missionaries are able to meet the needs of host cultures. The Anglican tradition provides just that – traditions! Around the world, even in formerly unreached places, people are meeting Christ and using the tools of the Anglican tradition to grow in their faith.
One of the many mission agencies our church supports is Anglican Frontier Missions (AFM). They are sending missionaries to these types of unreached places. These missionaries find that the Anglican tradition meets many needs of the local people, while helping them grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus. How awesome is that???
How about you? How do your habits shape you? Do you need a physical reminder of God’s kingdom too? We’d love to talk more if you have questions!