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The Monkey and the Fish

In his insightful book Cross-Cultural Servanthood, Duane Elmer shares the parable of The Monkey and the Fish: 

A storm had temporarily stranded a monkey on an island. In a secure, protected place on the shore, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he noticed a fish swimming against the current. It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and needed help. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish.

A tree precariously dangled over the very spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At a considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down and snatched the fish from the threatening waters. Immediately scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments, the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature.

Duane Elmer

The monkey was loving and sacrificial, yet caused more harm than good in his failed attempt to help the fish.  It’s easy to identify the problem—the monkey was only able to see the world from his own perspective.  To provide genuine help to a fish, he would have to learn to see the world from the perspective of a fish. 

In years of working alongside Westerners who traveled to Asia training ministry leaders, I’ve found that some of their material isn’t relevant to their audiences.  The daily responsibilities and burdens of an Asian pastor are very different from those of a suburban American pastor.  Often ministry teams returned home, blissfully unaware that their resources weren’t particularly helpful. 

The purpose of Church Connectors Ministry is to equip American and immigrant church leaders to build the healthiest possible connections.  That requires some cross-cultural learning.  After 13 years in China, Sherry and I found that we were only scratching the surface of understanding Chinese culture.  Yet God used us to bless Chinese believers.  We realize that few American believers have much time to invest in learning the culture of the immigrant congregations they serve.  We want them to understand that cross-cultural learning isn’t a destination but a direction.  What matters is that you’re moving forward. 

In coming blogs, we will share stories of healthy relationships between American and immigrant congregations, explaining in practical terms best practices to maintain and pitfalls to avoid.  I look forward to the journey together with you! 


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