A Church Growth Study of the Zuni IndiansRalph Bruce Terry
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Chapter 5




This chapter contains suggested procedures for a missionary from the Churches of Christ to the Zunis. The information upon which the suggestions are based comes from library research, class notes, personal observations, and the analysis in Chapter 4. First, suggestions are made as to the training the missionary should have and the methods that would be best. Next, a suggested form that the message might take is given. Then a form that the church might take is presented. Finally, there is an opinion regarding the results which the missionary might expect.


Training. For a man to be a missionary to the Zunis, he needs to first have extensive Bible training. But more than this he needs to be dedicated to the Lord and to carrying out His will. Before a missionary comes to the reservation, it is suggested that he should have some courses in the fields of mission methods, anthropology, and linguistics. He should study different cultures and learn to have an empathy for cultures other than his own. He should strive to reduce his own ethnocentric feelings about his own culture. He should be familiar with culture shock and know how to overcome it. Then he should begin a culture study of the Zunis. As one writer points out about the missionary in this regard:

...he must find out all he can about local customs and belief and tribal history. He should know the significance of every sacred tree, stone, and grave. The missionary's first job is not to preach the Gospel, it is to know the people. There are far too many enthusiasts who rush around, often in luxurious cars, "sowing the word," preaching to people of whom they know nothing, distributing lurid tracts, and often seeking to wean people away from another long-established mission.1

The missionary should not only study the Zuni culture, but his American culture as well. He should learn to lay aside some of his cultural ideas which will be in conflict with Zuni cultural ideas, e.g., time is money, man over nature, and two-fold judgments.

The most difficult part of the culture to learn is the language; yet in order to have an effective ministry, it is necessary to learn the language. Men fight, pray, make love, and mourn in their mother tongue--the language of the heart.2 The Zunis are no exception. The language must be learned well:

The missionary who is keen on his work will not be content with a mere smattering of the language, he should aim at becoming really proficient. Thought forms, idioms, proverbs must be mastered, and unless the missionary resolutely sets out to do this in the early days of his service, he is very unlikely to reach his goal.3

It will not be easy but it will save many mistakes later.

Suggested methods. The missionary should spend the first year or two, not primarily engaged in evangelism, but learning the culture and language first-hand. During this time he should learn to identify with the Zuni people. This will not only help in his future evangelistic work, but will help him overcome culture shock as well. Nida says that for identification to be effective the missionary must know himself, know others, participate in the lives of the people, be willing to expose himself to being known, and have a genuine love for people.4 In the practical realm, identification means such things as learning the language, eating the native food, sleeping in the people's houses, and mourning with them in their sorrows.5 Identification means that the missionary should strive to be fraternalistic rather than paternalistic and overbearing.

Paul's example. Probably the greatest Christian missionary of all times was the Apostle Paul. Paul followed several principles which it would be good for the missionary today to imitate.6 For one thing, he did not feel that it was necessary to protect "his" converts by staying in one place all the time to make sure that they did not fan away. Instead, he trusted them to the power of the Holy Spirit to change their lives from the inside out.7 Paul was a man of earnest prayer. He believed that prayer did change things and opened doors of opportunity in his work.8 He was a man who was willing to practice self-denial for the Lord. He practiced self-denial in the money that he received. He was not always on the lookout for enough money but was content with what he had.9 This is in sharp contrast to some missionaries today who cannot operate without a working capital of several thousand dollars and who are unable to identify because of economic barriers between them and the peoples to which they are going. Also Paul denied himself the security of always holding on to his own cultural beliefs. He "became all things to all men" in order to win some.10 In other words, he was humble enough to identify with the people to whom he went. Paul also took the greatest care when dealing with financial matters. As Allen points out, he employed three safeguards to insure that he would not be accused of dealing falsely with moneys (1) he did not seek financial help for himself (thus people could not say he was just preaching for the money), (2) he did not take financial help to his converts (thus he not only avoided "buying" converts, but left them financially independent as well), and (3) he did not administer local church funds (thus showing his trust in people and leaving himself blameless).11 The missionary would do well to follow Paul's example.

Cultural Problems. The missionary should also try to understand the special cross-cultural communication problems that may arise. For example, at Zuni a new idea is much better accepted if it is introduced in the summer rather than in the winter, when the pueblo is usually more tense.12 New ideas are probably better introduced in retreats than in public revival meetings. Group-oriented retreats have parallels in the Zuni religion and have been used with some success by the Catholics. It should be understood that Zuni has been a face-to-face society and is rapidly changing into an urban society, Nida lists four principles which should be kept in mind while working with a face-to-face society:

(1) effective communication must be based upon personal friendship, (2) the initial approach should be to those who can effectively pass on communication within their family grouping, (3) time must be allowed for the internal diffusion of new ideas, and (4) the challenge for any change of belief or action must be addressed to the persons or groups socially capable of making such decisions.13
Determining which persons or groups to approach is a difficult matter. Tribal leaders are steeped in the Zuni religion, and diversity within the tribe greatly dampens their influence. The clan tie is not really that strong in Zuni. Probably the best social unit to work in for conversions is the household. This is the economic unit of the village and in this unit the Catholics have found the greatest degree of success. In using these principles it must be realized that Zuni is undergoing a period of great social change. It is changing from a society that is basically tradition-directed toward a society which is itself moving from being inner-directed to being other-directed.14

Scripture distribution. The missionary should also avail himself of the new Bible translation in Zuni which is coming out. God's word often has a very strong impact on a society. One of the most effective aids to evangelism is the passing out of scripture portions and gospels. These are a lot more likely to be read than a complete New Testament. Also, they can often be sold for a few cents. This puts them in the price range of everybody, and people are more likely to read something they pay for than something that is just given to them. Probably the gospel which would most influence the Zunis is Mark. This gospel usually appeals to those who have a more aboriginal culture.15

1W. T. Harris and E. G. Parrinder, The Christian Approach to the Animist (London: Edinburgh House Press, 1960), pp. 58, 59. [return]

2Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970). p. 193. Cf. Chapter 2, footnote 120. [return]

3Harris and Parrinder, op. cit., p. 58. [return]

4Eugene A. Nida, Message and Mission (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), pp. 168-170. [return]

5Stan Shewmaker, "You Are A Tonga, My Son," Contact, XVI, 2 (Summer 1969), 3, 4. [return]

6It should be noted that although Paul worked in cross-cultural situations, they all had the Greek language, Hellenistic culture, and Roman government as common influences, at least on the surface. Also Paul's ministry was initiatory, not pastoral. [return]

7Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962), p. 149. [return]

8Colossians 4:3. [return]

9I Corinthians 9:12, 15. [return]

10I Corinthians 9:22, 23. [return]

11Allen, op. cit., p. 49. [return]

12Dorthea C. Leighton and John Adair, People of the Middle Places: A Study of the Zuni Indians (New Haven, Connecticut: Human Relations Area Files, 1963), pp. 201-202. [return]

13Nida, op. cit., p. 110. [return]

14See Nida, op. cit., pp. 123-129. [return]

15Eugene A. Nida, God's Word in Man's Language (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1952), pp. 26, 165-166, 173-174. [return]

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