50 Years of EMQ: Looking Back and Forward
by Jim Reapsome
The Evangelical Missions Quarterly was conceived in an ice cream bar called the Eskimo Inn at Winona Lake, Indiana. After the day’s evening session at the first joint meeting of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association (EFMA) and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (IFMA) in October 1963, a small group of us sat around the table talking about what we would like to see as lasting outcomes of this historic gathering.
The Evangelical Missions Quarterly was conceived in an ice cream bar called the Eskimo Inn at Winona Lake, Indiana. After the day’s evening session at the first joint meeting of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association (EFMA) and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (IFMA) in October 1963, a small group of us sat around the table talking about what we would like to see as lasting outcomes of this historic gathering. Someone tossed out the idea that the two associations should join hands and produce a journal that would cross the lines between them and stand as a joint evangelical testimony to what we believed about world missions.
Long past our bedtimes we rambled on and on about this idea. Eventually, like a match tossed into a pile of hay, the idea ignited a blaze that has burned for 50 years. The flame was nurtured through a host of discussions until the first issue saw the light of day in October 1964.
Out of the Winona Lake conference came the Joint EFMA-IFMA Committee on Missions Quarterly. At a meeting on December 4, 1963, it was decided that a board of directors (four from the EFMA and four from the IFMA) would supervise the proposed quarterly. Discussions then moved on to adopt the following purpose of the journal:
The purpose of the journal will be to glorify God through the encouragement and inspiration of evangelical Christians who are dedicated in obedience to the command of Jesus Christ to the proclamation of the gospel of the Son of God to the whole world. It pledges loyalty to the Bible, the inspired word of God, and to the truth it proclaims.
The committee then drew up an outline of six editorial components. After organization and content came the matter of the journal’s intended readers. There was general agreement that primarily it would aim at the total missionary force at home and abroad, including mission executives, missionaries, national workers, mission professors, board members in mission organizations, missionary candidates, and students. A second tier of readers would include pastors, missionary prayer bandleaders, publishers, and church members.
Ideas about a new name for the journal flew thick and fast. When the dust settled we agreed on the Evangelical Missions Quarterly, thereby also establishing its frequency of publication.
Because EFMA and IFMA were just cautiously starting to dance together, questions of policy arose at the meeting. How would the journal keep its distinctively evangelical character? The following motion prevailed: “That the quarterly publish articles by evangelicals who are in accord with the doctrinal position of the sponsoring associations. Authors not in accord, or who are identified with the Ecumenical Movement, will be used only with a qualifying statement.”
At the next meeting on February 11, 1964, it was decided that I would be the journal’s first managing editor and that the first issue would be sixty-four pages. Members of EFMA and IFMA would be asked for subscriptions.
Looking back, one can only admire the wisdom of the founders of EMQ. They succeeded not only in bringing the quarterly to birth; they also built significant bridges of trust, partnership, and cooperation between the EFMA and the IFMA. The late-night rendezvous at the Eskimo Inn turned out, under God’s care and direction, to be a pivotal point in the history of U.S. mission agency growth and development.
Both the editorial committee and the board became strong intermission partners. Because they served a common cause, at their meetings they relinquished personal and organizational distinctives. EMQ forced them to look beyond parochial issues to the issues and challenges that confronted all evangelical missionaries, regardless of doctrinal and denominational colors.
In today’s environment, it is hard to appreciate what it was like fifty years ago when denominational and independent mission boards rarely talked. The IFMA boards had staked out their turf in the 1920s and 1930s because of doctrinal aberrations and loss of missionary theology in some of the country’s major denominations. Then, after World War II, the EFMA set out to serve denominations that had affiliated with the new National Association of Evangelicals. Among its members were some whose doctrines were incompatible with some IFMA members. But God, in his mercy and wisdom, brought new leaders to the fore in the 1950s and 1960s, so the time was more propitious for the launching of a cooperative joint publication.
Although there was a certain nervousness on both sides in 1964, this was gradually overcome simply because nothing damaging to either side was ever published in EMQ. To be sure, however, the editorial committee representing the two sponsoring associations reviewed, thoroughly debated, and finally voted to accept or reject every article under consideration for publication. Four times a year these discussions took place. Different opinions often surfaced. These meetings greatly enlarged not only our world mission perspective, but also our appreciation for one another. We never left with hard feelings.
Of course, our main responsibility was to keep to the founding principles and guidelines. We had no difficulty coming up with ideas for articles, but we often fell short in finding someone to write about them. Assigning subjects to selected authors became less and less important to us. We soon learned that people on the field wanted to write, too. We never lacked for manuscripts. We wanted EMQ to reflect the priorities, needs, and interests of working professional missionaries.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the editorial task was to achieve fairness, accuracy, and balance. We did not want EMQ to ride any hobbies. However, new ideas and movements come and go and you have to say something about them. Among the new trends that took considerable EMQ space were church growth and its related subjects: hidden, frontier, or unreached people groups; the homogeneous unit principle, and whatever Donald McGavran and Ralph Winter thought was important. Then came the movement to bring closure to the Great Commission by the year 2000 and the 10/40 Window.
Along the way, we gave a lot of space to theological education by extension, language acquisition, cross-cultural adjustments, and education for missionary children. After the Ayatollah Khomeini took over Iran in 1979 and sixty-two Americans were taken hostage, Muslim evangelism took center stage. Over the past fifty years we have received and published more articles on this subject than perhaps any other.
I retired in 1997 with a strong sense that our 1964 dream had been fulfilled. The board, the editorial committee, and the staff have kept the faith of our founders, who said in the first issue:
Our urgent need for this hour is not only to profess a faith in missions, but to be possessed by a missionary faith that is derived from obedience to the word of God and motivated by the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Anniversaries force us to look not only back to our pasts, but also forward to our futures. However, trying to get a clear picture of world missions in the coming decade is like trying to lock in one image in a kaleidoscope. Even the slightest nudge on the cylinder produces a totally new arrangement of designs and colors. However, we can see some fundamental changes that have produced a missionary picture vastly different from the one we would have seen a half-century ago.
Perhaps most significantly, God has been pleased to grant abundant harvests in virtually every corner of the globe. Although reports indicate some slowing in church growth, almost wherever we look we can see many more new churches coming to full flower in the next ten years. For example, in recent years, new churches have sprouted where there were none in Nepal and Mongolia. Across central and southern Africa, and throughout Latin America, showers of blessing have drenched millions of new believers. Former Communist bloc countries and Russia itself have seen remarkable surges in church growth, which we expect to continue.
Growth in Christian institutions has followed, together with the striking discovery that the task of world missions belongs to everybody, not just to North Americans and Europeans. Consequently, when church historians look back on the twentieth century, they may well say that the most significant turning point was the development of missionaries and missionary societies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. There is every indication that this movement will surge ahead.
At the same time, however, the brilliance of this harvest dims when we turn our kaleidoscope just a nudge and see fields that remain unharvested. Millions of people remain chained to Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, spiritism, and other empty religions. The powers of darkness have not yet ceded control everywhere. In fact, we cannot look at missions in the coming decade without staring at the world’s astounding population growth. Christ’s call for prayer for workers still abides on his Church.
Although Christ’s call has not changed, the context in which we hear it has. In years to come profound social, religious, and economic changes will continue to change the way we view our task. Poverty, hunger, civil wars, and exploitation cast a dark shadow. Millions of refugees surge across one border or another. While some nations have found wealth, others struggle to remain viable. When economic crises jolt the currency markets, the churches in those countries hiccup and find it hard to support missionary work.
Political regimes closely aligned with entrenched religious authorities will continue to stake out the strongest opposition to the gospel. At the same time, the old religions will surge out of Asia and Africa, fueled by billions of oil dollars from Muslim countries. Nationalistic Hinduism threatens religious freedom in India. Persecution of Christians reigns in a number of countries.
Huge population shifts will force missionaries to take a new look at their church-planting strategies. Scholars say that on the average every day a quarter of a million people forsake the villages and countryside of the world seeking a better life in huge metropolitan centers. This will demand that we focus on urban areas with the attendant problems of dislocation, poverty, loss of identity, joblessness, and crime. All of these conditions will pose serious barriers to the advance of the gospel.
On the other hand, however, North American Christians will have more financial and spiritual resources than ever before. They will have enormous wealth, unbounded educational opportunities, freedom to travel and explore, books to read, CDs to study and emails to read. Plus, they will enjoy the benefits of getting to know their missionaries and the settings in which they serve. They will gain insights from churches and their leaders around the world.
These unparalleled blessings from God will make special demands on his Church to send missionaries with a wide variety of skills and interests to invest overseas. They must be willing to learn difficult languages and endure tough cultural adjustments. As political and religious pressures escalate, they must be flexible. They must also be willing to serve under local church leaders and partner with their mission agencies.
Mission agencies will adjust to new patterns of ministry. In greater numbers than before, volunteers will shift from career to short-term service. Short-termers include teenagers, collegians, and senior citizens. Churches will develop significant avenues of service with adult teams working from two weeks to two months. More career missionaries will work as teams on specific projects, collaborating with church leaders on the field.
New technologies will challenge our creativity. The gospel will advance on the Internet as well as through literature, DVDs, smart phones, computer tablets, and satellite broadcasts. Missionaries will face tough choices, because reliance on technology comes with considerable risks.
Our critical goal will be to follow Christ’s pattern of servanthood, of loving, sacrificial investment of our lives for his glory and the advancement of his gospel.
Jim Reapsome was founding editor of EMQ in 1964. He held that position until he retired in 1997. He and his wife, Martha, live in Downers Grove, Illinois.
EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 498-502. Copyright © 2014 Billy Graham Center. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.