by Jon James
The world has changed a lot since I first “went” to the mission field. Traditionally world missions has been viewed geographically from a “here and there” view point.
The world has changed a lot since I first “went” to the mission field. Traditionally world missions has been viewed geographically from a “here and there” view point. Mission organizations were often named for the place they worked, i.e., Latin America Mission, and most denominations separated ministries into foreign and home missions.
Rudyard Kipling wrote,
We and They,
Father, Mother and Me, And They live over the sea,
Sister and Auntie say, While We live over the way
All the People like Us are We, But—would you believe it?
And everyone else is They. They look upon We, As only a sort of They!
Many Christians are still living in that nineteenth century mentality. “East is east and West is west and never the twain shall meet.” But missions today is not defined so much by geography as by people. This shift started in the 1970s and has grown steadily ever since, but even after many years the distorted view of we are “here” and they are “there” has not gone away.
You have probably heard “there are more missionaries in Alaska than in the Middle East” but isn’t Alaska part of the United States? So why are we counting them as missionaries in the first place? And what about the fact that for some groups their most responsive concentrations are outside their home lands, such as Turks, Chinese or Iranians. Should we tell them to go home to hear the gospel?
God is just as concerned about Iranians in Tulsa as Iranians in Tehran. Do you know there are more Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan than in Mecca? And there are more Muslims in North America than in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar or the U.A.E.—combined! So where is the “Muslim World” anyway? Are Dear-born, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles not part of the Muslim world too?
Bruce McDowell and Anees Zaka in Muslims and Christians at the Table state,
The amazing growth of Islam in North America during the last few decades has gone largely unnoticed by the evangelical church. Many people still think that missions is only done overseas, and that unreached people do not live here in North America. (1999, 1)
There is a great need for North Americans to catch the vision that the mission field is not only in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, but also here as well. We need to recognize the strategic importance of winning Muslims to Christ here in North America, for many of these Muslims are preparing to become future leaders in their home countries.
God is bringing people from all over the world to North America. Many formerly small “foreign religious groups” are now rapidly growing here. Are we going to minister to them or send them home? Some traditional “foreign” mission organizations, seeing this change, have started assigning missionaries to places in North America. In some cases more are being converted in North America then in their homelands. McDowell and Zaka write,
There are estimated to be over 25,000 conversions to Islam per year, (in North America and these are not all among African-Americans). Between three and eight million Muslims live in the US,…Sadly, at least 80 percent of these American converts were raised in the church. (1999)
Many churches call their missions programs “World Missions” but what does the word “World” mean? One church mission executive said that after supporting a certain missionary for many years they were dropping his support, even though he was doing the same ministry because he was doing it “here” and they only supported “foreign missionaries.” With this attitude toward missions, it is not surprising there is so little being done. Statistics say less then two percent of the missionary force is working among Muslims, who are twenty percent of the world population and perhaps seventy-five percent of the unreached peoples. How many of those two percent do you think are ministering among Muslims in North America? If they were, would your church support them?
I believe it is time to rethink our view of “World Missions” in light of the changes God is making in the world. Those who are engaged in the same ministries “here” as they were “there” are just as much missionaries “here” as they were “there” and should not be considered differently than those living “there” or be penalized because of God’s providence in relocating them “here” often against their own will. In many cases, “here” is just a base from which they reach “there.” What do you think? Where is YOUR mission field?
McDowell, Bruce A. and Anees Zaka. 1999. Muslims and Christians at the Table: Promoting Biblical Understanding among North American Muslims. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P and R Publishing Company.
Jon James served for 22 years in Turkey. He helped establish a MBB church, a radio follow-up ministry and a Bible Concordance, and was a member of the National Leadership Advisory Council. He now teaches in the US and overseas.
EMQ, Vol. 39, No. 3, pp. 282-283. Copyright © 2003 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.