On Thursday, I spent all afternoon with D helping him with a speech he has to do for class. It’s a free choice -type activity, so he wanted to talk about the Bible. He is so enthusiastic about the Word, everyone at school knows that he is an “evangelical”, and he’s not ashamed at all. I think it’s fantastic he is using every opportunity to talk about God and what He has done for Him. So the title of his speech will be Lo que la Biblia es para mí (“What the Bible means to me”). D’s testimony first came to my attention when M mentioned that the change he described to her – and the change she saw in him – made a huge impression on her and her decision to commit to Christ. It was when I made a comment about this to him that I heard firsthand about this change. So I pray that the personal angle I encouraged him to emphasise in his speech will touch the hearts of his teacher and classmates in a way that pure moralising or a here-are-the-facts-about-the-Bible approach would not.
The second thing that’s got me thinking about our testimony as Christians is the questions and comments I’ve been getting in the last month since J left. It has come up fairly frequently how positive a testimony he gave in the time that he was here. Even though officially or in a practical sense he was just here to teach carpentry to high school students, the way he conducted himself has made a bigger impact that he realises. So I pray that they will also say of me, when my time here is done, that my life was a testimony to the power and love of God.
Thirdly, I spent almost all of Wednesday afternoon chatting away with O, an Ecuadorian pastor. One of the things we discussed was whether it is okay for Christians to drink alcohol. In Australia, there isn’t really any doubt about this – freedom in Christ, everything in moderation, etc. But here things are much more conservative, because of certain cultural factors. Before arriving here, I’d been told it was generally not accepted for us Protestants to drink alcohol in public, apart from a single toast at parties because it would be considered rude to refuse a toast. Following my arrival and a few situations where the issue came up, C had said from her point of view it might actually be a better testimony for me to demonstrate to people here what drinking in moderation looks like. There are others on the team who agree with C. However from O’s point of view, even though he knows and C knows and I know that I am exercising self control, drinking in moderation and not to get drunk, an outsider is unlikely to see it that way. As in even if a non-believing Ecuadorian sees me drinking a glass of whiskey/beer/wine, they will assume that I am drinking the same way that other Ecuadorians drink, and from there make other assumptions about me. E (a South American missionary, though not Ecuadorian) has made similar comments to me – she said that she has been at dinner parties where she is offered alcohol as a test, and if she accepts even the one glass, this shows to her hosts that she is just like any other Ecuadorian Catholic. For both O and E (and I guess to all of us, really), because of the context we are working in, it is supremely important that we differentiate ourselves from the Catholics in a positive way.
Having spoken to others here, it seems both camps have a number of followers and I am unsure which is the wiser option. O made the comment that hypocrisy is a defining feature of Ecuadorian culture – keeping up appearances, so that it is pretty much universal that people speak and present themselves in a way that is completely incongruous with who they really are, in order to maintain the facade of having it all together, that everything’s fine and dandy. Yet ironically O himself said it was okay to have a glass of wine at home in private, and according to his own arguments, appearances are crucial. As Christians we must be seen to live a certain way, or rather there are certain things we must not be seen as doing. That’s testimony essentially, isn’t it?
So I pray for wisdom to navigate this issue. It is one of a number of cultural issues I have become increasingly conscious of; another related problem is gossip and an anti-confrontation ethic amongst Ecuadorians. These things stand in complete contrast to my natural attitude – I believe in honesty and transparency, adjusting to my audience but always being true to who I am rather than faking, being frank (even if diplomatic) about problems or tensions as they arise. Not hiding. At least that’s been my interpretation of light and truth.