by Eugene Madeira
Not every mission is equally guilty, but we must pay attention to the grievances of our brothers.
In my travel in 12 Latin American countries, I noted the causes of anti-missionary feeling. As I talked to national leaders and pastors, these were the reasons they gave me: (1) broken promises; (2) lack of interest in human factor; (3) dynasty; (4) political interference in the life of the national church in violation of their autonomy; (5) using the national Christians for organizational financial gain; (6) broken agreements and accords between national church and mission, unilaterally by mission societies; (7) blacklisting of national pastors; (8) providing a useless education; (9) rejection of national workers who think for themselves; (10) perpetuating the dependence of the church on both missionaries and outside money; (11) hidden agendas; (12) isolation of churches internationally.
There is no need to write details of each of the items, because every missionary looking at this list knows of specific examples. However, missionaries can also supply justification and rationalizations to explain why promises have not been kept, written agreements and contracts broken and abrogated. The vast majority of national believers in a given country do not know the mission’s point of view any more than the missionary organizations know of the grievances or national point of view. In this context pressure builds up that can lead to anti-missionary explosions, acts, and decisions.
The number one need in missions today is a serious effort at putting the gospel to work, i.e., working toward the reconciliation of all things in Christ. Mission-church relationships can pretty much be described like the relationship of parent and teenager. Teenagers want control over their own lives. To obtain this they rebel. Most of the national churches started by missionary organizations are now over 25 years old.
I visited in the homes of pastors who have been in the ministry from 25 to 50 years. I saw that they had served the Lord faithfully with great sacrifice. But few children of national pastors have entered the ministry. While most of their missionary friends of a generation ago have now retired with Social Security, investments, and savings in homes back in the U.S.A., most national brethren continue to serve on meager salaries, in poor health, living at a subsistence or poverty level. Few own their own homes or have any property. Missions and national churches have not made provision for old age or retirement of national pastors. Life insurance is unknown.
But many second and third generation missionary children have now come to take the place of their parents in many missionary societies. They live like a privileged class. They form a dynasty of the elite whose wealth in a foreign country isolates them from the friendly contacts with nationals their parents enjoyed. And what is worse, they do not hold to the same principles of service, sacrifice, and selflessness that their parents practiced. Few believe that the national church should be self-governing, selfsupporting, and self propagating. The fact that they are there contradicts the principle of self -propagation. Otherwise, they would not feel they are needed. Why are there so many second and third generation missionaries, but so few second and third generation pastors?
Many older pastors of national churches feel they are still treated as inferior, second-class citizens of the kingdom. Their organizations still do not enjoy full autonomy, and they do not have equal rights as a religious organization. Much of the anti-missionary feeling stems from this inequality of relationships. Missionaries want the right to participate in the government of the national church, but would not give pastors the right to participate in the government and decisions of the mission.
Nationals resent the fact that missionaries often use them for fund-raising purposes, by claiming that support is needed for Christian workers (taking their pictures), scholarships for students, money for building projects, bringing in money to the coffers of the society that never benefits the persons, places or projects represented. They feel like they are being exploited for personal financial gain. If some are honest enough to express their feelings, they are considered rebels, or trouble-makers, and are blacklisted so that they are unable to get work with other mission societies or organizations. Unemployed national pastors find their Christian education inadequate for competing in the world of work where preaching skills are not needed. Their education did not prepare them or qualify them for other jobs such as teaching. This causes them to feel their education was useless and of no benefit.
In dozens of churches I noticed pianos that were never played because only missionaries knew how to play them; they never taught nationals how to play. Many missionaries are viewed as being more concerned about how to perpetuate their own jobs than in having national leaders develop opportunities for leadership. There is widespread resentment over the lack of opportunity to learn to speak English and represent the work themselves, at international meetings, mission or denominational conferences.
To older and younger pastors alike, the lack of concern for the human factor is an obstacle to fellowship. Missionaries are rarely concerned about such things as health services, retirement and benefits for pastors. Some mission societies actually violate the law of the land by refusing to provide such benefits, or by using devious methods to avoid such commitments.
The seriousness of anti-missionary feeling can best be illustrated by my experience with a Christian layman, an active Gideon, who, when I knew him 25 years ago, owned his own factory. A few years ago he gave up his business to enter the pastorate full-time. He had started several churches as a layman, but now wanted to dedicate all his time to the Lords work. So at great personal sacrifice, both in standard of living and income, he sold his factory and went into the pastorate. He was going through very difficult times when I visited him. During the past five years no missionary had visited him, counseled him, taken time to befriend him, or listen to him since he sold his factory and entered the ministry. He said he would not be happy again "until every missionary is out of his country." As I listened to him, I could understand his disappointment and his sense of abandonment. When he could no longer be manipulated by the missionaries, they abandoned him.
Priority must be given to the healing of relationships between missions and their national churches, or the future of missions in some countries will become more difficult, especially in those countries where Christian nationals rise to positions of political leadership. Many of these can become anti-missionary. There are three steps that can be taken to correct this situation:
1. Respect the autonomy of the national churches. Don’t expect them to want missionaries to participate in their business, meetings, national conferences, and decisions. As long as there is no reciprocity allowing them to participate in mission meetings, decisions and discussions, missionaries should not expect nationals to want them even to attend as observers. The reason for this is that parents don’t try to take over the direction of the lives of their children when they are adults; neither should mission societies try to return national churches to the control of the mission society. Autonomy isn’t autonomy if the national leaders don’t have the right to make their own decisions and their own mistakes.
2. Give the national church liberty in international relationships. Many mission societies have placed restraints on the national churches relating to international ties. This has been done to keep powerful international organizations like World Council of Churches from buying memberships. But within the evangelical camp there are many international relief organizations that provide assistance to the most needy. These organizations should channel funds and projects directly through the national church and not through the U.S. mission society. The national church is permanent in a given country. It is an insult to channel assistance to the national church through the mission society, because this denies the national church leadership opportunities for growth I and experience in leadership, in administration, in fiscal accountability. Many national churches never develop strong leaders because they have not been given the opportunity to develop management potential. National Christians keenly resent such isolation, especially where there are missionnational church problems and the international aid society only listens to the mission point of view because it happens to be a member agency. Problems of national church-mission relationships ought to be studied and dealt with on the basis of the merits of each situation, and not the assumption that the mission society is right.
As long as funds are directed through U.S. missionary agencies to national churches, we are giving decisionmaking authority and the power to control programs and the power to withhold funds to the mission society. The control of the flow of money and the ownership of property has made national churches junior partners and second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. This is a violation of the partnership of equals Paul describes in Ephesians, where the middle wall of partition was broken between Jew and Gentile.
3. International agencies should ask for copies of mission-national church agreements and check to see that these have not been violated. Money is the biggest single factor in why missions break faith with national churches on the transfer of properties and institutions. If a mission society has assurance that international funding agencies will subsidize and perpetuate mission operation and control of given institutions, they will not move to nationalize its operation or prepare leaders who are able to operate it. Where missions cannot afford to operate institutions, they are quick to turn these over to nationals. One mission that was unable to get its rural Bible institute to become self-supporting in 30 years quickly turned it over to the national church knowing full well that the national church would not be able to make it self-supporting either. But where the same mission had a high school that was not a financial liability, but had promise of full support because of the income tuition produced, this institution was kept under mission control. The mission used law-suits, physical threats, breaking and entering by police, and forcible entry to accomplish its goal. It starved out the teachers by freezing their salaries, and had the director thrown into jail. The case is still before the courts.
Honesty is a basic ingredient of mission-national church relationships. When written agreements are made, they should be honored. Too many missionaries use McCarthylike tactics to smear national church leaders and organizations, labeling them as disciples of the "theology of libertion," when in effect what nationals want is control of their own churches. In only one case in my 12-nation tour did I find that the theology of liberation had contributed to the anti-missionary attitude of the pastor. He was against U.S. multi-national corporations, but that did not hinder his evangelistic zeal or fervor in building Christ’s church, nor did it mean that he wasn’t an evangelical. He had just recently opened a second church in the city where he was pastoring.
Church-mission relationships need to be studied to identify those elements that make for good relationships. U.S. mission societies ought to be rated by an objective, outside organization that has the confidence of both sides. Missionaries need to remember that Christ’s call is to service. Those who do are the ones who will be best prepared to serve alongside of and with nationals in the 1980’s.
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