by Samuel Cueva
WITH PROPHETIC IMAGINATION, Andrew Walls (2002, 202) claimed that the great new fact of our time is that mission is now in reverse: from the non-Western (or Majority World) to the Western world (see Catto 2012, 91-105).
WITH PROPHETIC IMAGINATION, Andrew Walls (2002, 202) claimed that the great new fact of our time is that mission is now in reverse: from the non-Western (or Majority World) to the Western world (see Catto 2012, 91-105). For Walls, the Church now has many centers of mission. Similarly, Lesslie Newbigin pointed out in the 1990s that “we must recover the sense that mission is the enterprise of the whole Church of God in every land, directed towards the whole world” (1994, 11). This implies that we need to acknowledge the fact that the home base of missions is now worldwide.
Many Christian leaders, especially from the Majority World, perceive Europe as a dark continent in need of revitalized mission and evangelization. This view includes the current state of Christianity in Great Britain. What I propose here are suggestions for the U.K. Church regarding how to welcome Majority World missionaries. This proposal comes from my fifteen years of experience in working in reciprocal collaboration for a church in London, and having promoted mission in Europe for more than twenty years.
Reasons for a Dark Continent
Four external factors will help clarify why Christian mission has often become so difficult in Europe. This will help lay the foundation for why this affects Majority World missionaries coming to the continent as well.
1. An increasing secularization within society. The division between sacred and secular has become a pivotal reason for diverting people away from seeking God. One example is that more people than ever go out shopping and for pleasure on Sunday.
2. An increase in postmodern thinking. This factor highlights a more individualistic approach to life rather than a corporate one. For example, many people invest in sustaining their private lives and personal achievements due to the individualistic tendency to protect themselves from times of uncertainty. Churches with a passion for mission in Europe struggle with uncontrollable access to information and mass telecommunications, environmental interest, civil rights and equal opportunities, struggles against oppression defined by sex or ethnicity, etc. Since churches have less access to the people than social media, people have more interest in what the power of media and telecommunications offer than in what churches have to offer.
3. An increasing atomization of the nuclear family. More than ever, families are made up of single or cohabiting parents rather than married parents. In addition, new laws in the European Union have led to increased levels of divorce.
4. An increasing decline in church attendance. Fewer and fewer people frequent churches on a regular basis. It seems that life for pleasure, such as traveling abroad on weekends and atheistic, rationalistic, and postmodern thinking make people anti-church in the U.K. These factors produce less interest in church activities.
These four factors have made a marked and dark impact on European Christian leadership, which has resulted in the feeling that there is little room for interest and openness to receive Majority World missionaries. The above factors have had a large impact on churches in Europe looking to do mission, including:
1. They have less money available for mission.
2. There is less interest in supporting the mission activity of the local church.
3. Centripetal mission (concentrating only on local efforts) makes people less aware of key issues of a global mission.
Three Negative Missiological Views
It seems that there are at least three negative missiological views regarding Majority World missionaries who come to Europe.
1. Rejection (refusal, denial, renunciation, refutation). This includes expressions such as, “You have to weigh the implications of missionary work in the U.K.” or “You know that Europe is not Peru or South Africa” or “I do not want to discourage you, but it is necessary for me to highlight this.” There is a tendency to make sure Majority World missionaries are well-trained in cross-cultural mission or in intercultural studies. Of course, this is not necessarily a direct refusal, but most of the time it can be polite rejection.
2. Reaction (response, reply, answer, feedback). A second type of thinking goes like this: “I will see if I can do something for you, but I can’t promise anything; let’s be in touch.” Some leaders begin to question those who intend to come to Europe. Reaction implies a kind of surprise and perhaps interest in knowing more in order to make a decision. Reaction can be positive, negative, or indifferent. Of course, this missiological view is not always direct; most of the time it is a polite response with no clear alternative.
3. Retaliation (rejection, revenge, reprisal, punishment). The terminology ‘reverse mission’ (see Ross n.d.) and ‘revenge mission’ are easily misunderstood. The second is an anti-theological mission, not acceptable in any mission activity; the first means that mission is now returning to the West. An anti-mission revenge is sometimes expressed when spiritual and material support to Majority World missionaries in need is delayed. Of course, this approach does not always take the form of direct retaliation; it could occasionally come in the form of a lack of reciprocal collaboration.
For these three views (rejection, reaction, and retaliation), perhaps we need some theological and missiological clarifications to help understand better that the Holy Spirit blows whenever he wants and wherever he pleases (John 3:8), and all Christians belong to Christ’s body (Eph. 4:4-6).
Three Positive Missiological Views
But it doesn’t end there. Let me also share three examples of how U.K. Christian leadership respond positively to Majority World missionaries.
1. Welcome (greeting, reception, receiving, salutation). From time to time I hear, “You are most welcome, we need you!” It is time to give a clear missio salutatio (missio acceptus) to Majority World missionaries. Western leadership needs to have a clear attitude of welcoming missionaries whom God is mobilizing within the new global mission scenario. A welcome is taken as, “We know you are here.”
2. Approval (support, agreement, authorization, appreciation). From time to time I hear, “Thanks for coming to help us.” Approval implies a clear voice of recognition that Majority World missionaries are also part of Christ’s body and want to work hand in hand with the British Church. For the most part it is individual members of a church who are more open to Majority World missionaries. It is time Western Christian leadership gives a clear ordo acceptum (order of acceptance) by making more agreements to support Majority World missionaries. Approval is taken as, “We know you want to serve here.”
3. Collaboration (partnership, teamwork, group effort, association). I also occasionally hear, “I suppose your ministry fits with our plan, therefore we could work together. Would you help us in evangelism or in pastoral counseling?” It is time to also ask, “What can we do for you?” This attitude comes in recognition that Majority World missionaries have been called by God to make a contribution for God’s kingdom in the U.K. Collaboration is taken as, “We know we can work together.” One possibility of collaboration is that Majority World missionaries can benefit from European training.
For these three views (welcome, approval, and collaboration), perhaps we need some theological and missiological remarks to help understand better that as Christ’s body we are working for the Kingdom of God—the rule of everything and all creatures by our eternal sovereign God (Mark 1:15; John 3:5-7), and for the mission of God, the owner of the mission (Col. 1:16-18).
I arrived in London in 1997 with my family, having been sent by my local church in Peru. We set up a mission collaboration with St. James’ Church in Muswell Hill, London. They provided us with free use of the church building and gave a small financial contribution to our ministry in the U.K. In 2000, I became a staff member of the church (again with a small financial contribution) which produced a mission model, allowing me to serve within a British congregation and to develop the vision God had given me to plant a Latin church and establish mission bridges between churches of the Global North and South.
Currently, I am a mission partner of the St. James’ World Mission Group, and the concept of reciprocal collaboration is becoming better understood within the Anglican Church. We know that isolation is not a biblical view and I strongly believe in what I call reciprocal contextual collaboration—a new definition of the traditional word ‘partnership’ for mission.
Defining Reciprocal Contextual Collaboration
Reciprocal contextual collaboration is the reciprocal relationship of harmonious freedom in creative tension which exists between two or more of Christ’s disciples as they seek to accomplish the missio Dei through the Christological double mandate, which includes commitment to the cosmos and people for the glory and benefits of God’s kingdom. The Christological mandate implies an historical, theological, political, economic, social, and cultural dimension of the redemptive mission (see Cueva 2011).
• Reciprocal implies that we are the Body of Christ with diverse and multiple ministries, with gifts and resources (not just financial) to help one another reciprocally.
• Contextual implies the incarnational attitude of Christian mission that includes conscious acknowledgement of the reality of the social, political, religious, cultural, and economical context.
• Collaboration implies that we acknowledge that the missio Dei belongs to God and we are just collaborators in God’s kingdom with freedom of prophetic imagination (the innovative ways to develop the mission task for the fulfilment of the missio Dei).
For this definition, let me clarify a few points:
1. Reciprocal collaboration is not primarily quantitative, but qualitative. Reciprocity is strongly related to the pneumatogical work of the Spirit who empowers the work of each partner in mission within a relational mission theology.
2. Reciprocity relates more to relationships between people rather than to structural or managerial missiology, which emphasizes the organization. Reciprocity is rooted in the spiritual, moral, and supra-cultural biblical values of unity, truth, trust, humility, patience, harmony, and thankfulness. Relational commitment, flexibility (flexible policy), co-responsibility, accountability, local decision-making, respect for personal identity, and interdependence are also key factors of mission in biblical reciprocity.
3. Reciprocal collaboration implies the rejection of any sense of superiority or inferiority. We have been created in the image of a relational God, who challenges us to prioritize partnership in mission according to the pattern of biblical relationships, which is linked to the intentional action of partnering with others.
It is possible to improve mission relations between Majority World missionaries and the churches in Europe. Predominately since the 1950s, mission has been concentrated on the missio Dei, while recently the missio Spiritus has become a new tendency for global mission. However, my proposal goes in line with those tendencies by adding the need of a third element which is a missio salutation—a deep welcome—to Majority World missionaries. This implies a clear and formal welcome of their new initiatives without denying the need of reciprocal collaboration with the presence and experience of Western mission systems.
I want to encourage a strong biblical and theological basis for reciprocal contextual collaboration of every force in mission. This will imply a big effort on the part of both Majority World missionaries and the Church both in the U.K. and throughout Europe. Mission to a dark continent can be changed by bringing new mission light.
Catto, Rebeca. 2012 “Reverse Mission: From the Global South to Mainline Churches.” In Church Growth in Britain: 1980 to the Present. Ed. David Goodhew, 91-105. Cranmer Hall, U.K.: Ashgate.
Cueva, Samuel. 2011. “Partnership in Mission in Creative Tension.” PhD dissertation, Trinity Saint Davies-University of Wales.
Newbigin, Lesslie. 1994. A Word in Season: Perspectives on Christina World Missions. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.
Ross, R. Kenneth. n.d. “Non-Western Christian in Scotland: Mission in Reverse.” Accessed May 28, 2013, from www.ctbi.org.uk/pdf_view.php?id=213.
Walls, Andrew, 2002. The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History. London: T&T Clark International.
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Samuel Cueva (PhD, University of Wales Trinity Saint David) is a Peruvian missiologist who promotes two-way mission bridges to every continent for the fulfilment of God’s mission. A member of the Latin American Theological Fraternity, and member of One People Commission (Evangelical Alliance UK), he is currently pastoring a Spanish congregation in collaboration with St James’s Church-Muswell Hill London.
EMQ, Vol. 52, No. 2 pp. 202-207. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.
Questions for Reflection
1. Are there reciprocal relationships being formed where you are, or is missionary work still being undertaken independently by one or the other mission force?
2. Are feelings of superiority or inferiority present where you work or minister today?
3. How would it be possible to make more reciprocal collaboration in mission?