If there is one book that I wish had existed and that I had read before Donna and I went to Congo as missionaries in the mid-1970s, it might be this short insightful 135-page work. I would describe the author, Dr. L. Arden Almquist (1921-2002) as a physician, pastor, missionary administrator, poet, and philosopher. Because most of Almquist’s stories come primarily from less than 200 miles from where Donna and I served in northern Congo, his insights make real sense to me. No, I don’t agree with every perspective expressed by Evangelical Covenant missionary Almquist, but what a sensitive, caring, and intelligent human being he was!
Would I have made some of the same mistakes as a missionary had I read this book before going to Congo? Yes, probably, because maturity doesn’t come from reading a book, but I think I would have been better prepared for cross-cultural life and ministry, and maybe, just maybe, I would have felt a bit more convicted at the time about some of the dumb and insensitive things I said and did during those years.
Almquist’s thesis is that we give, but we also receive as missionaries: “My experiences taught me what it means to be on a road to mission, a road that is indeed a two-way street. What I learned about life from Africans is at least as important as what I contributed to them.”
The author has great insight into both African culture and his own: “Many of the distinctions we cherish in Western thought are unimportant, even irrelevant to the African. The past and the future, the animate and inanimate, the spiritual and the material, even the living and the dead: all these divisions are false to the nature of things as Africans understand the world. To these I would add our cherished distinction between the religious and the secular; to my African associates life is a whole, and the religious and the secular are the warp and woof of the cloth of life.”
Some of the lessons that Almquist reports having learned from Africans are:
(1) being is more important than doing;
(2) presence is more important than talk;
(3) community is more important than individualism;
(4) relationships are more important than possessions;
(5) human beings are creatures among creatures (beyond exploitation);
(6) time is measured by human happenings, not by moments; and
(7) life should be perceived as a whole.
There is also an interesting chapter on “Beyond shamanism and specialization” written with the expertise of a physician-theologian. I would recommend that all medical mission personnel serving in developing countries read this chapter.
“Loko: A Wholistic Model for Mission.”
I also found intriguing the chapter entitled “Loko: A Wholistic Model for Mission.” Loko, a mission station during our years in Zaire, came out of the death of missionary physician Dr. Paul Carlson. Carlson was killed in 1964 by rebel insurgents after being falsely accused of being an American spy. The foundation formed in his name led to the development of Loko of which Dr. Almquist served as director for a number of years.
In his introduction to this book, well-known missionary doctor Paul Brand wrote, “I thought first to recommend this book to prospective missionaries, and indeed I do. However, I commend it also to a wider group. All of us should read it who recognize how much we are controlled by our individual backgrounds of culture and experience. … We sense barriers of color, race, sex, and levels of wealth or poverty; we all need to learn from those who have been through cross-cultural experiences, have triumphantly broken … barriers in the name of Christ, and have found not sacrifice but new freedom and joy.” … “One more reason I like this book is that it is fun to read. This is a grand adventure, made up of a well-told sequence of mishaps and triumphs.”