Saturday, March 31, 2018

Discipleship Training: A Non-traditional Approach to Theological Education for the Highland Quichua of Ecuador

Ross H. Hunter
   I believe a cultural blindness exists at the core worldview level of the western
missionary and Quichua student that limits the clear teaching and the student’s comprehension and learning in the area of international theological education. The gospel
that penetrated the hearts of our indigenous students did not completely replace their old patterns of thinking and values that relate to their animistic and cultural context. At times, the western theological educator and indigenous student experience only brief touch-points of understanding. These limitations are due to contrasting values and orientations such as: time/event, individual/collective, truth/relationship, guilt/shame, linear/holistic, natural /supernatural, etc... In addition, allegiances to family, churches, organizations, and social obligations weigh heavily on the Quichua student, whose value and identity are intrinsically tied to his family, community and political environment.
Challenges for the missionary
  The teacher of indigenous theological education needs to wear multiple hats. He needs to be a theologian who can interpret the Bible in the historical and cultural context of the passage. He needs to be a missionary who understands how to communicate Biblical truth through the historical and cultural context of his indigenous student. Additionally,  he needs to be a missionary/educator who is aware of the influence that the western culture has on his own thinking, personal research, teaching, and evaluation of learning. Finally, he must be a student of his own personal culture and biases. The challenge for students’ deep learning and integration grows in proportion to the degree that the western missionary is unaware or unable to integrate these perspectives.
Challenges from within the Quichua church
Divergent theologies, syncretistic practices, false cults, and political influences have converged to fracture the Quichua church and erode trust. Many indigenous pastors are not able to process biblical concepts into their context and are threatened by educated urban youth who ask hard questions they cannot answer. 
The fractured state of the Quichua church reveals a pastoral leadership crisis:
1)    Theological training programs have been insufficient in training a pastor to apply the theoretical biblical truth to their concrete context. 
2)    Churches allow syncretistic practices, and have members who visit the shaman or bruja (witchdoctor) during the week.
3)    Well trained pastors have left the ministry for political or business opportunities, or through moral failure.
4)    Mission agencies have pulled out, in favor of less reached countries.
5)    There is an estimated 10% ratio of Quichua pastors to churches.  Within that 10%, several have taken itinerant roles, essentially becoming a pastor to several churches, making the role of shepherding difficult to impossible.
6)    Missionaries and social-aid organizations recruit pastors/leaders to represent their ministry and work out of the local church. This effectively puts the church under the ministry goals and priorities of the mission, resulting in a disruption of the local economy, organic ministry, and balance of power that weakens the indigenous leadership.
7)    Many of the higher trained pastors have migrated to the city, creating a vacuum of leaders in the rural communities.
8)    Very few leaders under the age of forty desire to be a pastor. Of those that do, few can afford the time or cost of a traditional seminary.
An alternative model of theological education is needed. Sadly, after 47 years of theological training in the Chimborazo province, only an estimated 5-10% of the needs for pastoral ministry are being met.
Discipleship Training; a non-western approach to indigenous theological education.
     Discipleship Training is our term for a Biblical model of theological education that attempts to integrate the core content of a western theological seminary into a practical, learning-based model that is oriented to the values of an indigenous culture. Through a combination of academic learning and mentoring relationships, attention can be focused on character development, Biblical counseling, and applied learning. Discipleship Training provides a learning environment in the context of discipleship that can serve as a model for the student to train and disciple his leaders at the local level.
Discipleship Training principles addressed 
1.     Learning the language in the context of the culture:
        Language learning is a life-long process.  Because one’s culture is often 
imbedded in their language, it is recommended to continue to pursue language even after one feels they are fluent. While Spanish is the preferred language for education, the Quichua language should be used to explain theological concepts.  
     Some biblical words do not exist in the indigenous language and were borrowed from Quichua words or phrases that had similar meanings or ideas. For example, the Quichua do not have a word in their language for the biblical concept of sin, so Bible translators borrowed the Quichua word jucha, to refer to sin.  Jucha has two basic meanings: it describes a responsibility given to an individual, especially in the context of a wedding, it is also used to describe someone who did not complete, or “fell short” of his or her responsibility. Quichua students have no trouble understanding that the jucha in the Bible falls under the second definition. After a time of class discussion, our students concluded that the picture of sin in the Quichua mind was external, in contrast to the biblical concept, which includes an internal moral element they were not grasping.
     Contrary to a Biblical worldview, external obligation is the basis for trust in indigenous relationships, including their relationship with God. The “normal” understanding of conviction in this culture relates more to a western understanding of shame, than one of guilt.  The Biblical picture of guilt that leads to repentance, and the internal change of heart that is needed for Biblical transformation, are new concepts to be more deeply explored and internalized. This may explain why there is a high percentage of evangelical Quichua who have not yet been transformed out of syncretism.
2.     Teaching theoretical concepts in the context of the students’ practical world helps them explore new ideas in a concrete framework.
The indigenous student lives in the context of community. The Quichua often do not make independent decisions, apart from the consideration of others, especially when it affects their immediate family. It is common for example, to see students share ideas in class, including their test answers! In Discipleship Training, we have students study in small groups within the class. This “student team” often works through learning tasks together. Specific open questions help them process theological concepts and begin to explore how to apply them to their lives.[1]   
     Using the familiar to introduce theoretical concepts helps increase our students’ comprehension. Western theology is primarily theoretical and logically structured, and is often defended by a rational apologetic. Indigenous students have trouble connecting theoretical concepts to their concrete reality. When we tie theoretical concepts to the practical reality of the student, he can create a frame of reference from which to learn the new concept.  For example, I recently taught a basic introductory Greek course in the framework of a hermeneutical review.
Students gained confidence using the already familiar steps of methods of Bible study, which then provided a bridge to help them grapple with how to apply basic Greek tools in their Biblical studies.    In a theology course on suffering and injustice, I contrasted the divergent teaching of Liberation Theology with the Biblical teaching of suffering. Their own history of centuries of subjugation provided a vivid backdrop in which to examine and process theological issues related to the nature of God, the suffering of Christ, and how God can use suffering to draw us closer to Him. 

3.     Adapting to indigenous relationship structures can create an interesting tension between developing influence and respect and maintaining our witness and integrity in mentor relationships.
In the indigenous worldview, trust is often based on obligation. It is important for the westerner to understand that the Quichua student will often put the missionary in the category of a patrón, meaning Lord or Master. In the eyes of the student, this comes with unspoken obligations of which the missionary may be unaware.  Patrón is a term that has been carried over from the old hacienda - feudal system era. The Quichua served his master as the poor slave, or peón, living under the protection of the hacienda owner, working as his servant. As obligations were fulfilled, trust emerged to strengthen the relationship. Often times the student’s effort to fulfill his perceived obligation is received by the missionary as friendship or kindness. The missionary may be clueless of any perceived contractual nature expected in the growing relationship. At some point, the student will approach the missionary asking for his help. This could be financial, emotional or even the need to be represented or given a recommendation (a white face opens doors). At times he may want favors that could compromise the integrity of the missionary.  If the missionary does not reciprocate, the student may withdraw, eventually become discouraged, and fade out of the program.  His perceived trust is eroded when he does not receive what he had hoped for out of the relationship.  It is not always so cut and dry; family obligations, power struggles, and even a form of manipulation often step in to confuse things. At times, it can take two to three years to discover some of the real motives or expectations of a student.
The Patrón system is often uncomfortable to the westerner as we are trained and prefer to seek a closer equality in our relationships with the national culture. When a westerner tries to over adapt with the intent of establishing an equal footing with his student, the indigenous may perceive this as foolish, which can result in a loss of respect for the missionary. “Why on earth with all the resources God has given the westerner, would he want to live like me?” After I saw how uncomfortable some of our students became with our equality mindset, I realized that, for their sake, I needed to stay in a role that held to a higher degree of power distance in order to meet their cultural expectations. In time, Biblical concepts of grace based relationships can be introduced and modeled through the discipleship process that will help displace their animistic values of obligation and debts owed as a basis for trust.  I plan to explore how deep this is imbedded in the Quichua understanding of their relationship with God.
4.     Building Koinonia in a learning community
I discovered the power of relationship as an educational tool at the end of teaching a two year pastoral training course. I met once a week with 15 students in a class setting while taking time to visit in our students homes and churches. I worked hard to establish a platform for discipleship often giving time to draw in our students’ experiences into the lesson as they related to the topic. As students shared their burdens and prayed for each other a new spirit of koinonia drew them together.  On the last day of the course, I wished them a happy life and ministry, and thanked them for their effort. To my surprise, after we prayed and the class was over, nobody moved. They sat there quietly, then one of the leaders in the group spoke up and asked, “What’s next?” I told them they did a great job, and now they could go back to their churches and equip their people. But they did not want to leave. We had developed a strong sense of community, a sense of identity that our students did not want to lose. Relationships can create a bond that goes well beyond the academic course. I began to look at our program as a learning community. Since that day over 10 years ago, many of those original relationships remain intact.
5.     Teaching through mentor relationships helps form a learning community.
I have observed a direct correlation between the comprehension and the commitment level of a student as a result of visiting their families, attending their churches, and walking alongside them in their times of struggle. These relationships happen naturally, are intentional, and often result with a student bringing their issues to the classroom or to me after class.  When this happens, their learning aptitude more than triples.  Students become increasingly motivated to learn when they find answers in class that help them minister to their people. 
6.     Building a learning community enhances learning. 
One of our goals in visiting our students’ churches is to encourage the church to become part of their “learning community” that will serve to support them in prayer and provide opportunities for them to apply their learning in a ministry context.
Early on in our program, many of our younger students would announce they were not able to complete their practical ministry assignment. I had assumed that our student’s church would naturally be excited that their leaders were studying in our program and open their church for students to apply their learning. Upon investigation, I found that we were upsetting the balance of power in their church and our student threatened the leadership resulting in the opposite. It is now part of our application process to be in communication with a student’s church. When a student registers, he submits a letter of recommendation from his church. Once enrolled, I visit the church and share our objectives with the leadership, ask the church to pray for our student, and open ministry opportunities as part of his application assignment. I have seen churches respond positively when we invite their input and seek their support. If there are issues with the student they usually surface then.  As a result, our students’ motivation and learning increase when they are able to apply their studies in a supportive learning environment.
Concluding principles
     1. Some of the most effective theological educators for indigenous students will be Quichua pastors and teachers.  A Quichua pastor who has 50% of the training and understanding
of a western missionary will most likely be 100% more effective in communicating Biblical truth to his people. The trust his people have for him as a leader or pastor, the acceptance he has as an indigenous member of the community, and the clarity he has in the command of his heart language, puts him well ahead of the expat in his ability to communicate biblical truth. When a missionary trains a pastor well, he can have confidence he has multiplied himself 200%.
     2. Discipleship Training is a sustainable model that can be multiplied by Quichua pastors. It is interesting, that at one of the darkest theological times in biblical history, after 400 years of prophetic silence, God sent His Son to train twelve students and empowered them to disciple others. “His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with the men whom the multitudes would follow.”[2] He did the job with only one graduating class! The irony is that when one focuses on a few, they can be equipped at a much deeper level, than with a focus on a crowd. In evaluating the leadership need, a pastoral training movement is needed that is well beyond the capacity of the traditional seminary, one that can deeply equip leaders to train and multiply disciples in their context.
    3. If the class the missionary is teaching can be taught by a national leader, step aside, empower the national teacher, and train at a higher level. Often a pastor or leader will invite the missionary to teach a class in his church that he could teach himself. There are multiple reasons for this, including the hopes that such a relationship will bring resources. While it is recommended that the missionary visit a students’ local church to understand and encourage the people he ministers to and model discipleship, care should be taken not to stay too long, as to create a confusion or threat to the power structure of the church. Sometimes a visit can give the appearance that the pastor is under the missionary. There are many outside groups that have unknowingly upset the balance of ministry in a church, as they seek to use the local church as the center for their program.  When I visit or teach in the students church,  I try to limit my visit to a short time so as not to disrupt the natural balance of our student’s ministry.
    4. Partnerships among national churches will greatly enhance the work. The indigenous quest for power and mistrust of each other can isolate leaders in their theological training. Often I am counseled by pastors not to partner with the national church association, not to partner with other mission organizations, and not to partner or even associate with the church over the hill. The quest for power and mistrust among the Quichua are strong. The advantage of the western missionary is that he is accepted by pastors and leaders who do not accept each other. This can give the missionary the ability to bring leaders together.     
     5. Discipleship should be an intentional part of theological training.
It involves being a pastor, educator, mentor, counselor, and coach. Because discipleship tends to be more relationally driven, the personality of the educator can play a dominant role. Care should be taken to present the elements of discipleship clearly so the student can distinguish between the personality of their  mentor and the principles of Biblical discipleship that will enable the student to grasp and reproduce these principles in the context of his/her own personality and gifts.
Since 1994, Ross Hunter and his wife Mary have been missionaries to the highland Quichua of Ecuador. They currently serve with Pioneers International in the area of Biblical and theological education and discipleship among Quichua pastors and leaders. Ross is an ordained minister under the Evangelical Free Church of America,  holds a BA in International Ministries from Moody Bible Insititute, and an MDiv with studies in International Theological Education from Columbia International University. This article was published in the EMQ (Evangelical Missions Quarterly) April- 2018 

[1] Teaching through Learning Tasks was adapted from Jane Vella’s Taking Learning to Task: Creative Strategies for Teaching Adults, Jossey Bass, San Fransisco, 2000.
[2]Coleman, Robert E., The Master Plan of Evangelsim, Revell, Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, 1963, 1964, 1993 (p 21).

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