What is Intercultural Evangelism?


Sadhu Sundar Singh, a beloved Christian from India, told a story of a high-caste man in India who collapsed from heat exhaustion while waiting on a railway station platform. He explained, someone ran to the faucet, filled a cup with water, and brought it to the man in an attempt to revive him. But in spite of his condition, the passenger would not accept the water because it was offered in the cup of a man belonging to another caste.

Then someone noticed that the high-caste man had a cup on the seat beside him, so he grabbed it, went out and filled it with water, returned, and offered it to the man, who now readily accepted the water with gratitude.

Then Sundar Singh would say to his audience, “This is what I have been trying to say to you missionaries from abroad. You have been offering the water of life to the people of India in a foreign cup, and we have been slow to receive it. If you will offer it in our own cup, we are much more likely to accept it.”

Intercultural evangelism strives to find a cup that provides suitable starting points for faith conversations so Jesus will be in the center of their worldview.

Where do we start in our attempt to catch up on God’s conversations with others?

Taking the approach of a new missionary in a foreign culture, we will combine a robust missiology with practical evangelism. The result is intercultural evangelism.

Intercultural evangelism is “the process of putting Christ at the center of someone’s worldview in order to initiate them into Christian discipleship through culturally relevant starting points.” 

Putting Christ at the center of someone’s worldview includes an invitation to place allegiance to Jesus Christ above allegiance to any other power, habit, or preference. Worldview includes the affections and emotions in addition to the cognitive aspects of life. We become what we love, not simply what we think. A shift that brings Christ to the center of someone’s worldview means salvation results in changing how people love, feel, and think toward Christ.

Consider Peter from Ghana, West Africa.

He forbade his wife and children’s church attendance. He feared this would upset his ancestors, particularly if Peter did not offer sacrifices to their tintueta wen (household idol) as a result of attending church. Gradually, Peter attended evening gatherings at my house. Through the light of a kerosene lantern, he learned the stories of Adam, Noah, Abraham, and eventually Jesus. Somewhere along the way, he entered a Sunday church service alongside his wife and children. One Sunday afternoon a few months later, Peter arrived at my house to ask,

“Can you come to my house and help me destroy my tintueta wen?”

I replied, “This is a big step. Are you sure you are ready?”

Peter replies with confidence in his voice, “Yes! They talked about putting Jesus in the center of your life at church, and I want to do that. I do not need this tintueta wen anymore, since Jesus is the all-powerful one to protect me and my family.”

Peter understood that putting Jesus at the center of his worldview meant Jesus would replace any other allegiance, including his tintueta wen. This central decision would affect every other decision in his life. He was confident that Jesus had the power to protect him.

walter jay moon effective intercultural evangelism book

Adapted from Effective Intercultural Evangelism  by Walter Jay Moon and Walter Edmond Simon. Copyright (c) 2021 by. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

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