by Ralph D. Winter
The people group consciousness is increasing in the local churches.
People group missiology. This is a good illustration of something that started out with the academicians and took a good long time gaining journal-timeliness. I recall when Ed Pentecost was working on the foundational hook, Reaching The Unreached, in 1973. The mission executives followed through on this in their executive retreats in subsequent years. Now, finally, in these days the people group consciousness is increasing in the local churches.
There is more to be done. The watershed in American circles was the Chicago (Lausanne-sponsored) conference in March, 1982, that brought together about 30 people from many spheres-Southern Baptists, Wycliffe, ACMC, etc.-to suggest improved ways of talking about peoples and criteria of their reachedness. Then there was the Reformed Consultation on Mission, in March of 1983, given over to the topic of unreached peoples. But neither of these meetings has yet attracted wide public attention, even in the mission-minded circles of the church.
What remains? Much. How about the tendency we see in the Bible (take Romans 9-11) to talk about peoples the way modern evangelicals talk about reaching individuals? Even Jesus in Matthew 25, telling of that final day of judgment, seems to be talking about peoples not people, as we so often think of them. What value to a Jew alive today that "Israel" will be saved tomorrow (after he dies)? How are missionaries to try to win peoples?
The missionary retirement avalanche of the 1980s. We recall that 170 new mission agencies were established right after World War II. Perhaps 20,000 missionaries flooded overseas through new and old agencies alike.
Don’t look now, but those "perhaps 20,000" are retiring. And their supporters are now retiring. I would guess that about 20,000 (give or take 5,000) will retire during the 1980s and early ’90s. If their supporters also retire to lower retirement salaries (and even die off with the missionaries), then about $800,000,000 per year of mission giving will vanish with that generation.
This is a profoundly practical problem, produced by the massive disruption (and overseas education of 10 million Americans) of World War II. But it is also an academic frontier for the precise reason that it cannot be dealt with by normal intuition. Why should I have to say "give or take 5,000"?
A graduate student would not have to consult the records of all mission societies to get a more precise estimate of what the future holds. But this is eminently a task amenable to the academic process-not only to get the data but to digest it, interpret it, and then make proposals about what can be done about it, for the benefit of the entire missionary community.
The cross-cultural task in America. Try to guess. Will the home mission entities begin to take language and culture as seriously as the foreign agencies have had to? Will they grow into the U.S. challenge adequately? Or, will the overseas agencies finally wake up to the fact that "their people" are leaking into the U.S. so fast that it is no longer possible to give exclusive attention to the "foreign fields" – even if the foreign masses remain the greatest fields?
That is, will the foreign mission enterprises finally give attention to their backyards and, with a leap and a bound, pass up the many wonderful home mission agencies which, as in the Navajo scene, have rarely dealt seriously with the language and the culture?
We are all in debt already to Earl Parvin (whose book is to be done by Moody Press) for his efforts at summing up in one volume the vast array of agencies in the U.S. that are actually tussling with cross-cultural ministries. That is an essential first step.
But now the task is to build on his research and analyze just what the home agencies are doing. How comprehensive is their effort? Overlapping? I doubt it. Gaps? You bet. Greater professional skills? Certainly. Training comparable to overseas missionaries? Of course. Academic effort can move us forward faster.
An alternative college program. This idea has been sneaking up on me. We know that there is no substitute for lengthy tenure in missions, beginning early enough to really get the language. Linguists say that our ability to master a language diminishes considerably after age 16. Is our present school system well adapted to careers requiring authentic assimilation into foreign cultural traditions? How about an alternative, redesigned college experience (at least among evangelicals), whereby students spend six months in this country, at the home campus, and then six months overseas-every year. Today there are innumerable overseas contexts, often closely associated with mission agency activities, where high quality study (and short-term types of mission service) could be undertaken.
Imagine the effect upon young people of four six-months experiences in, say, Morocco, Mexico City, New Delhi, and Canton, before even graduating from college. Why endure all our expensive, disruptive, short-term programs if this plan could routinely, at least as an option, be couched within the standard college experience itself? This is pre-eminently an academic concern-if, in fact, the school structure, the academic process itself is warring against the conduct of the worldwide mission Christ has given us.
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