The Cart before the Donkey?


In what feels like just a few days ago (although it has been a couple of months, now), we packed up our lives – again – to transition to a new place… And that transition has been going beautifully, really. But we made the move knowing that one of us, my husband or myself, would need to return to the States to move our daughter off to college. Fortunately, while we are living cross culturally and speaking a different language, we are on the same continent and so it was only a long train ride and drive back to be with and help her through this first part of this big growing up season of her life.

While I’ve been back, I was able to listen to a very good sermon – in English! – and very apropos for my young’un just now beginning to strike out on her own  – inspired by the words from Proverbs 2:1-12a. The preacher made two key points:

  1. Daily depend on God and His Word; and
  2. Daily dependence on God and His Word leads to wise decisions and gives direction in life.

Great points for any young person… actually, for any person, regardless of age!

But it was really the next part of the sermon that got me to thinking… because one of the applications drawn was that to “daily depend” and therefore have the ability and help needed to make wise decisions and have direction for the future, you must regularly read God’s Word.

The preacher shared some statistics – like how according to recent polls, around 80% (if I’m remembering the statistic correctly – but the point is – a large majority) of evangelical Christians say they read God’s Word once a week. My guess would be that once a week would be Sunday, when they go to church. The point of sharing those numbers was to help his listeners see just how easy it is to fall within a population of people who easily say, “I love God and His Word. I try to live my life following Him and the principles found in His Word,” but who, in reality, might not ever spend enough time interacting with God through His Word for that to be true.

Good point.

True point.

Then, I started thinking of a woman I met, the woman whose example continually convicts me of my compared-to-her apathy when it comes to interacting with God through His Word. Choosing to follow Christ had cost her dearly in this life – yet part of her daily greeting to everyone was a huge smile and a heartfelt, “May God continue to teach you thankfulness in every moment!” She knew the Bible stories and could recite large sections of Scripture. She hummed psalms and songs of thanksgiving while going about her daily affairs – and she lived a hard life where daily sustenance was not a given, much less most of the comforts and luxuries to which I regularly assume I am entitled. And, she couldn’t read.

I know this because I spent two years working with her, helping her learn how to slowly, haltingly, read at the kindergarten/first grade level in her mother language. I’ll never forget the moment she read God’s Word for herself, for the first time: she danced in celebration and cried tears of joy. She had just sounded out the words in a sentence to recognize the story of Ruth and Boaz in the Bible. And then our town flooded and she had to move back to her home town to be near her sister. I really never got to say goodbye or see what she did with that emerging skill.


As I sat in church that recent Sunday and listened to the preacher, I took a third point from his sermon – one that I think applies to those working cross culturally, especially as we seek to spiritually mentor and disciple people.

In middle class, Bible-belt Americana – my cultural background – it might be a good and fair assumption that daily dependence on God and His Word is evidenced by someone consistently and daily reading the Bible. That might even be on the mental checklist when considering someone for a position of leadership within the church. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it should be.

But, if I carry that same mental checklist with me when traveling to and ministering within another culture or community where the ability to read isn’t an almost automatic given, I’ve lost any semblance of contextually appropriate cultural authenticity.

Daily reading and independent study of God’s Word is a “form” that is recognized in my world as evidence of a much more important “function:” interacting with God and His Word, allowing His truth to penetrate into heart, soul, mind, and spirit, resulting in change and direction for life. In a predominately illiterate culture, that function cannot be represented by the form of daily reading and independent study of God’s Word. This doesn’t mean we ignore that function; it means we find culturally workable way for it to be manifested.


As cross cultural workers, when form (regardless of how good and appropriate and effective that form may have been in our home worlds and cultures) becomes more important than function, we put the cart before the donkey and become culturally irrelevant.

I’ve spent a number of years living in a land where I couldn’t walk down the street without seeing at least one donkey pulling a cart, and the people knew that if you tried to get the cart to pull the donkey, it just wouldn’t work.  How often do we discourage and turn people away from potential friendship with God by preaching a culturally irrelevant form and thus diluting and deforming, if not outright blocking, Christ’s message of hope and salvation by darkening the amazing grace of the Gospel?

How can we major on the majors and prevent home culture interference on the “form” of a biblical “function” when working cross culturally? 

How do you, personally, make sure that form follows function in your cross-cultural work and/or ministry?

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Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. ||

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