by William R. Read
The letter that follows is not a journalistic gimmick; it is an actual letter written by the author, a missionary under The Presbyterian Church U.S.A., in response to a request from his field leader in a Latin American country. .
The letter that follows is not a journalistic gimmick; it is an actual letter written by the author, a missionary under The Presbyterian Church U.S.A., in response to a request from his field leader in a Latin American country. With some minor changes made by the author, we publish the letter here because it speaks to a wide range o f problems and opportunities in Latin America for the entire evangelical missionary enterprise.-The Editorial Committee.
July 13, 1967
Many thanks for your letter of July 10th. I was excited to learn about the big meeting scheduled in August concerning planning, program, and priority considerations for board, mission on the field, and national church advance. I appreciate your request for any ideas I might have on the general themes to be covered and studies that should be included in the meeting.
Surely, this will be one of those important meetings that only occur at selected times in the life of a mission. I feel that it is a strange twist of affairs that makes it impossible for me to participate. This is one meeting that I wouldn’t want to miss for anything in the world-except to carry forward the Church Growth Research in Latin America project, that is. I can only send a few ideas in this letter; with them come my warmest fraternal greetings and fervent prayers for God’s richest blessing at this historic moment in history. It is the beginning of a decade of urgency in Latin America, especially in the country in which we are working. I sense that this meeting could sound the keynote of a dynamic beginning. Could this be the shifting of gears into a new phase of mission-national church partnership that could open new ways of applying resources of mission and national church? If only this could happen now, it would capture the momentum and advantage of the present unparalleled opportunities that exist. People are ready for changes and want to hear and be able to accept a message of hope and power. Never before has there been such a time so ripe for the establishment and development of dynamic, effective, growing churches. Churches whose members could be destined to change the shape of a sick and struggling social system. Why not?
To begin, I suggest that planning commence by carefully reviewing the historical development of the unique missionchurch relationships that our denomination in Latin America has grown into, through successive stages and development of the famous partnership plan we now have. A review of this plan in its historical perspective would be helpful to all, especially to see how it has been serving as the vehicle for carrying the several functions that the mission has been responsible for. How and why has this structure changed at different periods to meet needs that evolved when there was growth and development? Do we really understand our rich and varied historical inheritance-our present plan of mission-national church relationships? Other missions are now examining this plan and adopting its unique partnership principles into a structure to carry forward the missionary enterprises in other lands. Do we appreciate what we have? A review of this plan statistically could also help us see how unique this plan really is, reasserting the fact that it was designed specifically for church planting. As such it should be evaluated by the results achieved. In this way its other activities, such as institutional development, could be analyzed as church growth statistics are presented in a well-documented way, giving a statistical picture field by field, mission by mission, and church by church. We don’t have this information now; eventually we must have a complete statistical picture. Then, and only then, will we be able to evaluate how effectively our mission has been able to relate resources to the fundamental task of church planting inherent in our famous plan.
A review of the plan structurally would show the role that organizational superstructure has played, and it would determine if this superstructure really carried the load of evangelistic and missionary activity for the mission and church. We have probably answered this question by changing the structures instead of inquiring into the dynamics of our obedience from time to time. Where have these structures been weak in carrying the vision, consecration and dynamic for discipling and perfecting the young churches?
I think that all of us know only too well that our mission has been fortunate in having so many different options that have grown out of our plan of cooperation with the national church. We have had more autonomy than we realize as we have moved into so many different areas of service. Other missions are frustrated here, yet we still have a significant number of choices open to us.
First, our mission still has some fields that are under the complete jurisdiction of the mission and this dimension can continue. The historical situation and the present population explosion demand it. The churches that have been established in these fields are still in the process of growing into selfsupport. There is a grave danger here, and all of us know itwe are not free from the nagging presence of missionary domination as we deal with these developing churches. Maybe this is our greatest problem in this area. If so, let us recognize it and strive to deal with it swiftly. Are we ready to face these issues and make changes? Has the time finally come?
Second, our mission assigns personnel by invitation to the national church to labor in assignments that carry with them special tasks and goals to be achieved. All of these assignments are decided by the national church and agreed upon by the mission. Yet many of our missionaries are very frustrated in this situation. They do not have a vote in the different ecclesiastical levels of church courts. Many times our fellow missionaries feel that their task has not been adequately defined and they find themselves extremely limited, so that many do not return for their next term of service. Does this mean that we have been’ slow in evaluating this type of relationship? Have we been facing realistically such questions as:
How can subsidy of any sort be used creatively in such a relationship?
How should the job be done by the missionaries and what are the limitations?
How can success or failure be judged? What criteria should be used?
Have we been swift to learn our lessons and put them to work?
Have we adequately determined what the role of our missionary really is in such an assignment?
How have the cultural barriers been dealt with, and does such an assignment demand missionary personnel twice or thrice immersed in the language and customs of the land instead of a newcomer?
How can a good missionary identification be achieved and evaluated?
How should future guide lines be drawn up for such assignments?
Third, it seems that we have the serious option of going into new fields that are opening up all around us. Indeed, we are being urged to do this by the present inability of the national church to take care of the present pastoral load in the existing network of churches, to say nothing of entering new fields. What will mission and national church do with the calls that continue to come? These calls are increasing in their intensity and they cry out to us that new churches should be established in these new areas of opportunity found all over our great, developing country. Do our present resources, plans, and structures of working provide for such action as a mission going alone into these new fields? The August meeting must make a decision at this crucial point. Can we wait any longer? This type of a thrust is still within the partnership, or is it?
Fourth, we always seem to have the missionary specialists with us. It is very true that they represent a special phase of our missionary obedience forthe future.Missionary specialists can be a great blessing or a great curse. This is a historical fact in our mission. How does our present relationship with our national brethren require us as a mission to consider this missionary resource?
Perhaps it is best not to look too long at ourselves in this way. Instead, we need to look out around us and see what is happening. In order to focus our sights at the right places, I suggest that a complete library of demographic and developmental material be collected and be available at the August meeting, so as to answer questions with facts. Do not be content to have anything less than the latest and most complete population studies that mill show every possible facet of what is happening in the country’s population. Someone could make a special study of these factors. Use a lot of maps. Wouldn’t it be great if such a study could relate directly to specific areas and help shape plans that come out of discussions in various sessions?
Here are a few developmental areas I would regard with high priority: (1) The big urban triangle between the largest cities in our country (2) The largest state in the country and its fantastic industrial development. How many missionaries do we have here? (3) The agricultural boom areas in the West where new lands can still be found.
Look at the new road systems already in development. How will churches carry out a ministry of planting churches along them in the next ten years. What will be the role of our mission in this task? We can learn many lessons from the church planting that has already been done on the famous highway that is cutting through the Southeastern part of our mighty tropical rain forest. What about the road being cut from the capital to the western frontier? The road opening up in the south between one of the state capitals and its western frontier? The road from our sixth-largest city to the capital of our next door neighbor? It is called the Latin American transversal? And what about the other roads that are being opened?
Look at the new land areas that are opening up in different areas all over the country. Ten to fifteen areas in various river valleys are waiting for new churches to spring up. Churches will be born in these areas faster than we can imagine. This is the greatest westward movement remaining in the world. It looks like our generation is destined to be a part of this. Should some decisions be made now about these areas? Maybe the mission should relocate its entire staff in the next three to five years and begin to set up a network of new churches.
Look at the different developmental areas that promise to be the centers of production for a new and mighty nation– is where the action is now. The innovators, the changes, and the ready acceptance for the Gospel are to be found in these areas. There are mighty ventures to begin for God in these areas. What about developments in the iron and steel producing areas? What about those hydroelectric developments that are soon to be completed in more than a dozen different places? What does this say to us?
Look at the many different kinds of urban areas in rapid development. What should we decide as a mission about the flight to the cities that has been accelerating in Latin America since 1950? All of these metropolitan areas increase rapidly and have different personalities that must be understood. Eventually our mission should have some way to properly survey, chart, and evaluate all sizes of urban concentrations in order to take advantage of the opportunity and potential that awaits church planting. Should we go into urban areas at the present time? Are we ready to face the problems involved? Do we have the resources? Certain cities in different states have a special high index of growth possible. These merit immediate and careful study.
Other cities should be studied in their different sizes and classifications. How do churches multiply in these cities? If we don’t understand our task in the cities we could very well miss the opportunity of our age. The future of the developing civilization in our country is going to be ultimately decided in the urban areas. Why should evangelicals hesitate and stay behind? We know there are many giants in the land, but the prize is worth the effort that must be expended.
Look at the different kinds of industrial areas. I suggest that you acquire the latest issue of the Atlas o f Industry that was published in 1965. Use it to discover the areas of highest concentration of industry by state, county, district, and zone. Somehow these areas must be related to the priorities you are listing for the future. It will be important to discuss how the mission feels about the developing industrialization and urbanization. The development and changes that are in the process will profoundly affect the ministries of the national church and mission. As we face the inevitable truth now and begin to think of how we can enter these developmental areas, we must remember that the battle for survival of the evangelical church will ultimately be fought these areas. This is the greatest challenge to missionary logistics we will face in our lifetimes-to have the right personnel, resources, leadership, and spiritual dynamic at the right places and at the right time! My head swims as I think about the risks, problems, and barriers-how formidable they are, but how rich are the opportunities!
Herb, I realize that I’ve been flying pretty high, and we need to get down to where we can really work. I’ll try to get every kind of a chart and all available information I might have on the sectors I have mentioned above, and try to place this material in your hands before the big meeting.
As you know, it has been the task of our research team to look at these sectors in depth, but our time and opportunity has been slighted by the scope of our research project. At least we have had a good beginning. We will have twenty-five to thirty chapters in our report, and only one of these chapters will deal with this theme. I have already mentioned something about the data we are computerizing. Only in this way can we adequately handle some of the excellent material we have on hand for certain countries. We want to make this available to all evangelicals in Latin America. We are expecting this computer project to reveal much that could be lost without the technical capacity of this modern analytical giant to calculate ratios, relationships, and distinctions, and to give us different influence patterns. We know this in itself won’t plant churches, but it will surely help us find the right places to start.
This leads me to suggest that our mission appoint a permanent type of fact-finding committee that would really function. It should be given the facilities to collect and properly interpret all the different types of information that we’ve needed to understand how, where, why, and when the evangelical churches grow. Such information is becoming an essential commodity in modern-day missions. Things are getting too complex, complicated, and confusing to do otherwise.
We need clear minds, full hearts, a singleness of purpose, and freedom to work into the plan the Master has for us. May the Lord bless the August meeting. I still have a lot of things I’d like to add, but . . . do keep me posted.
Hurried, but nor harried,
WILLIAM R. READ
P.S. Herb, will you be considering the role of mission institutions in the present planning sessions? Maybe the time has come for ruthless withdrawal or ruthless re-evaluation. No, I won’t talk about this now! On second thought, maybe it’s pretty good that I’m not going to be there in August. Perhaps things will get pretty warm, heated up, even white hot–it’s about time, too, right Herb?
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