How to dance with a mouse

Published 10:12 pm Friday, September 23, 2016

By Rev. Chris Surber

I love the African proverbial story of Elephant and Mouse. They were best friends. One day, Elephant said, “Mouse, let’s have a party!”

All the animals came to the party. They ate. They drank. They sang. They danced. Nobody celebrated more and danced harder than Elephant.

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After the party, Elephant exclaimed, “Mouse, did you ever go to a better party?!” But Mouse didn’t answer.

“Mouse, where are you?!” Elephant yelled. He looked around for his friend, and then shrank in horror. There at Elephant’s feet lay Mouse. His little body was ground into the dirt. He had been smashed by the big feet of his exuberant friend, Elephant.

I heard this story from a missionary describing how unintentionally overbearing American missionaries can be in the developing world.

For indigenous peoples, working with Americans can be like dancing with an elephant. We’re pragmatic. They’re relational. We’re goal-oriented. They’re family-oriented. We care about progress and the future. They are concerned more with keeping memories and the honoring the past.

Wise missionaries assimilate into the culture of a people. They don’t force their culture onto people. A missionary is a person more concerned with God’s glory than his preferences. She’d rather win people to Christ than be right about politics.

A missionary learns the language, dance and rhythms of a culture so he can enter into human life as a brother. He’s not trying to win any culture war. He’s winning people into a worshipful relationship with God.

But missionaries don’t just live in Haiti or Kenya. They live in Suffolk, too.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) really is for every follower of Jesus. It is an inherent component of our lives.

I’m concerned that most of us who dare evangelize to our unbelieving co-workers, family members and neighbors are doing so in the same way that Elephant danced with his friend Mouse.

He was well intentioned. He loved his friend. He wanted good things for his friend. But he danced like an elephant at a mouse party.

We do the same thing when we quote Scripture like machine gun fire to people who haven’t even accepted the trustworthiness of the Bible. We do it when we argue about gay marriage to a generation that considers absolute truth an invalid, even insulting, idea.

We sound like bullies when we yell about the consequences of truth to a generation that dismisses the very notion of truth. We become Elephant dancing with Mouse.

Let’s try a new approach. Let’s ask Mouse questions about how he dances. Let’s learn about Mouse. Let’s not stomp on Mouse.

What if Christians listened more than we talked? Let’s show that we care as an example that Christ cares. I’m convinced that our neighbor won’t be truly interested in our beliefs of divinity until he believes we are concerned about his humanity.

In our effort to tell the world about Jesus, we’re going to step on some toes in love, but let’s be careful not to stomp on the unbelieving world just to be right or because we just haven’t learned how to dance with a mouse.

Chris Surber is the pastor at Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk. Email him at Thurman Hayes’ column will return soon.