Bonding — a great way to become part of a new culture

This section consists of quotations from The Challenges of Implementing Brewsters’ Means to Bonding, Written By Michelle S. H. Gillard.  See bibliography below.

Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster believe that immediate immersion into the culture will aid in bonding with the indigenous people.  Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster developed the Brewsters’ Means to Bonding in 1984 as an incarnational approach to entering a new mission field.  (Gillard pp 1 and 2)   The incarnational model serves the missionary as he/she dwells among those of the host culture by immersing himself/herself.

The Brewsters suggest an immediate immersion into the culture.  They have observed that the newcomer goes through a critical time for establishing his sense of identity and belonging during his first two weeks in a new country.  If he becomes a belonger with expatriates, he may always remain a foreigner and outsider.  But at this critical time he has the unique opportunity to establish himself as a belonger with insiders, in order to live and learn and minister within their social context. (Bonding 26). This will theoretically allow the missionary to quickly develop a bonded relationship with the indigenous people. (Gillard 13)

There are thirteen means detailed by the Brewsters for those who want to implement the Brewsters’ Means to Bonding.  These first four means are required by the Brewsters for those who want to implement the Brewsters’ Means to Bonding:

    • Live with an indigenous host family for the first two weeks to three months upon entrance into a new culture (Brewster, Bonding 14),
    • Move to the host country with belongings weighing less than 20 kilos  (Brewster, Bonding 14),
    • Learn language within the context of relationships (Brewster, Bonding 12),
    • Use public transportation only (Brewster, Bonding 14).

These next nine means are suggestions given by the Brewsters for those who want to implement the Brewsters’ Means to Bonding:

    • No contact with ex-patriot missionaries during the first two weeks to three months upon entrance into a new culture (Brewster, Bonding 13),
    • Develop a new bi-cultural personality (Brewster, Bonding 15),
    • Wear local clothing (Grant and Jones 57),
    • Eat local food (Grant and Jones 57),
    • Participate in local events (Brewster, Bonding 11),
    • Worship with indigenous church (Brewster, Bonding 13),
    • Have ten or more indigenous friends within the first three months (Brewster, Bonding 11),
    • Take on an insiders name (Brewster, Bonding 16),
    • Legally immigrate to the host country (Brewster, Bonding 17).

Based on their personal experience, and that of other missionaries, the Brewsters offer these means for those who may be considering bonding ministry. (Gillard 41-42)

The researcher found that many of the missionaries who did not implement the entire Brewsters’ Means to Bonding still implemented some of their specific means as a way to practice incarnational ministry. (Gillard 87)

In Bonding and the Missionary Task: Establishing a Sense of Belonging, the Brewsters explain that bonding is really a term equated to incarnational ministry. So this booklet is not really just about bonding, rather it is about incarnation.  Bonding is simply a vehicle to help in our understanding of the Biblical principle:  “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”   We are firmly convinced that missionaries, especially new missionaries, really want their lives to count for God.  And we believe that the incarnation provides the best possible model for enabling people to invest their lives in ways that will count. (28)  (Gillard 12)

Following on the work of the naturalist Konrad Lorenz who found that hatchling ducks “bond” with the first being they see when they emerge from the egg, the Brewster’s have found that the most effective missionaries are the ones who become bonded belongers with the people of the host culture. Rather than spending their first weeks getting acclimated to a new land in the safety of the missionary community, these missionaries avoid other expatriates for the purpose of bonding with the people they hope to evangelize. (1)

McElhannon describes how Paul used the incarnational model. “The apostle Paul, in becoming all things to all people, so that he might save some, also adopted the incarnational model for ministry (1Cor 9:19-23)”  (1).  (Gillard 24)

If the missionaries choose to spend time with other expatriates, the same bonding response will happen as would happen with the nationals.  The new missionary will tend to bond with the group to whom they have the most contact in their first few days and weeks in the new culture.

Bruce T. Shields quotes the Brewsters about their means of immediate immersion, that the first couple of weeks that a missionary spends in his/her new situation “is of critical importance if he is to establish a sense of belonging with the local people…Without bonding the missionary does not have a sense of feeling at home within the local cultural context.”  In this way the missionary follows the incarnational model of Jesus who became “a belonger with humankind”. (32)  Shields add that this  “Identification is all for the sake of establishing relationships which will provide an acceptable bridge for the gospel”  (34). (Gillard 14-15)

Paul Hiebert describes his understanding of the Brewsters’ Means to Bonding as follows:  It is important that we enter into a culture immediately, before we have established routines that insulate us from the people.  As the Brewsters point out, “it is better to plunge into a new culture and experience life as the nationals see it than to first establish ourselves in a foreign enclave from which we launch out to do our work.  They add, from the very first day it is important to develop many meaningful relationships with the local people”.  (82)

Bonding happens when the missionary becomes a participant in the lives of the indigenous people.  “We learn a culture best by being involved in it.  Although it helps to read all we can about a culture before we arrive, there is no substitute for participating in the lives of the people” (Hiebert 81).  Total immersion into the lives of the people creates opportunities for bonded relationships.

Bonding is an attitude, not a system.  Although bonding may most often happen in the first three months, I think in the long run, it is a matter of the heart”  (W.  Flaten, personal communication, February 22, 2004). 

The timeframe surrounding bonding is also considered important.  “I can understand when the Brewsters said [that] the initial period is the most important in terms of who you end up identifying with.  It is hard to bond when there is a protective circle around us.  (Gillard 16)

To begin to feel at home in another cultural setting, you must develop the same kinds of relationships and friendships that you have in your home community.  Most American Christians have three significant spheres of relationship:  family, workplace, and church.  After many years of consulting in the mission field settings, we have found that missionaries tend to turn their mission community into all three.  This is disastrous for those who envision a ministry that touches the lives of people in the local community and culture. (117) (Gillard 20-21)

The Brewsters take identification and incarnational ministry to a different level when they share about bonding.

We would like to make it clear that bonding and identification are not the same thing.  Maybe over 90% of missionaries would say they identify with the local people, but it is apparent that very few enjoy a sense of being at home with the people.  It is not too difficult to tell the difference-the bonded missionaries are typically the ones who feel that even their social needs are fulfilled in their relationships with local people. (Bonding 18)

When a missionary feels at home and local people meet their social needs, this in the view of the Brewsters, shows bonded relationships. (Gillard 37-38)

The Brewsters share how timing can be so critical for bonding.  “It is extremely important how the first two weeks are spent.  Usually by the end of the first two weeks, the ethnic group that that missionary feels comfortable with will be firmly established” (Language).  They also share other consequences for not taking advantage of immediate immersion.  “Missionaries are flexible at the beginning. You intend to change your way of living and relating to people at that point. The missionary family who does not do that has less flexibility later on in terms of their roles, belongings, their attitudes of the way they live and the way their fellow missionaries relate to them; not only the missionaries but the local people as well” (Brewster, Language).


[1] LAMP is the Brewsters’ language learning method designed around learning language through relationships with indigenous people.  LAMP stands for Language Acquisition Made Practical.

Works cited above:

Brewster, Thomas E., and Elizabeth S. Brewster.  Bonding and the Missionary Task:  Establishing a Sense of Belonging.  Pasadena:  Lingua House, 1982.

Brewster, Thomas E., and Elizabeth S. Brewster.  Community is my Language Classroom.  Pasadena:  Lingua House, 1986.

Gillard, Michelle, The Challenges of Implementing Brewsters’ Means to Bonding,A Capstone Submitted in Partial Requirements for the Master of Arts in Christian Outreach Degree Concordia University, St. Paul, Minnesota. 2006. A bound version is in the Concordia library.

Hiebert, Paul.  Anthropological Insights for Missionaries.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1987.

Hiebert, Paul G., and Eloise Hiebert Menses. Incarnational Ministry: Planting Churches in Band, Tribal, Peasant, and Urban Societies.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1996.

Lingenfelter, Sherwood, and Marvin Mayer.  Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1986.

Lingenfelter, Judith E. and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter.  Teaching Cross-Culturally:  An Incarnational Model for Learning and Teaching.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 2003.

McElhanon, Ken.  “Don’t Give Up on the Incarnational Model.” Evangelical Mission Quarterly 27.4  (October 1991): 1-3.

Phifer-Houseman, Mark.  “Freshman Ministry and Bonding.  Two Uncarnation Stories.”  Online Posting.  Intervarsity Library.  8 January 2004.  <>.

Shields, Bruce T.  “The Incarnational Model for Missionary Witness.”  Diss.  Fuller Theological Seminary, School of World Mission, 1995.   Shields gathered together ideas from various missiologists on the subject of incarnational ministry.  He looks at the lives of various incarnational missionaries.  Jesus and the Apostle Paul are also cited as incarnational.  The Brewsters are also quoted in regard to their incarnational/bonding approach to ministry.

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