by Fred DeVilbiss
Cross-cultural mission has grabbed the attention of the churches in the Philippines. Local churches, evangelical denominations, and parachurch organizations are working together as never before to plant churches among the country’s unevangelized people.
Cross-cultural mission has grabbed the attention of the churches in the Philippines. Local churches, evangelical denominations, and parachurch organizations are working together as never before to plant churches among the country’s unevangelized people. Cooperating groups plan to start 50,000 churches by the year 2000.
At the same time, the Philippine Missions Association has seen remarkable growth since its founding in 1983. Met Castillo, general secretary of this umbrella organization which both sends and receives missionaries, says, “I would estimate there are about 700 Filipino missionaries, with about 500 working cross-culturally within the country.”1 One of the goals of the DAWN 2000 movement is to send 2,000 new Filipino missionaries by the year 2000, half of them to unevangelized groups in the Philippines.
Local churches, often situated right next to unreached groups, are becoming more aware of cross-cultural evangelism. For example, Iligan City has 37 evangelical churches about 25 kilometers from a major Muslim area. In the province of Lanao del Norte, in which Iligan City is located, there are some 97 evangelical churches.2 Most of them evangelize within their own cultural context and add converts to their churches. As they move ahead in their outreach, leaders of these churches will have to decide whether or not they can use Filipino missionaries in addition to their own people.
At the same time, some Filipinos are considering the “tentmaking” option. Gary Schipper makes this point:
Non-Western cross-cultural missionaries can be trained in occupations that are needed among the people they desire to reach. We can help them recapture the original tentmaking concept practiced by the apostle Paul, so that as circumstances arrive that demand self-support, these missionaries will be prepared.3
In the Philippines there is great mobility among skilled and professional people. However, as more and more Filipinos become missionaries to their own people, they encounter some serious problems. Let me cite at least five major ones.
1. Religious opposition. Thirteen groups of militant Muslims inhabit the Philippines. Even though missionaries try to be sensitive to Muslim faith and culture, the Muslims generally will not tolerate their evangelistic efforts. Outspoken criticism of evangelical “sects” has also arisen from some quarters of the Catholic Church.
2. Loneliness and culture shock. Filipino culture places high value on the extended family and interpersonal relationships. It is not easy for a Filipino to live in a strange cultural setting separated from those with whom he or she has lived for years.
3. Potential physical harm. Both communist and Muslim insurgents dominate many unevangelized areas of the Philippines. Murder and kidnapping loom around every turn, so missionaries need godly wisdom and faith. David Hesselgrave notes that, even though missionary martyrs are not new, “the fact that national Christians have been hunted and hounded in ever larger numbers in recent years (and that the number is expected to increase in the future) is equally significant for missions.”4
4. Inadequate financial support. Few churches in the Philippines have mammoth missions budgets, but God is raising up more churches to support Filipino missionaries. Keith Brown has produced a study of 21 missionary-sending churches in Asia, and eight of them are in the Philippines.5
5. Inadequate training. Very few Bible schools and seminaries in the Philippines offer courses in the history of missions, cross-cultural living, and cross-cultural church planting. Few, if any, offer a course in Islam and how to communicate the gospel to Muslims. Their curricula need to be evaluated in light of both the country’s needs and the increasing desire of Filippinos to do evangelism and church planting.
Of course, all of this prompts questions about the future role of expatriate missionaries in the Philippines. As Filipino churches take thelead, will foreign workers become obsolete? No, but their roles will have to change. Church leaders are not asking them to quit evangelizing the unreached, but they are asking for Filipino involvement at every stage of the work, including the initial plans.
David Hesselgrave puts the question well: “How can we in the West best demonstrate a true appreciation for Third World churches as full-fledged sister churches and a true regard for Third World leaders as equal partners without sacrificing our missions?”6
I suggest that expatriate missionaries will neither be sacrificing their organizations nor their church-planting commitment if they are prepared to work with and minister to their Filipino brothers and sisters. Following are some essential ministries for foreign workers, if their agencies are to have viable roles in the future.
1. Modeling church planting for local churches. By this I mean modeling how a church planter, among Muslims for example, goes about his work. Paul Long, out of many years of experience in Zaire and Brazil, writes:
How do church members see us participating in evangelism and starting new churches? If they see us rubbing shoulders with the crowds, doing street evangelism, holding Bible studies with the unconverted, and going on treks into virgin, hostile territory, that will be our best teaching about missionary commitment.7
2. Relating our ministry to local churches. We need to take time to explain our goals and methods of evangelizing to pastors and their congregations. We may need to tell them why we do things as we do and then listen to their replies. We need to report to churches and parachurch groups our victories, frustrations, and defeats, as we ask for their prayer support. A number of churches in our area prayed for me while I was dubbing the “Jesus” film into the language of a Muslim group, and they rejoiced with me when I finished.
3. Involving local churches in our ministry. In our city, local church members have jobs and businesses that involve them with Muslims. Three churches have asked me to hold seminars about Islam, the culture of the people, and how to communicate the gospel to Muslims.
Beyond that, of course, comes the stage when you want to work under the authority of a local church to start a new church. More than 30 years ago a missionary with Overseas Missionary Fellowship established a church in a predominantly Muslim area in West Java, with the support of a Chinese church in which he taught. The new church was a mixed fellowship, but it included people who had come to Christ from among the Sundanese Muslim people. All succeeding churches in the area are indebted to this church, because by it the Muslim community came to accept the existence of a church in their territory.
Sometimes, missionaries hesitate to encourage local churches to evangelize the unreached people, out of fear the new church will be mixed. However, a mixed church among the Sundanese helped the spread of the gospel in that area. While the “homogeneous unit” principle is valid in evangelistic strategies, it is not a lasting principle of church life. In fact, very few churches in the New Testament were of a “pure” culture.
4. A teaching ministry to the church related to cross-cultural mission. Filipinos who want to plant churches cross-culturally face the lack of cross-cultural studies in the Philippines. From my own experience, and from conversations with Filipinos, I would like to suggest these topics for teaching:
(a) Mission in the local church.
(b) How to plant churches.
(d) Linguistics and Bible translation.
(e) Power encounter and the biblical theology of Satan and demons.
(f) The biblical theology of suffering and persecution.
(g) Islam and communicating the gospel to Muslims.
(h) Animism and communicating the gospel to animists.
(i) Hinduism and Buddhism and communicating the gospel to Hindus and Buddhists.
Some of our seminaries and Bible colleges could, of course, include these courses. But becausethe southern island of Mindanao holds the majority of Muslims in the Philippines, I believe we need a Filipino-administered cross-cultural missionary training school there. It could serve the potential sending churches in the area, as well as train missionaries for the Philippines.
Who will evangelize the unreached of the Philippines? Filipinos? Expatriates? Probably both. Filipino Christians should pray and plan to proclaim the gospel to all the ethnic groups of their country, as if all Western missionaries were to be expelled at any moment. In the meantime, they can consult trusted, competent expatriates about how they can work together in their common task.
On the other hand, Western missionaries must trust the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s people in the Philippines, even when they may question our theories and methods. We must as never before include Filipino churches in our church-planting efforts from the very beginning. Further, our Western agencies should not come up with strategies for church planting among the unreached without first obtaining the agreement of nearby churches.
Neither the churches nor the foreign missionaries have all the answers. God wants to use all of his servants working together to advance the gospel.
1. Pulse, Aug. 24, 1990, p. 5.
2. Statistics released by a research team of Mindanao Challenge (Philippine Crusades), 1989.
3. Gary Schipper, “Non-Western missionaries: our newest challenge,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July, 1988, p. 202.
4. David Hesselgrave, Today’s Choices for Tomorrow’s Mission (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), p. 203.
5. Keith E. Brown, Missions in the Local Asian Church (Manila: Philippine Crusades, 1988).
6. Hesselgrave, op. cit., p. 194.
7. Paul B. Long, "Equipping nationals for cross-cultural ministry,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July, 1984, pp. 284, 285.
EMQ, Vo. 27, No. 4, pp. 372-377. Copyright © 1991 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.