by Roger E. Hedlund
We must find a better way to express our partnership
A certain euphoria about emerging non-Western mission agencies is sweeping across America. Although a number of indigenous Indian agencies are being endorsed by well-known personalities who carry considerable influence with the churches and their missions budgets, little attention is being given to the performances of these agencies. In too many cases, the people who make their strong endorsements have little knowledge about and understanding of the dynamics of church and parachurch relationships overseas.
An unfortunate byproduct of their endorsements and support is the implied criticism of other agencies. Many Indian agencies that have not sought promotional power in the West are doing commendable work, but you would never know it from some of the promotions going on in the U.S.
Consider, for example, the venerable Indian Missionary Society and the National Missionary Society, both founded in the first decade of this century by Bishop Azariah, the more recently established Friends Missionary Prayer Band, as well as the Presbyterian and Baptist mission agencies of the churches in North East India. These are typical of a number of active, thriving agencies that rely solely on Indian support.
Then, too, there are other effective organizations that receive part of their support from abroad and part from churches and friends in India: groups like the Indian Church Growth Mission, the Indian Evangelical Mission, and many others. They are witness to the effectiveness of genuine partnership in mission. Mission is not the monopoly of any one person, group, or structure; it is the obligation of every church and believer in the West as well as of those in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
However, the U.S. is a happy hunting ground for a number of "fortune hunters" from less developed countries. It’s estimated that India probably has 3,000 to 4,000 "mission" agencies that really are little more than private enterprises for raising money for the promoter and his family. No one has an actual file on these people, of course, but the money scam is terribly real.
Researcher David Barrett’s latest "Status of Global Mission, 1990" states that "ecclesiastical crime" costs us $874,500,000 a year. Making fortunes are an assortment of petty criminals, often supported by undiscerning Western donors and some irresponsible Western agencies. It’s not unusual to meet an American Christian who supports some overseas Christian supposedly "doing a marvelous work for Christ," but whose ministry is either grossly exaggerated or even nonexistent.
India is also a happy hunting ground for paternalistic Westerners who become instant experts. Recently, one such visitor published his reactions to a number of things he didn’t like about India. His hotel: "inadequate air conditioning, rats, and cockroaches"; Delhi: "conflict, treachery, hatred, and turmoil are everywhere"; Mother Teresa: "I am convinced that Mother Teresa is providing false comfort to the dying"; the poor: "they live on the streets, or in shacks of straw, mud, cow dung, plastic or canvas"; the church: "weak theological convictions and indifferent to theological clarity"; theological education: "nearly every seminary and Bible college in India is liberal"; Christian leadership: "one wishes for a strong teacher-preacher who without compromise would build a robust church." Needless to say, responsible partnership in mission is virtually impossible, if representatives from the West display such total insensitivity to overseas realities.
What should we then do? Stop all aid to our brothers and sisters? No, although it would be wise to decline support for the people who demand, "Send us money, not missionaries." We must find a better way to express our partnership. Raja Mohan Doss says it well: "Money is not the problem. We do not get the men or women we need."
But low cost seems to be the chief logic behind the appeals being made in the U.S. People are told that it is much cheaper to support "native evangelists" for $30 a month. But who are they and what do they do? In many cases, they do not have anything else to do and being a native evangelist is an easy way out in a competitive world where jobs are scarce, wages low, and work hard. Of course, $30 is not really enough for anyone to live on in India. Besides, only $10 goes to the evangelist; the other $20 is "overhead" going into the promoter’s pocket.
Another possible step is to stop all aid directly to the agencies; give only to churches and to church-related projects. This has been the pattern of churches in the ecumenical movement. For example, under so-called "fraternal relationships" large sums of money from World Council of Churches-related churches in Europe are poured into India to subsidize member churches and their projects in India. Such recognition of the Indian churches and their responsibilities is commendable, but what about the millions of people who have no relationship to Christ and the church? If our support is limited solely to meeting local church and denominational needs, how are we going to grapple with the vast unreached world? This is not an adequate response for the massive non-Christian realities of India and other parts of Asia.
A common failure of bogus, questionable organizations competing for the evangelical dollar is that they tend to by-pass the churches. They give no accountability to supporting churches in the West. Nor do they tie in their mission efforts for churches overseas. All they provide are promotional reports, while preying on the guilt of many American donors who give without understanding the profound mission issues at stake. The churches in America cannot avoid their obligation to send their sons and daughters as missionaries by sending dollars alone.
Mission organizations with a weak commitment to the churches are sub-biblical. The prime goal of world missions should be the creating of new churches on new ground. Beyond the promotional campaigns we have to look for the emergence of local assemblies of believers among people and groups previously not Christian. Countable Christians and congregationsâ€”not the imaginary production of non-existent church members nor pictures of buildings of brick or thatchâ€”are the fruits of mission with integrity.
It is time to move ahead to more responsible partnerships, in spite of hostile political environments, shaky economies, and dishonest evangelical entrepreneurs. Gary Schipper makes several suggestions. Wade Coggins agrees that we should seek fruitful partnerships that neither create dependencies nor drive a wedge between Western and non-Western missionaries.
The strategic issue is not "cheaper" non-Western missionaries versus "expensive" Western ones. The mission of the church is one mission, God’s mission, much as the church itself is one, despite our many factions, heads, and branches. Therefore, some system of accountability must be worked out. Mutuality is the key. Schipper proposes "roving bands of missiologists"â€”an excellent way to share experiences, wisdom, and information. In India, the McGavran Institute brings short courses in missiology to Indian pastors, missionaries, church planters, evangelists, and denominational leaders by gathering them at various locations and using visiting lecturers, both Indian and foreign.
Schipper feels that the greatest resource for world evangelization consists of cross-cultural missionaries in their own countries. This could very well be; certainly in countries closed to traditional missionaries the local evangelist is the only kind possible. But this does not mean that their job is necessarily easier, their opposition less, or their effectiveness greater.
The Times of India (New Delhi) published a vitriolic attack on Christian evangelism, witness, and ministry, castigating Indian missionaries and their American counterparts. Raja Mohan Doss also points out that many Indian missionaries simply go to another part of India where they gather their own peopleâ€”already Christiansâ€”and do not do cross-cultural evangelism.
Of course, the great majority populations of India are largely unreached. Further, to a large extent, evangelizing agencies are not even planning to reach them. However, the most effective church-planting evangelists are not necessarily cross-cultural outsiders, but converts who go among their own people. The India Church Growth Mission, for example, is committed to planting churches in unchurched villages and does so among the Tamils of their own ethno-cultural region.
Gary Schipper has suggested that we need improved international planning to mobilize thousands of local missionaries. But I think it would be much more effective if evangelical denominations and mission societies would potentially receptive unreached people and then start to work together on the local level with compatible churches and agencies. American mission centers do not need to send their people to do for emerging mission agencies what they can better do for themselves. Far better to avoid competitive structures and instead join hands to share our experiences and technical competencies.
For example, we could begin with some essential research. Research is probably the most ideal setting for partnerships. By research I don’t mean comparing intriguing reports, I mean assembling helpful factual data to make our propagation of the gospel effective.
A lot of agencies are getting on the tentmaking bandwagon, but this is not a Western invention and we have no monopoly on it. In years past the advance of the gospel in many places, including the American frontier, came through the work of dedicated bivocational leaders. In India, this concept is actively promoted by Pioneers.
Among others, the Southern Baptists are experimenting with nonresidential missionaries. As they itinerate, they discover various ways to work alongside existing indigenous bodies. They try to encourage and develop local leaders to reach out to their own people. This approach requires committed disciplers, people with specialized skills, the gifts of wisdom and discernment, and a lifetime of learning. "Visiting firemen" from the West can’t do this. Such ministries of encouragement and lifting vision can fill up what is lacking in the local leaders and motivate the churches into mission.
Partnership possibilities abound. I was once asked whether I had a plan to evangelize the world by the year 2000, and what I considered to be the biggest hurdle. I replied that I did not have such a plan, because I found the Hindu, Muslim, animist, tribal, and urban worlds of the Indian subcontinent to be a sufficient challenge, and that the church leaders themselves were the biggest barrier. The people sponsoring the survey said that I was no doubt merely reflecting my experience in India. My conviction stands. Competitive leaders and endless congresses will never complete the task. It will, by God’s grace, be done by submissive followers of the Lord of the church, who continue to send and to go in his name, and by effective partnerships.
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