Naked Time

Some friends and family of my church community are currently missionaries in West Papua. As they have been dedicated to an extremely remote village, the indigenous people whom they live with wear very little clothing. The women only wear grass skirts (nothing on top), while the men wear strings around their waist and a small flap hanging from the front.

A while back I called our missionary friend on the phone to see how he deals with the “nudity” while raising a family, and he brought up three interesting points: 1) It is against the law to seek to try to cloth the people of these remote tribes (they don’t know how to take care of “normal clothing,” ending in sickness), 2) The missions agency they work with has a fairly strict dress code for women to wear long skirts (necessary for certain locations this agency stations their missionaries at), and 3) The long skirts are so unusual and mysterious among the tribe, that they serve as an enticing, stumbling block for the tribal men, becoming a constant distraction.

So what would you do? Seek to eventually fully-dress these tribes? And what about the obligation to follow your agency’s guidelines, when in turn they are creating the effect they were meant to stop?


~ by Dave Smith on October 26, 2008.

4 Responses to “Naked Time”

  1. 1) No, because Jesus didn’t die for humanity so that we could all be fully clothed. It’s adiaphra. Clearly, this culture does not share our obsession with female breasts – so it is not a lust issue. I would even go so far as to argue that we should never bring this issue up, and if it does come up, the missionary should make sure to emphasize that being a Christian does not entail wearing Western clothing deemed appropriate by Western Christians. It is for their culture to decide, full stop.

    2) The stop-gap measure would seem to keep the women missionaries away from the tribal men, until solid lines of open, honest communication exist in which dialogue (meaning an equivocal, two-way discussion where both parties get to talk and listen) can take place on the subject.

    One of the greatest tragedies of missionary work is the destruction of culture. Of course, it’s usually not on purpose. The motives of the missionaries are almost always noble; however, we bring our culture whenever we bring the Gospel. We must be vigilant about keeping the two as separate as we can. When the NT speaks of modesty, it speaks of modesty in the ancient sense, but we equate it with our own cultural standards subconsciously. No midriff T-shirts and baggy jeans all around. That makes sense in our culture, because our culture immediately connects nudity and sex.

    However, in an animistic culture, where nudity is nothing more than an every day reality of existence – and often survival – we should keep our mouths shut. Especially, because we’ve probably already caused cultural problems simply by being there (e.g., the men lusting after fully-clothed women). The NT instruction on modesty will look wildly different in Paupa than it will here, and we have to take that very, very seriously.

  2. Extremely well said Ben. A small issue like this definitely brings to light the intricacies of missions work and the great care that must go into it. An area of missions that deserves a lot of credit when administered correctly.

  3. […] Naked Time A friend of mine recently made a post on his blog entitled, “Naked Time.” […]

  4. Regardless of what you may think, you are still destroying their culture by merely changing their beliefs to a christian god. Belief is what makes a culture. Once again you destroy because you seek control which is the ugly nature of humans.

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