Ethical Difficulties on the Mission Field

Here’s our recent prayer letter. We love to share the ethical “dilemmas” we come up against in our ministry here. Well, “dilemma” might be too strong of a word for most of these situations. But it is always interesting to get responses back from people who read the letter and send their humble opinions. What is most interesting and humorous is when two people respond dogmatically on opposite sides of the same issue!


In July 2011, I sent out a list of difficult ethical situations our team has experienced. Another list came along in July 2012, but last year I took a break while we were in the US. The world has not gotten easier in the last two years so here are another ten conundrums that commonly confront us.

1. Should I show frustration with incompetence?

If I’m purchasing at a shop and the employee is amazingly slow to help, is it justified to express that we are busy and would appreciate prompt service in exchange for our money? Would that communicate a Christian work ethic and personal responsibility or would it be one more example of American impatience?

  1. Should I sit with my wife and children in church even though many churches separate the men and women?

Traditionally, Africans do not mix the sexes at church and maybe at other public gatherings too. Should we be like them to win them, or is there some distinctly Christian virtue in a man sitting with his family? And this goes for dinner too. Most Africans do not eat their meals as a family: Must we teach them to do so?

  1. Should I spank village children?

On an average afternoon in the sunshine about 5-15 village children can be found playing in our yard. Once a 9-year old went home and brought a knife back because he and another boy had been fighting. He does not have a father living at home and probably will not get any discipline from the adults in his life. Should I discipline him so that he learns not to brandish weapons? What about the other little boy who stole our children’s toys (no dad there either)?

  1. Should I allow children to return to our yard if they have not been punished?

And when the children come to play on our grass, we have to decide whom to admit. Should we allow kids to return if they have done wrong but have not yet been punished? What about the younger brothers of our teenager neighbor who has repeatedly stolen from us? When he broke in he used some small boys to fit through our window. Was it them?

  1. Should I use loud speakers if that is what the culture wants?

Large speakers are used to amplify both speaking voices and music as a call to the village to signal that a social event is opened to the public. But they also are commonly found in parties where the purpose is entertainment or at churches where the purpose is to put on a show. Should we buy a set of 6-foot woofers to attract people to the church?

  1. Should I ever encourage someone to pay a bribe?

If a police officer pulls me over and asks, “Now what can we do because of your speed?” Is it always wrong to give him money so that you can go on your way? What about customs officials? And the situation is more complicated when we think of some of our Zimbabwean friends who have slender bank accounts. Could they pay an official to get through?

  1. Should I use a literal translation that is difficult to understand or a thought-for-thought translation that sometimes oversimplifies theological discourses?

Tsonga has two translations. The first from 1907, revised in 1929, is more literal than the recent 1989 Good News Bible. The modern is generally easier to understand, but is also looser than the earlier translation. The earlier translation has many words that no one knows; and just remember, the education level is low, and very few people have dictionaries. Both translation employ the same Greek text. Which one should I use? Or both?

  1. Should I rebuke unconverted people for sinful behavior?

I am returning from preaching at an evening Bible study as I walk on the road by my house. Two young people in the dark are preparing for sin near the corner as I near home. Should I rebuke them to have a moralizing effect on the community? Or should I ignore them because they are only doing what sinners do? After all, if they stopped that particular sin, it wouldn’t save them. Yet how can we be indifferent to blatant violations of God’s law?

  1. Should I open civil functions in prayer if the society is nominally Christian?

They don’t care about my gospel, but they are as one writer says, “incurably religious.” So they ask me to open their children’s graduation from kindergarten with prayer. Does that open a door for the gospel, or does it sanction their own baseless claims to being Christian?

10. Should I feel obligated to stay in a place because of the investment of time and money?

Many villages need the gospel and ours has not been overwhelming in its response to our ministry. Should we stay here because we’ve put so much money into our house? Or because seeds take time to grow into trees with fruit? Or are we nearing the time to shake the dust off of our feet? It is difficult to know when we should endure all things for the elect’s sake and when we should preach the gospel where Christ has not yet been named.

Hopefully, these scenarios will inspire godly conversation and fervent prayer. Remember us with the words of Paul to the Philippians: “I pray that you would overflow with discerning love so that you will know what is right in any situation.” We would enjoy hearing from you if the mood betakes you to hit “reply.”

With Mind and Heart,

Seth and Amy Meyers

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About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and mother of four children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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One Response to Ethical Difficulties on the Mission Field

  1. Kathy Mullins-Engelhardt says:

    I understand the difficulties you face, but I am of the opinion that it is important to stand firm in our faith (and yet not be rigid, but kind, loving and compassionate). Therefore, I think we should be patient even when others might be slow or incompetent–I think this shows our Christian love. Remember, meekness is a virtue. As far as observing cultural conventions that are not sinful–I think that it builds confidence to do so–it shows that the people are important to you. So, sit across the aisle if that is appropriate. I have always felt that it is appropriateto discipline children in my home or yard, but I am not a proponent of corporal punishment–especially if the offender may not be aware of your rules. It is certainly not appropriate to allow knives or stealing. I think it is possible to instruct and correct without spanking and to do so without hitting or violence again reinforces our Christian love and values. Again, I think that when to allow anyone to come back into the yard depends on their response to being chastised at the time of the offense–were they repentant? Have they been told what is expected? If they are not repentant or only respond in anger, then I do think they should be excluded until their attitude changes. I don’t particularly like loud things, but I know others do. So if that is their custom, I do think it might be an appropriate call to worship to have loud speakers as long as the message is a Godly one. I don’t think it is ever appropriate to pay a bribe to avoid punishment for a wrong. As far as what Bible translation to use, I think it would be appropriate to use both–especially if it makes the message and the true gospel easier to understand and yet is doctrinally sound. Again, I do think, that it is important to stand firm in our faith and be a light to shine in the community. So I would rebuke even an unbeliever for blatant sin. But do it in a kind and compassionate way. Opening civil functions in prayer should be a way to present the gospel and show our faith–it seems this could be a useful tool. I think only God knows if you should stay. Much prayer and soul searching should go into a decision of such importance. We should not live by our feelings, but by God’s direction. I will pray for wisdom for you and I know you will make the right decision as you are so wise, in your posts and communications. These are only my humble opinions and not intended to be dogmatic! Love, in Christ, Kathy Mullins-Engelhardt

    Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2014 06:00:46 +0000 To: kathylacemaker@hotmail.com

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