Resolving East West Conflicts

Written in October 2003


For Western Christians

1. There are no substitutes for long conversations. Our people work based on relationships and partnerships are essentially relational matters. But Westerners seem to be content with contractual arrangements which are alien to our ways of operating. Deep relationships take a long time to forge, but this is an essential step because deep relationships of oneness in the Spirit are the key to true international partnership in the body of Christ. Westerners usually have no time to foster such. This must change if we are going to have true partnership.

2. People in our cultures usually come to the point in a round about way. Blunt conversation is often understood as insulting and demeaning. Politeness and always having an outward show of respect are values which we treasure. Even when there are serious disagreements we should never jettison patient, polite reasoning rather than blunt accusations. Remember that, given the painful history of having being treated as inferior to the westerners (a memory of which is always resident in our minds), such accusations will easily be interpreted as being insults.

3. Long hours spent working for a consensus will be more than compensated through the sincere, committed and motivated people who were forged as a result of the time-consuming dialogue before consensus. In fact the motivated workers may work so hard that the lost time is caught up very soon.

4. Our people are not used to the corporate model of management that is often followed by Christian organisations in the West. So statements that come out of the blue like: “The President has appointed Mr. X as representative for South Asia,” would leave the people in South Asia quite confused and often angry. If the people had only been consulted, they would probably have agreed wholeheartedly to the appointment and a lot of ill-will would have been prevented.

5. I think Western Christians should honestly accept that it is culturally very difficult for them to understand the sentiments of those of the rest of the world. Therefore they should approach dialogue and partnership with a humble ambition to truly listen. I fear that Western Christians listen most to the opinions of their own people about our issues. This could be a tragic mistake as these opinions could be based on research rather than on incarnational listening and therefore be missing some essential ingredients.

For Two-Thirds World Christians

1. For fear of losing financial support never keep silent over issues that you should address. That fosters a habit of silencing conscience which opens the door to a life without integrity. We have to trust the sovereignty of God here. God will see that we will lack no good thing we need if we truly follow him. And to truly follow him is to sometimes say some unpleasant things.

2. Never allow yourself to be ruled by bitterness over the way rich westerners have behaved. This will result in all sorts of actions and attitudes that will displease God. We must not let the sun go down on our anger. This is a battle that we must carry out with thoroughgoing consistency. That will enable us to approach areas of conflict with grace and as peacemakers. A motto for conflict that I have found very useful is: In a conflict situation never meet hostile people before first meeting God. Our ministry must always spring from God’s acceptance of us and never primarily be a reaction to people’s rejection of us.

3. Always be motivated by a theology of the body. Such a theology says, “These people are my flesh and blood. In spite of what they do, I have been asked to esteem them because of Christ. I cannot hate them. I cannot feel inferior to them, even though I may be so much poorer than them. In fact I have, out of my poverty, something to offer them which will enrich them.” This attitude will help us to approach the confrontation with a positive attitude of love and with a confidence that will cause us to be bold without shrinking into inferiority, and loving without being bitter. Such a theology also motivates us to grapple with perseverance until we can come to be of one mind.

4. Work hard at trying to understand the Western desire for reports and scrupulous accounting. Do not take is as an insult or a lack of trust, as many in our cultures do, when they ask for such reports. That is the way they operate, and I think we could learn a lot from them here.