An Outside View: The tale of the wannabe missionaries
2018-12-01 13:40:12 -
Opinion
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By Panu Höglund

 

I must say that I am not one of those who can’t say as much as one good thing about Christian missionaries. The usual you hear from their detractors is that missionary activity has always been one big cultural genocide, and that that is all you can say about it.

But if you study the history of South America, for instance, you’ll find a lot of counterexamples: often the Catholic Church wasn’t at all happy to contribute to imperialism, and sometime and someplace the Catholic missionaries were the only defence of indigenous communities against predatory imperialism.

So, we shouldn’t criticise missionaries unjustly. But with November nearing its end, we here in Finland saw a good example of lousy missionary activity. All over the media, the story went that four Finns had been arrested in Malaysia for preaching God’s Gospel, as they themselves put it.

They had been distributing leaflets with Bible portions printed in the local language – if it was the local language, for the group had been more active in Thailand, and it is believable that the leaflets had been printed in Thai, a language that is not at all related to Malay.

Malaysia is a Muslim country, and the activities of Christian churches are severely curtailed there. Above all, they are not allowed to make converts, and as regards atheism, it is treated as a capital crime. This particular law sealed the fate of those Finns. Afterwards, it turned out that they could not speak the local language – Malay, which is one of the easiest languages of the world to learn – and even their English was severely lacking.

When one of the group phoned a friend in Nika Niikko, a Finns Party member of the Finnish Diet, Niikko had to act as interpreter between the caller and the Malaysian policemen who were listening and who spoke impeccable English themselves.

The prohibition of missionary activity in Malaysia can be criticised, but it is difficult not to be exasperated by these pseudo-missionaries and their scornful attitude to the people of the country where they were supposed to be evangelising.

In the old days, missionaries were zealous people who learned and studied the languages of the countries where they were preaching and translated the Bible to those languages. Here in Finland, for instance, everybody has heard about Martti Rautanen, who wrote down the grammar of the Ovambo language in Namibia; back then it was called the German Southwest Africa. Today’s ‘missionaries’ are a lousy substitute.

Actually it seems that this whole ‘missionary’ thing was just a canvassing trick for Mika Niikko. The missionaries went to a Muslim country that didn’t have a very bad or dangerous reputation, and got themselves into trouble with local authorities to feel like martyrs – although at the moment it seems they will just be fined and extradited. At the same time, Niikko is exploiting that martyrdom for his needs, as the next parliamentary election is nigh.

 

Panu Höglund is a Finn who writes in Irish.

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