My name is Andrea Franceschini, and I'm a 40-year-old filmmaker. In January 2020, I had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Southeast Asia with an international team of Inspiro Arts Alliance members. Our goal was to produce music videos based on Christian songs written in the local language and style of an indigenous people group. This project presented many challenges, which we faced knowing that the results could change lives. Often, we think that "evangelising" means, above all, talking about the Bible. However, I have learned from journeys like this one that, just as often, the best testimony is not made up of words but actions.
The project I participated in was born out of the need for the local church to be accepted as part of the local ethnic group, almost entirely Buddhist. When Western missionaries brought the gospel, they also introduced Western culture. The resulting architecture and style of worship created a vast disconnect with the locals. Over the years, this divide has been accentuated following the church's decision to use Christian songs sung in English and played with "Western" instruments, both of which are very distant from the local musical tradition. In the eyes of the locals, to be a Christian means to lose your local ethnic identity.
To overcome this problem, one of the pastors of the local church decided to write, arrange and record eight Christian songs in the local language, collaborating with a team consisting of Christians and Buddhists. Many Buddhists, including a highly regarded local choreographer and five local dancers, helped the church in the preparation process and during the weeks of music video recording.
Therefore, the reasons for this trip were twofold but symbiotic: on the one hand, professional, and on the other, spiritual. In fact, seizing an opportunity like this means putting yourself to the test on a professional and cultural level. It means leaving your "comfort zone" with the aim of learning from others and about yourself. As Christians, we are called to help others, but we must first work on ourselves. The number one principle is not to begin talking about God immediately. It is actually to prepare ourselves to be at His service; otherwise, our presence in an unfamiliar culture could leave a bad taste in the mouths of those we have come to serve.
I remember very well a phrase a Buddhist monk said to me during a different trip to China five years ago: “As Christians, you have an enormous responsibility towards the world, much greater than that of a Buddhist, a Hindu, an animist or an atheist. This responsibility depends precisely on the ‘evangelistic’ nature of your creed, which cannot be reduced to being expressed in words. Rather, it needs concrete action that puts into practice some of the fundamental precepts of Christianity: love, compassion, and humility.” Any action we take that is not motivated by these precepts dishonours what we say we believe. For me, an essential part of my faith is helping people recognise that their identity is God-given, leading to transformation when lived out. This is the second principle: to help those we serve to understand their God-given identity. The application of this second principle, however, always depends on having learned the previous one.
To be able to do this, of course, three weeks’ experience is not enough. In Southeast Asia, my desire to learn inevitably collided with various difficulties. Some of these included the local language, organisers who were inexperienced and therefore underprepared to deal with a complex audiovisual production, program changes, and a culture very different from ours. And, of course, there was a multifaceted local worldview which, to be understood, must be faced with a spirit ready to grasp its positive side. For me, a journey like this means knowing how to see a difficulty as an opportunity for growth, a problem as a source for its solution, and a "no" as a guiding nudge towards a new, unpredictable open door.
*Photos by Dileep Ratnaike