by Panya Baba
While most of today’s growth in African churches may be the result of local churches multiplying themselves in biblical fashion, we cannot deny that in Africa there are places where pioneer work is still needed, even in so-called evangelized countries.
I admire the frankness of Pius Wakatama and his concern for the role of Africans in world missions. However, he seemed to emphasize more the problems and tensions with Western missionaries than he did the role of Africans. Also, I wish that he had not limited the term "missionary" to church planters and evangelists, because all aspects of mission work are needed. If the whole gospel is to be presented to the whole man, I don’t think we can single out church planters and evangelists from teachers, doctors, and development workers.
I agree that it is too simplistic to conclude that Africans should start mission organizations patterned after the independent faith missions of the West, just because of their success. All agree that there are unique problems that Africans face, and we may need many different methods in our work. But we ought not to generalize and conclude that it is inappropriate to establish independent mission organizations. In some cases this model may not work, but in other cases some adaptation of this model may be very efficient.
It should be noted that some African mission organizations have been started, not at the encouragement of Western missiologists, but because enterprising young African Christians have indeed been faced with the lack of vision in their denominations. While the denominational churches may be taking care of local evangelism and church planting, many still lack the vision for cross-cultural ministries.
At the same time, I don’t believe any serious person, whether theologian or missiologist, would conclude that the church is not a suitable vehicle for evangelism. Even those independent Western missions have local churches associated with them and in many, if not most cases, it is the local church that still sets aside missionaries and sends them out with their support.
While most of today’s growth in African churches may be the result of local churches multiplying themselves in biblical fashion, we cannot deny that in Africa there are places where pioneer work is still needed, even in so-called evangelized countries. Some of these unreached people are being reached by Western missionaries working in their independent organizations.
Today when there are evidences of new kinds of partnership and cooperation in world evangelization, we need to work together even more to see that we develop good relationships, so that we will be effective in reaching our goals. The continued existence of mission organizations side-by-side with the local churches they have founded is not necessarily a hindrance to the growth and well-being of those churches.
Concerning the call for a moratorium in the 1970s, we also have to consider the strong wave of nationalism that affected the relationship between the churches and the foreign mission agencies. We should work together to overcome the tensions that arise because of misunderstandings, or cultural problems. Let us not forget that damaged relations can happen between national churches themselves.
Mr. Wakatama is right when he says that the missionary should be sent to work under the leadership of the local churches. If these missionaries have confidence in the Holy Spirit, and in the church that has been planted, they should not be afraid of this kind of relationship. They should be willing to sacrifice their identity for the sake of the growth of the church and the kingdom of God. It is not right for the missionaries to control decision-making. But neither is it right for missionaries working under the leadership of Africans to be cut off from any decision-making. As long as the Holy Spirit has sent them to work for the growth of the church, they are and parcel of the ministry.
The apostle Paul is used as an example to show that missionaries should move on when the church is planted. However, bear in mind that others followed to water what was sown by the first apostles. In some cases, Paul decided to leave Timothy or one of his companions to stay longer, to be sure that the church was well-grounded. Paul had his methods of training the Christians so that they could grow to maturity.
The Great Commission was given to all. The Lord of the harvest has already begun sending out African missionaries to Europe and other Western countries. It isn’t because the are no churches in those countries, but because the Lord of the harvest can use African missionaries in Western countries in one way, while he can still use Western missionaries in African countries.
To my observation, many Western mission organizations have been reducing their numbers and support in countries where the church is well-established. These churches are taking the resposibility for church planting and evangelism. However, reducing the number of Western missionaries and financial support does not necessarily produce self-reliance. Rather, right from the beginning, the churches planted must be trained in giving and in participating in the work.
It is difficult to compare African missionaries who work in Western countries with Western missionaries sent to Africa. I do not know of any organization in Africa that has sent many missionaries and supported them fully in Western countries. But if this were the case, definitely there must be accountability for what is being done. I think that what individual African missionaries are doing in the West at present is rather like partnership between African churches and the churches in the West. The churches in Africa could be mobilized to send missionaries to do evangelism and church planting in Europe or Western countries.
I think the idea that because a church has been planted, the foreign missionaries should pack up and go home is just human reasoning. God has something for us to do together, as long as the Holy Spirit still gives us the privilege to serve and contribute to the growth of the church in Africa. We must listen and share with each other as the Holy Spirit ministers to both sides.
We do need new concepts and methods to ease our conflicts. However, new concepts and methods created and led by the Holy Spirit will not welcome the segregation or division in the body of Christ. They will not be against partnership and cooperation for completing world evangelization.
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