by William David Taylor
In the first of this two-part series (April, 1991), I described what I call the “double bubble syndrome” that missionary kids grow up in. The first bubble is their idealized perception of their local culture and church. The second is their imported evangelical ghetto and world view.
In the first of this two-part series, I described what I call the "double bubble syndrome" that missionary kids grow up in (April, 1991). The first bubble is their idealized perception of their local culture and church. The second is their imported evangelical ghetto and world view. These two bubbles often shield MKs from significant interaction with local people, culture, and church life. Furthermore, they can become a lifelong pattern of escapes.
Kids canbreak out of these bubbles, however, if their parents take steps to eliminate them, first by recognizing them for what they are and then by serving God with sensitive contextualization.
How one does this depends on the point of departure. For me, it has to be Latin America. Perhaps I can show how to bridge the gap, as an MK who has lived 30 years in Latin America. Do I see Latin America from "without" as an expatriate, or from "within," sharing the pulse with my Latin colleagues in the ministry? Do I over-spiritualize my ministry so that my context is irrelevant?
As an adult missionary to Latin America, I had to grapple with the tough realities of my true Latin American context. I had to understand what was behind Latin America’s burning issues. Missionaries must do that, if they are to face the distinct challenges of their adoptive cultures, and if their kids are to break out of their "bubbles."
Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias has summarized Latin America’s problems in a series of catchy slogans: democracy (a fragile creature in Latin America); development (or lack of it, and uneven when it occurs); dependency (upon foreign funds and cultures); debt (both internal and external); and drugs (increasingly, a local crisis as well as a high income-producing export).
How much do Latin American missionaries and their children know about these problems? Do our MK schools interact with them? My guess is that relatively few families and schools really grapple with issues like these.
APPRECIATE HISTORY, NATURE AND CULTURE
But before plunging into contemporary issues, we must try to appreciate the rich and varied histories, as well as the phenomenal natural and cultural resources, where we live and work as missionaries. For example, I know many missionaries in Latin America who have never read one significant book on Latin American history. They don’t bother to enjoy and participate in the cultural wealth all around them.
Each country relishes its unique history, culture, and resources. In their museums we can recreate their past. The cultural diversity is astounding: pre-Columbian peoples still alive and growing; the Spanish and Portuguese who arrived to conquer, colonize, and exploit, but who stayed to build a new life; the black peoples who arrived and made an indelible impact; the other races that gradually came—Europeans and Asians; and the fascinating blends of peoples.
I well remember the days in Guatemala at our MK school when we would hike out to the reconstructed ruins of Zaculeo. But I never remember a teacher or anyone else giving us even a simple lecture that would engage us with the wonder and mystery of the glorious Mayan past. It was our loss. So we had to create dramatic myths of our own, but we missed the lessons of history and culture.
UNDERSTAND TODAY’S FACTS
Missionaries to Latin America—or to any place, for that matter—must try to understand contemporary conditions. As missionaries, we can’t enjoy the luxury of ministry without a growing sensitivity to these crises. Yet, this is what we have done for too long, to our detriment.
Here are some of the grim facts facing Latin Americans. (You can attempt the same general analysis for your part of the world.)
1. The population explosion among those who can least afford to have more children, the poor. A population currently running close to 400 million, but which will double within 33 years at present growth rates. Where will they live? What will they eat? Where will they go toschool? Who will provide medical care and jobs?
2. A prevailing spirit of hopelessness that so tragically precludes healthy development.
3. The uncertainties of existing political systems and an ongoing search for ones that will bring stability.
4. The incongruity of phenomenal natural resources of land and people, coupled with the mismanagement, corruption, and venality of leaders.
5. The devastating rampage of uncontrolled inflation that corrodes the already low living standard,made worse by the crippling international debt.
6. The seduction of modernity and secularization coexisting with the unparalleled explosion of spiritism and the occult.
KNOW AND IDENTIFY WITH THE CHURCHES
Missionaries should strive to discern the condition of and identify fully with their churches. Too often, it seems, missionaries have been content to focus on their own small corrals, while excluding broader issues. We need to attempt at least some broad brush strokes of the overall situation.
Looking at the evangelical churches in general across Latin America, what do we see?
1. The church is growing rapidly, but it suffers from anemia in biblical knowledge and living. Evangelical growth looks like this:
1900: 50,000 evangelicals
1925: 756,000 evangelicals
1936: 7,200,000 evangelicals
1970: 16,000,000 evangelicals; 75,000 churches; 60,000 leaders without formal equipping
1990: 40,000,000 evangelicals (70 percent charismatic); 225,000 churches’; 175,000 leaders without formal training
The downside of such rapid growth, if course, is the risk of weak, flabby, nominal Christianity in the future.
2. It is a church of the poor, with growth concentrated among the less-advantaged, yet with rapid upward social mobility from generation to generation.
3. The church is still too dependent on Europe and North America for certain key resources—money, people, concepts, programs—which contribute to ongoing paternalism.
4. It is 70 percent charismatic, but most missionaries are not charismatic.
5. It faces major theological challenges: nominalism and liberalism, liberation theology, secularism and modernity, and the occult.
6. It is guided largely by the laity, but woefully short on biblically trained servant leaders.
7. It is still trying to understand Catholicism: In some places, the Catholic church has returned to its pre-Vatican II stance of polemics and antagonism; at the same time, the Catholic charismatic movement is opening millions to a new experience with Scripture and the Spirit.
8. Historically, it is has evaded its social conscience, although this is beginning to change, because of the horrendous social ills across the continent and the emergence of evangelicals active in politics and in government.
9. It is ill-equipped to deal with the occult and spiritism, which demand biblical power encounter and spiritual warfare. But most non-charismatic missionaries are not equipped to engage these dark forces. Some missionary kids have suffered from demonization, perhaps because of their parents’ deliverance ministries. Evil supernaturalism under Satan tends to attack the family, particularly the most vulnerable members. This theme is absent from most of the missionary family literature and conferences.
10. It faces new challenges: the growth of many cults, both foreign and home-grown, and new advances of Islam and Hinduism.
11. It is struggling with the biblical mission of the church and the tension between the extremes of "only spiritual" and "only social" ministries. Either extreme truncates the word of God and the model of Christ.
12. It is growing into a new cross-cultural vision, with three primary concerns: career missionaries to reach the unreached in Latin America, both interior Indians and urban masses; penetration of the North African Arab world; and bivocational "tentmaking" in closed countries.
All over the world, we need to work harder to develop solid international missionary churches and movements. This will require unique partnerships with European and North American missionaries.
Taking our cue from Latin America, COMIBAM (Cooperation of Ibero-american Missions) is setting thepace, but there are other approaches. Actually, the Latin American missionary movement is just one part of a worldwide movement that claims at least 36,000 missionaries from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Oceania. What do we find in Latin America?
1. It is a young movement, with young people, young pastors, and young professionals leading the pack. Resistance comes from some older pastors and even some older missionaries.
2. It covers the entire continent. Brazil leads with 57 agencies and some 2,040 missionaries, followed by Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Guatemala. There are some 150 Latinagencies with 3,000-plus missionaries.
3. It is long on zeal and passion, but short on foundational reflection. Latin Americans’ emotions are not strong enough to carry them through the long, arduous, cross-cultural labor and spiritual battles.
4. Its major mission concerns are the great urban centers, Indian tribes, and North African Muslims. Latin evangelicals want to be both professional career missionaries as well as bivocational "tentmakers."
5. It shows a keen interest in future Latin American missionary families. At the 1987 COMIBAM congress, for example, some 200 people crammed a workshop on the missionary family and the MK experience.
6. It lacks training, both nonformal and formal. Brazil has a number of programs, but overall there is a great need. The World Evangelical Fellowship’s Missions Commission is cooperating with COMIBAM in a five-year program to strengthen existing programs and develop new ones.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
Let me pose some questions for missions—not just for Latin America—that we must honestly face, if we are to see a strong future for the churches and the agencies.
1. How can we as missionaries stimulate a better understanding of worldwide issues that affect the churches and the newly arising missionary movements outside the West?
2. What can we do to encourage effective, lasting expatriate missionary service, with a healthy appreciation for the host country’s history and culture?
3. How can we develop partnerships with the churches in Latin America, Africa, Europe, and Asia?
4. How can our wealthier Western agencies and missionaries share their resources with the poorer non-Western missionary force in things like housing, education, and transport.
5. How can the experiences of the non-Western missionaries contribute to the missionary movement in North America and Europe? Perhaps we need to learn more from our colleagues who serve from and to a context of poverty.
My thesis in these two articles has been that breaking out of two tricky, dangerous "bubbles" — idealized perceptions of the local culture and the church, and the imported evangelical ghetto and world view— poses a great challenge to both missionary agencies and missionary families. We must be sensitive as we obey the command of Jesus Christ within the sweeping contexts of geography, history, culture, and the human crises.
To do this without losing our families in the cracks of confused identity is not easy. But with alertness, commitment, and dependence upon the Holy Spirit, it can be done. I believe that the Taylors are a thankful, talking, feeling, functional missionary family. Our three kids see themselves as internationals with a growing global view and a commitment to help people. Although we now live in North America, our primary identity is still as a missionary family. We have a precious memory bank of shared experiences from both Latin America and the U.S.A.
Breaking out of the bubbles will also free us to deeper, more significant relationships with our national fellow workers, moving us beyond the simply cordial and correct encounters. We can multiply our effectiveness by bonding even deeper with them and with their culture. This will set the stage for genuine partnership. At this great time of unparalleled opportunity, let us smash the bubbles and grab the moment.
EMQ, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 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.