Relationships with the Nationals

Maybe the most important aspect of our work as missionaries outside of the strictly spiritual realm is that of our relationship with nationals.  So many good men and women go to the field and do not accomplish what they could even though they are very well trained and prepared for the work.  It is not enough to have a good education or to be a spiritual man of God.  You must also know how to relate to people.  You are the visitor to their country.  You must learn to think in terms of how they view things and not what you like or want.

Below you will find the counsel given by Emilio A. Núñez C. and a group of his former students at the Central American Theological Seminary in Guatemala.  I do not necessarily agree with everyone but since they were each stated by nationals I believe that they deserve your careful consideration.


  1. Remove from your head your great American ideas of how things should be done here.
  2. Do not think you have come to work with uncivilized people.
  3. Do not teach so much theory, but practice your teaching in your life. Show us how it works in
    real life as you model the truth.
  4. Read about Latin America and my country. Find out who our best authors are.
  5. Have more contact with the people, not only in the churches but in your social life.
  6. Live at an adequate level, neither too high above us nor too low below us. Adapt your life-style to the people with whom you work.
  7. Do not talk in English when there are people present who do not understand it. This is rude on your part, and we tend to suspect that you are talking about us.
  8. Do not impose your American customs on us or belittle ours. Do not try to make us into little North Americans.
  9. Do something to meet the social needs of our people, whether it be literacy, relief, or development projects.
  10. Do not feel that you are superior to me. We can sense pride even in small amounts.  You came to serve in humility, and it is best that you not compare cultures, trying to prove yours is better.
  11. Show love to people as you do in your country, and then learn how we do it here.
  12. Learn our language well: our sayings and proverbs, our youth slang if appropriate, our subjunctive, our regional and national accents.
  13. Try to learn our language so well that you speak without a foreign accent.
  14. Read about our continental and national heroes: Bolivar, Miranda, Juárez, San Martín, and others.
  15. Be willing to accept our suggestions. That may hurt, but we want to help.  You have to accept them with humility.  Learn the meaning of Proverbs 27:6 and 17.

Proverbs 27:6 Faithful [are] the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy [are]deceitful.

Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

  1. Watch the way you speak to us. We are very sensitive to the tone of voice and the choice of words.  We are touchy people.
  2. Be more diplomatic in your relationships with us. Do not greet us as you gringos greet each other.  You seem too cold and distant.  Ask about our families and our personal lives.
  3. Learn to touch us appropriately. You people seem very cold in human relations.  There is noting like a great abrazo.
  4. See yourself as a co-equal with us, neither higher nor lower.
  5. Develop serious and deep friends from among us, people with whom you can be transparent and vulnerable. This will take time and is costly.  But you can ask them about the intimate things, about ideas and other topics.,  This step is risky, for the  closer you get to us the more unhappy you might make your missionary colleagues.
  6. Love without talking about it. Just show it.
  7. Show that you lovingly expect much from us with coming across as a paternalistic chief.
  8. Make disciples among us leaving a human and reproducible legacy when you leave.
  9. Eat and like our food, not just Pizza Hut and McDonald’s. We also like to know what you eat
    at home as a family.
  10. Learn to dress like Latins, using our styles and fabrics.
  11. Be more flexible in terms of time., Slow down!  Why are you always in a hurry,  looking at your watch?  There is more to life than time.
  12. Learn and appreciate our music and instruments, both folk and classical.
  13. Drop the terms pounds and miles, and then learn to give weights and distances in kilos and kilometers.
  14. Struggle honestly with our struggles: social, historical, cultural, church, and Christian life.  Do not just give us capitalistic answers, and do not reduce societal problems to simplistic spiritual solutions.
  15. Learn to read the Bible from our perspective and culture. You will have to work at this, but it is worth it.  Note how much of the Bible was written to people who lived in
    violence, injustice, and political uncertainty.
  16. Remember that we think differently from the way you do, and our problem-solving is different from yours. Learn how we do it.
  17. Come and stay with us for a long time. Short terms are shortcuts many times.
  18. At the same time, be bold enough to examine whether or not you should stay in Latin America as a missionary. Perhaps some of you should return home, particularly if you cannot adjust here, or do not know why you came, or are having serious family problems, or cannot work with us.

2 Replies to “Relationships with the Nationals”

  1. Our personal ministry in Honduras shows that such an outlook and emphasis will definitely bring results. The work continues to grow and expand even though we have been gone for seven years. God works those miracles.

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