John Fowler, “Navajo Code Talker Memorial.” Copyright 2014, John Fowler.
Licensed under Creative Commons. No changes made.
Navajo Code Talkers were essential to the allied victory in the Pacific. They created an unbreakable code making communications possible while keeping operational plans secret. The Japanese were never able to penetrate the code.
The Marine Corps leadership selected 29 Navajo men, the Navajo Code Talkers, who created a code based on the complex, unwritten Navajo language. The code primarily used word association by assigning a Navajo word to key phrases and military tactics. This system enabled the Code Talkers to translate three lines of English in 20 seconds, not 30 minutes, as was common with existing code-breaking machines. intel.gov
Listening to a Strange Land
When we seek to be Dynamic Equivalence Churches (see former post), the code of our culture can be hard to break. How do we work toward being a Dynamic Equivalence church while declaring
- the good news that Jesus is king
- the reality that the church is a unique institution because Christ purchased her with his blood
- a way of life that follows Jesus and so challenges the culture
Code Talkers are critical to living our faith in ways that
- speak to our culture
- declare biblical realities.
In Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys, Richard Twiss says code talkers know the world of the church and the culture. They are fluent in both languages. They can interpret them in meaningful ways for the ministry and mission of the church. Twiss speaking of contextualizing faith in Native American communities writes,
They can be described as “people on the edge.” This… brings them into contact with new ideas from outside their social group, which they get back to their members. They “carry information across boundaries” between groups. These Native leaders’ exposure and involvement ent with other leaders outside their particular groups permitted them to work along the edges and serve as brokers between groups. It is always challenging for these leaders to balance organizational loyalty and doctrinal adherence with refreshing liberty to consider new ideas. It was always a multicultural leader who could comfortably and confidently move back and forth across cultural divides within their own First Nations community and — perhaps more importantly—between dominant “Caucasian” culture of the evangelical church and their Native cultural world.
To move into being a Dynamic Equivalence church, we need “people on the edge.” These people can help us navigate staying true to the good news that Jesus is king. They also show ways to communicate that message that is understood by the culture.
Poodles Don’t Like to be Turned into Microwave Ovens
Whenever we seek to become Dynamic Equivalence, a struggle will occur. I heard a speaker talk about the challenge of moving a congregation in this direction. He said that a poodle (our present church) doesn’t like to be turned into a microwave oven (a dynamic equivalence church). The truth for your congregation, is this move may feel like you are making them into a whole new thing. The pain of this change may be deep and complicated.
Rather than ignoring the pain, it is helpful to allow people to grieve the losses that come with change. The importance of naming the changes, detailing the reasons, and allowing people to speak about their loss is part of the process. As Tod Bolsinger points out in Canoeing the Mountains, it is not change that people resist; it is loss.
We do what we can to mourn the loss as we seek to take fresh steps in ministry and mission that declare the good news that Jesus is king to our local community.
Sometimes, however, the change to being a Dynamic Equivalence church is more than a congregation can engage. Richard Twiss recognizes this challenge. He points out that change will not come in some situations, and another avenue will be needed.
One of the biggest challenges is whether or not these contextualization practices will be accepted by pastors and leaders living on reservations—thus far there has been great reluctance. In many cases, they are not only opposed, but actively engaged in preventing any contextualization efforts from being accepted… This being the case, a major consideration is whether or not these contextualization efforts will serve to help reform existing churches (if possible) or whether an entirely new church planting movement is necessary.
Here is the good news. There is a way to connect with your local culture no matter how your congregation engages in being a dynamic equivalence church. You can plant a church. And the second piece of good news is that you can plant a church no matter the size of your congregation. Resonate Global Mission has a three-lane approach that includes micro and Fresh Expressions churches. These types of church plants can be part of the life of most congregations.
So who are the “people on the edge” in your congregation, community, and city that help you? Who are your code talkers? What are you learning from them?
And what are the struggles you experience in seeking to incorporate their wisdom into your setting?