Identifying with the Dendi

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Paul said in 1 Cor. 9:23 “And this I do for the Gospel’s sake, that I might be a partaker thereof with you.”

Above all, Paul was a missionary, and I believe missionaries have special insight into his writings. Through training and experience, missionaries quickly learn the vital importance of cross-cultural considerations in ministry. The only way to be successful in cross-cultural ministry is to become students of culture, gain an intimate knowledge of the people, learn to see and experience the world the way they do, and identify wholeheartedly with them. Missionaries know that learning to identify with the trappings of culture, such as dress and customs, is not the biggest hurdle. The real challenge is to connect heart-to-heart with people and grapple with the deep beliefs and attitudes that result in actions.

Where we live in Kandi, Benin, in addition to local non-Dendi people groups, there are many foreigners from Togo, Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina, Mali, and other countries living and working in all segments of society. With so many “outsiders” around, we soon learned that Dendi people were watching whom we associated and did business with. When we intentionally hired Dendi electricians, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics and tailors, and shopped at Dendi-owned stores, word got around quickly, and the Dendi community opened up to us. With this in mind, for years we have chosen to do business with Dendi people as much as possible, even when that means sacrificing quality and preference.

This was the case recently when my son and I needed to choose a new barber. For years, we had paid one of our first converts to cut our hair at our house with our clippers. But he had moved out of town, and it was time for haircuts again. There are nice barber shops in town, but with our missionary task in mind, we decided instead to go to the nearest Dendi-owned barber shop. It was not an especially nice setting. The shop was hot and grimy, and the chair was old and tattered. But the people received us warmly and seemed to appreciate that we had chosen them over the nicer establishments in town. It is amazing how such small but deliberate acts can ripple through an entire neighborhood, forge relationships and open hearts.

Like Paul said in 1 Cor. 9:20-23, “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law of Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law; To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be a partaker thereof with you.”

Thanks for your support and prayers as we seek in all things to identify with the Dendi people.

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