by Stan Guthrie
Reading current missions literature, you might get the idea that Asian, African, and Latin American missionaries have blown past their Western counterparts like an Indy car in a race with an Amish horse and buggy.
Reading current missions literature, you might get the idea that Asian, African, and Latin American missionaries have blown past their Western counterparts like an Indy car in a race with an Amish horse and buggy. With the latter half of the ’90s upon us, perhaps it’s time to look under the rose-tinted hood of the non-Western missions movement and see how it really runs. Everyone agrees that it doesn’t need a Western driver, but does it need a Western tune-up? Several experts gave assessments.
SERIOUS STRENGTHS—AND WEAKNESSES
“Beware of glorious portrayals of the emerging non-Western missions movement,” says Alex Araujo, an executive in International Operations of Partners International, a San Jose, Calif., agency devoted to doing missions with Christians from around the world. “It is very easy to idealize what we don’t know much about, while our own well-known realities seem full of problems. The non-Western missions movement, though highly welcome and deserving of credit and encouragement, is a mixed bag of good and bad, of success and tragedy, and should not be idealized.”
While noting that some “emerging” missions agencies “have already ‘emerged’ and are doing well,” William Taylor, director of the World Evangelical Fellowship’s Missions Commission, warns against “unreal reporting and prognostications.” For example, Taylor points out that although the non-Western force may indeed surpass the West’s in terms of raw numbers, “when you compare West and non-West mission personnel in terms of years served on the field, the numbers are different. We will have to wait another 10 to 20 years for some of the data to come in.”
Taylor dismisses the idea that the burgeoning missionary movement outside the West is “the movement truly blessed by God,” without any problems. “There are serious weaknesses that must be addressed rapidly and seriously,” he adds.
Serious strengths, too. “. . . it is a stripped down movement, devoid of many Western cultural-missionary trappings, willing to suffer for Jesus, and exploring new paths for missions at this juncture of history,” Taylor says.
Panya Baba, president of the Evangelical Church of West Africa, Nigeria, cites several non-Western agencies doing well in Indonesia, India, Korea, Brazil, Kenya, and Nigeria. “Most of the churches are now matured,” he says. “They are more aware of their responsibility of world evangelization and mission vision. There is more motivation from the Holy Spirit, the Lord of the harvest, for a final harvest before Christ comes back.”
Recognizing both the weaknesses and the strengths, all agree on the need for partnership. David Taiwoong Lee, director of the Global Missionary Training Center, a Seoul-based agency training and sending Korean missionaries and linking them with Western agencies, states, “When we look at the statistics, actual Two-Thirds World missionaries serving with the Western agencies are only 5.6 percent of the entire Two-Thirds World missionaries. Western missions can do more to accommodate Two-Thirds World missionaries.”
COMPARING APPLES AND ORANGES
To do more, however, they must first know one another. Taylor points out that a “significant percentage” of non-Western workers are short-termers. “. . . the two major mission forces have not been compared as ‘apples and apples,’” he said. “This is primarily due to the fact that the numbers for the two groups have not reflected the same missionary tasks. The definition of the Two-Thirds World missionary many times is a much broader one than used in the West.”
Araujo cautions that although diversity in missions is good, so is orthodoxy. “The big and sad surprise will be to find out in a few years that a large portion of those recently evangelized don’t worship the same Jesus you and I do, or perhaps don’t worship Jesus at all,” he says. “Let us not deny the moving of the Holy Spirit in unprecedented ways in the non-Western countries, but let us retain our God-given ability to examine all things and examine that which is good. Big numbers, even more thanunity, must defer to biblical truth, lest all our missionary efforts of this and the next decade be mostly in vain.”
So what kinds of missionaries are they? It’s hard to give a definitive answer, although it’s probably safe to say that most do not fit the traditional Western definition of a missionary: someone who carries the gospel across political, geographic, and cultural barriers. Lee says a majority serve in their home countries in cross-cultural ministries — although by and large he exempts workers from Korea, Japan, Singapore, and some of the Latin American countries. Baba estimates that most serve in their own countries and cultures. Araujo, a former missionary to Portugal who grew up in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, says that although most are monocultural missionaries, “It is in the area of cross-cultural missions that the new growth is occurring.”
Taylor says Mandarin-speaking Singaporeans “have open doors to teach English as a second language in China.” “There is a strong and growing interest in tentmaking,” he adds. “The most common version in the West is the engineer or teacher serving in a restricted access country. This variety is seen in Asia particularly, less so in Africa and Latin America. But another category is the Filipino contract worker, and there are about 500,000 of these working in other countries. The Philippine Missionary Association has set the goal to train 2,000 evangelical contract workers as conscious tentmaking missionaries. This is a truly strategic and brave force that is particularly impacting the tough Muslim Arab world nations.”
(Sometimes the categories of “home missions” and “foreign missions,” “monocultural” and “cross-cultural,” are blurred still further. Says the Costa Rica-born Taylor, a resident of Texas who spent 17 years as a missionary in Guatemala City, “A growing number of Koreans are serving in China and the C.I.S. nations. They have discovered some 400,000 ethnic Koreans who had been forcibly displaced into Central Asia and Russia by the communist revolution, so now there are Korean missionaries teaching Korean as a second language to Russian speaking ethnic Koreans in Central Asia!”)
Taylor does say that at least we can know that the non-Western movement is growing much faster than is the West’s—sort of. “We need some new and hard data to confirm this report, but I suspect the general trend is true—there is a significant growth curve,” he says. “However, some of the figures are projections of prior growth and need to be confirmed anew.”
REASONS FOR GROWTH
Given that there is growth, where is it occurring, and why? Lee says as many as a hundred churches have been started among the previously unreached Russian-speaking ethnic Koreans in Central Asia, known as Koryoin, in recent years. He says many of Korea’s best missionaries have been sent to them, missionaries who have strong supporting churches and financial bases.
“Because numbers of missionaries were sent into one specific region, it was possible for them to introduce field administration,” Lee says. “This is unlike many of the Two-Thirds World missionaries, who are scattered so wide and thin that it is difficult to have a concerted effort and teamwork.”
Nondenominational, parachurch groups, powered by intercessory prayer (through books such as Operation World), are doing most of the heavy lifting in Latin America, Araujo says. Much of the interest is coming from the grass-roots, with people in the pews “pestering” church leaders to do something about world evangelization. “Para-church organizations spring up throughout Brazil and Latin America by the dozen,” he notes. “Some have gained experience through years of trial and error, and have achieved a degree of maturity. Many are fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants operations and one-man shows.”
“The movement tends to be strongest in Brazil and Central America,” Araujo continues. “This is in part due to the large number of evangelicals in proportion to the overall population in those places. But even countries with a smaller percentageof evangelicals show signs of vitality. Argentina’s Missiones Mundiales has been active for many years, as has Peru’s AMEN. PM International, founded by a Mexican, has demonstrated the viability and effectiveness of multinational Latin missions agencies.”
In contrast, by working within India, Taylor said the Friends Missionary Prayer Band and the India Evangelical Mission have kept things simple. Their ministries and funding fit the situation in India; they don’t need to divert energy working on passports, visas, and currency conversions; they have devoted the resources to make sure missionaries receive training and spiritual care; and they eschew outside funds to pay salaries.
Taylor also praises Nigeria’s Evangelical Missionary Society of the Evangelical Church of West Africa, which has about 950 missionaries” The EMS benefits from strong support by local churches, which see it as their program.
Taylor also praises the work of Japanese and Korean missionaries, the latter estimated by the Korean Center for World Missions in Seoul to number about 3,500 to 90 countries.
However, Araujo, Baba, Lee, and Taylor point out problems, too. During the Brazilian National Missions Congress in October, 1993, Taylor said participants were stunned to hear that of the 5,400 missionaries sent out in the previous five years, “the vast majority” return within a year. Further, 90 percent of those returning early will not go back. He says a Colombian missions leader estimates that 40 percent of all Latin American missionaries return early and discouraged due to their lack of training, on-field pastoral support, and finances.
“Another cause for trouble is that some of the non-Western agencies have not seriously thought through the imperative need for on-field shepherding, strategizing, and supervising,” Taylor says. “Their dream is to send out missionaries, and this they do well. But the financial resources shrink, the currency conversions are drained the further they travel, and the missionaries do not have the required local infrastructure that will service them in order to be free for effective, longer-term service.” Besides the lack of infrastructure, Araujo lists other reasons: no grass-roots support for missions, the expensive, non-transferable North American missions model, local giving priorities of non-Western churches, and the lack of a previous generation of experienced missionaries to lead the way. Baba mentions the lack of leadership training and financial support as problems.
PLEAS FOR PARTNERSHIP
With those kinds of repairs needed, the experts agree that the Western and non-Western missions movements, instead of racing one another, must cooperate so both can come out winners. As Baba says, “Without cooperation and partnership in mission, world evangelization will hardly be completed on time.”
So, what kinds of partnership with the West does the non-Western movement need — and want? Taylor says Westerners must face some hard questions first: “One, how can the West stimulate non-West missions without dominating them in terms of money, power, structures, and initiative? Two, how can the West partner with sensitivity when the West subconsciously operates from a position of international leadership and initiative? Three, what kinds of partnerships does the non-West want, where they are seen as true equals and not merely cheap labor for effective cost-reduction and ‘more bang for your buck’? Four, is the Western movement ready to serve as silent partners, when the ravenous promotion machinery demands credit to generate more funds?”
Araujo states that Western agencies must adjust their marketing, churches must become more concerned with ministry effectiveness rather than with budgets and the sheer numbers of missionaries sent, and money must “take its humble place alongside other valuable resources.” “While Western agencies are increasingly aware of the reality and value of the non-Western missions movement, their funding system is based on the continuous recruitment andfielding of Western missionaries,” Araujo says. “Financial concerns prevent them from developing new policies that facilitate cooperative enterprises with the non-Western church.”
Baba lists finances, assistance in fund raising, financial accountability, research, cooperation with national agencies in reaching the unreached, and simply showing trust as areas where the West can help. “A lot is being said and written about partnership in mission,” Baba says. “But only little practical implementation is done.”
Agreeing on the need for money, Lee nevertheless warns, “Financial assistance should not be provided to the degree that it brings a dependency syndrome. On the other hand, self-support is not entirely biblical, either. There needs to be a genuine spirit of koinonia.”
Lee notes that the West still has a major role in sending missionaries, particularly to unreached groups and areas where non-Western missionaries have limited access, and in formulating missions strategies. “Current emphasis on rapid growth of Two-Thirds World missionaries must not give any excuses for slackness on the part of the Western church for the cause of missions,” Lee notes. “Both churches must work hard with great urgency.”
Taylor calls for Westerners to continue encouraging the non-Western movement; incorporate creative partnerships into their strategic plans; provide human resources in training, Bible translation, medicine, and other specialized areas; provide money for selected capital investment projects; and offer scholarships for non-Western missions leaders and trainers to study outside of their home countries.
Araujo, however, says that above all Westerners need an attitude adjustment, noting, “Non-Westerners will unwittingly violate nearly every Western tenet of good missionary work and yet will often succeed.”
“Westerners need, most of all, to get used to the idea that they are not the only ones who can do the job well,” Araujo says. “While this change in understanding may initially feel deflating, we can find scriptural grounds for being delighted with being only one of God’s many servants, and derive our motivation not from the relative importance of our part but from the absolute mandate from God to make disciples of all nations.”
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