by Dave Broucek
After living in the West Indies for 15 years, I could, perhaps, be forgiven for forgetting my alien ethnicity. I was no longer burdened by the daily consciousness that I was white and different.
After living in the West Indies for 15 years, I could, perhaps, be forgiven for forgetting my alien ethnicity. I was no longer burdened by the daily consciousness that I was white and different. Therefore, I was surprised one day when my friend, a local pastor, asked, "Why are all you missionaries who come to Trinidad from America white?" He wasn’t hostile. He was curious. (In fact, not all missionaries from North America to Trinidad were white, but one could be excused for thinking they were.)
Everyone these days is talking about the unprecedented internationalization of the missionary force. If the estimates are correct, there are or soon will be more missionaries from the non-Western world than from Europe and North America. God is increasingly sending laborers "from all nations to all nations."
I’m wondering if God might also want to do something similar, closer to home. What about the racial and ethnic diversification of the missionary force from North America? We remain overwhelmingly white.
Discussion of ethnic diversification was conspicuously absent from the September, 1999, EFMA/IFMA/EMS/AERDO/COSIM triennial meeting, "Working Together to Shape the New Millennium." Apart from a few research projects and consultations, ethnic diversity is part of the null curriculum. While we North Americans are learning to collaborate with churches, agencies, and missionaries from Guatemala, Singapore, and elsewhere, U.S. missionaries remain overwhelmingly Anglo-American.
Not so the general U.S. population. Fifty years ago, the U.S. population was 87 percent white. This year it’s 72 percent, and 50 years from now it is projected to be only 53 percent. Canada is even more diverse. Just to keep pace with the demographics, North American churches and mission agencies need to motivate, train, send, and support far more nonwhite missionaries.
Achieving demographic balance, however, is not the most compelling reason for diversification. Theologically, we are beneficiaries of Christ’s amazing transaction that turns former enemies into "one new man" (Eph. 2:15). Does a world that is vandalized by ethnic hatreds need living proof of this transformation? Desperately!
Missiologically, the church needs its diverse members to discover and demonstrate its true nature. We missionaries should make our organizations into places that both exhibit and profit from the unity-in-diversity that God has built into his church.
I’m well aware of arguments based on the homogeneous unit principle. Perhaps, we should just create more African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic-American mission agencies. But then we won’t even live up to the wisdom of the world. Consider the full-page IBM ad, "Diversity Works." The tag line reads: "Powered by people as diverse as the marketplace we serve." Witness, also, the many business books addressing diversification.
I can’t help but think that in their quest to "thrive on diversity," cities, counties, and corporations are showing again that "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light" (Luke 16:8).
We can’t minimize the difficulty of creating ethnically diverse organizations-challenges caused not by color and physiology but by different cultural and sociological expectations. Nor do I want to deny the right of ethnic communities to form their own mission societies.
These already exist and are doing a lot of good. Yet I believe that we also need agencies that make the leap from monocultural to multicultural. My own organization, long known as the Scandinavian Alliance Mission of North America, emerged from its Swedish and Norwegian-Danish roots in 1949, the year I was born, by changing the name to the more neutral TEAM. (I joke that they knew we Bohemians were coming!) The tight-knit Scandinavian community opened itself up to other mission-minded Americans, predominantly other Euro-Americans. Our next task is to become more inclusive still. The North American mission movement needs large numbers of mission-minded Americans of non-European ancestry. If we changed once, we can change again. And so can many others.
1. Examples of relevant research and cooperative efforts are James W. Sutherland, 1998, "African American Unerrepresentation in Intercultural Missions: Perceptions of Black Missionaries and the Theory of Survial/Security," dissertation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and the Cooperative Mission Network of the African Dispersion (COMINAD). I applaud these efforts and add that I am advocating not only inclusion of more African-American missionaries, but missionaries from all ethnic and racial groups.
2. Kelvin M. Pollard and William P. O’Hare, 1999, "America’s Racial and Ethnic Minorities," Population Bulletin 54 (September): 10.
3. The point is well stated by David Bosch: "I believe that the church discovers her true nature only as she moves from one human world to another, when she crosses frontiers, whether these are geographical, cultural, ethnic, linguistic or sociological" A Spirituality of the Road (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1979), p. 58.
Dave Broucek is missionary training and research coordinator for The Evangelical Alliance Mission, Wheaton, Ill.
EMQ, Vol. 36, No. 4, pp. 424-425. Copyright © 2000 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.