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Today we continue a discussion of Duane Elmer’s book “Cross Cultural Servanthood” which, while directed at a cross-cultural audience, has excellent principles that can be applied in all contexts. This is a review of chapter three. Part one of the discussion can be found here.

Elmer begins chapter three with this illustration:

There’s a monkey who’s taken refuge on an island while a massive typhoon rages around him and flood waters rise. While waiting for the storm to pass, the monkey sees a fish who appears to be struggling while swimming against the current. The kind hearted monkey decides to help the fish who obviously needs assistance.

The monkey, at great risk to himself, climbs a dangling limb over the spot where the fish is swimming. Stretching precariously, the monkey rescues the fish from the raging waters and hurries back to his safe spot. He lays the fish carefully next to him on the dry, secure ground. “For a few moments,” Elmer writes, “the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature.”

While the whole illustration is told from the monkey’s point of view, we’re never given a description of his emotional state. What degree of arrogance or humility did he harbor in his heart as he “helped” the fish? But, “the fish likely saw the arrogance of the monkey’s assumption that what was good for the monkeys would also be good for fish. This arrogance, hidden from the monkey’s consciousness, far overshadowed his kindness in trying to help the fish. Thus good intensions are not enough.”

In the fall of this year, I’ll begin an online Master’s degree program. Furthering my formal education has been something I’ve wanted to do since I graduated with my bachelor’s degree and I’m excited to finally be able to do it. But…

I once observed an interaction between two people – one of whom had over six years of experience living cross-culturally and the other who had barely three months. Yet the one with three months of experience was lecturing the one with more experience about how to translate a concept into the local language. I cringed. While both people had a Master’s degree – that further education had made one willing to listen, while it had made the other feel prepared to lecture on a topic he barely knew anything about.

Most people who engage in community service or enter ministry, do so from good intentions. Yet how often do we dive into creating a new program or new outreach without stopping to ask those for whom the program is intended how they’d best be served? How often do we jump straight to teaching without first asking what our students what they need to learn? Elmer quotes from the Lausanne Willowbank report that says, “We repent of the ignorance which assumes that we have all the answers and that our only role is to teach. We have very much to learn.”

Does it give you pause to consider how hidden arrogance might be harming the very people you intend to help? How does your church or community decide which new programs to implement? Is it a top-down decision made by “us” for “them”? Or is it a process informed heavily by the stated needs of those you desire to serve?