Changing a Culture of Sex and Promiscuity: Thoughts on Purity From the Mission Field


My wife and I are experiencing a roadblock as missionaries, but one that I have yet to approach with a crystal clear answer.  In reality, I feel like we are floundering.  Last week, Andy Scott wrote the article “ARE THERE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN? RETHINKING THE SOCIAL DIVISION BETWEEN THE SEXES.”  Yesterday, Jonathan Keck wrote an article on homosexuality.  Both of these articles are dealing with sexuality in a Christian context and the questions that arise as a result.

As we have been working with the youth here in Peru, we have recently been challenged with a very serious question: How do we tell 12, 13, and 14-year-old children to not have sex, when a vast majority of their friends and family have already had their first child at that age?

On a very regular basis we work with two people groups or sub-cultures.  One group is upper middle class and the other group ranges from moderately poor, to extremely poor.  In these two sub-cultures there are two vastly different issues. (Disclaimer: I am speaking generally here; there are always exceptions to the rule).

The upper middle class kids in Peru are very similar to American kids.  They like the same things as Americans; they even wear the same name brands.  They watch the same movies, hang out, and party.  Their parents can afford higher education, so many of them go to a University after graduating high school at 16.  The biggest struggle we have is explaining that if you are not ready for marriage, you should wait to be in relationships.  In a culture where people are so comfortable with sexuality, pre-marital sex is accepted while someone is preparing for their career.  It may be in the context of an exclusive relationship, but it is still baggage to carry into marriage.  To us, this explains why many homes are broken, and spouses are unfaithful to each other.

Where we feel like we are drowning is with the moderately poor, to extremely poor sub-cultures.  In these areas the people are lucky to have a couple of used outfits to alternate.  Some of them just received electricity or running water within the past year to so.  Many of them go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground, while flies from the hole fly all over them.  Dirt has stained their skin to a point where soap would probably lose the battle.  School is free, but school supplies are not, so there is not a high level of importance placed on education.

So where do we even start in this situation?  Especially if that young person is already having sex or is two steps into the door, without having any concept of marriage, and is only 12 or 13 years old.

Generally speaking, young Americans that are having sex, are doing it out of peer pressure and being home alone with nothing to do.  Check these statistics out from Guttmacher Institute, the researchers for Planned Parenthood. When we think of some of the areas we work in, there is no point of comparison. We have to rewind our statistics back a few years, take away “protection,” and then call premarital sex generationally acceptable for decades.

“Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” —1 Corinthians 7: 1 & 2

or what about verse eight through nine:

“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

As I read these verses along with , Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 7; Hebrews 13:4, I know God is very clear about the way we should respond.

So we ask ourselves all the time, “what are we supposed to do?  How are we supposed to respond and be a part of fixing this?  How are they supposed to get there?”  They are falling into temptation and sin, generation after generation. Furthermore, the Biblical “solution” for today is not even legally possible because two children cannot be married.

Let me take a step back.  As you read this, you may be wondering what this has to do with you.  I can understand that question.  The reality is, as we are called to go into a broken world and make disciples, these kind of issues come up all of the time.  If your church body is devoted to being missional, even in your own country, you will find yourselves asking the same questions we just asked.  “How can we be a part of the change?”

As we have been praying about being a part of the change, we have seen two potential answers.  The first potential answer is to start reestablishing in these young people a new culture—God’s culture.  We have to completely redefine what the word “marriage” means.  We have to talk about the truth of “one-flesh” (Gen 1:27; 2:21-24).  We have to show them that God brings man and woman together, not their private parts (Matthew 19:6).  We need to teach the idea of complementing each other as people, true intimacy, reflection of God’s love, true fellowship, servant hearts, etc.   Right now there are very few people going into these sub-cultures to help explain the culture of God.

Which brings me to the second potential answer—“missional communities.”   If a new culture is going to be established, it takes a long time, and it requires a great deal of investment.  This is the core of a missional community. (A topic which I will save for further explanation next Wednesday).  However, I believe missional communities are the only way a “sojourner and exile” generation can be raised up “to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your [their] soul.” 1 Peter 2:11.

Shaun Wissmann is a missionary in Peru along with his wife, together having a passion to reach the lost for Christ. Be sure to check their ministry out, Called to Peru. The image comes from the camera and mind of Elisenda Castro from a series on sex at Community Bible Church. Be sure to check her work out at Overlooked photography.

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