by Wolfe Hansen
Our mid-twentieth century world is one of emerging young nations and young nations are nations of young people. What significance does this have for missionaries and mission boards?
Our mid-twentieth century world is one of emerging young nations and young nations are nations of young people. What significance does this have for missionaries and mission boards?
I have worked in the West Indies since 1938, and have seen drastic political and social changes. Of these, the most significant is that the initiative in national life has passed into the hands of young people.
I saw the new Cuba emerge from a revolution that was not just another coup d’ etat planned by the old-time politicians. It was a young people’s revolution from the start. Regardless of the changes that have taken place since January 1, 1959, the new Cuba is a young people’s nation.
In 1960 1 left Cuba with the rest of our missionaries, but reentered in the fall of 1962 for six months. As I traveled throughout the island, I was impressed by the prominence of young people in the new setup. All government officials were young men or young women. Buses and trains were crowded with young students of both sexes, clad in the olive green uniform of the government schools.
I witnessed the mobilization of Castro’s militia forces during the missile crisis of October, 1962. The thousands of soldiers who mounted the defenses of the coastlines and airports were all young men, some of them very young. Whatever changes may take place in the future, when and if the present regime weakens, Cuba will remain a young people’s nation.
More recently I visited another nation that had emerged from colonialism. In this case there had been no revolution; Trinidad and Tobago had been granted independence without warfare. With independence and self-rule has come a national spirit that manifests itself in dynamic activities. Plans for progress are in the making. New industries and new building projects are springing up. A new educational system is emerging. Economic theories are being studied and weighed in the balances of expediency. Communism, socialism, governmentcontrolled economy, and free enterprise will be considered to see which will promise the most prosperous future. Choices will be made, a national policy will be mapped out-all by young people.
I am now living and working in one of the smaller islands of the West Indies. On my radio I can listen to more than a dozen local broadcasts from other islands. Most of these islands are not independent, yet all of them are agog with plans for self-government. They are convinced that the benefits of selfrule are greater than the problems. New nations will be horn out of the political tensions that fill the air of the Caribbean. They will be nations of young people.
This fact was brought to my attention very forciblythrough a conversation I had with a young government Official, during which he said: "In my home islands more than half of the population is under fifteen years of age. As a result, we have neither enough schools nor enough trained teachers to provide education for our children. Moreover, we have not enough industry and commerce to provide employment for our young people, and their number is increasing daily. Many of the finest of them leave the island to seek a future elsewhere. Others remaining fall an easy prey to communist propaganda. To educate and train this younger half of our population for a better and more prosperous future is our major problem."
This statement puts the world of the West Indies in proper perspective. What is true of the island he mentioned is true of others. The population of the West Indies is over twenty million. Of these, ten million have yet to celebrate their fifteenth birthday. Each year brings not only an alarming increase in the world’s population, but also a substantial increase in the ratio of Young people to older persons. It is this rapidly increasing generation that will shape the future of new nations, not the generation that ushered in independence. The young official with whom Italkedrightly assessed the challenge this new generation presents to his government.
Wliat are these young people like? What goes on in their thinking? Where do they get their ideas? What is their philosophy of life? flow are they being educated? For what?
Most of them come from humble homes and large families. Only a few have anything like a paying job. The majority have had only limited education. Many have never been away from their island homes. Yet their philosophy is not being molded by their home life, nor by the environment of their own island. In spite of their limitations, they are receiving a kind of education that does not depend on attending a school. Their knowledge of the outside world comes through other channels.
The time is long past when the trader came with a few brightly colored beads and cheap-looking glasses to exchange for the valuable products of tropical lands. Today North American and European nations compete in the West Indies to sell the products of their advanced technology. In every island automobiles, motorcycles, refrigerators, gas ranges, sewing machines, and all kinds of electrical appliances are sold in modern stores. Officials and businessmen come and establish themselves, bringing with them their modern way of life. Appliances bring hundreds of tourists, who also exhibit the wealth and luxury of their own lands. The missionary brings equipment that reveals that he comes from a country where the good life is enjoyed by all. Imported movies show life as it is supposedly lived in the United States, Canada, England, or Russia. Naturally, the voting West Indian wonders why these things are not available to every one in his island.
INFLUENCE OF COMMUNICATIONS MEDIA
More far-reaching in its effect on the young mind is the education that comes through the modern media of communication-television, radio, and magazines. A television set is not so easily obtained, but magazines are everywhere and many people read them. In the Dominican Republic I saw walls in homes of poor people papered with brightly colored pages from American magazines. However, radio plays the most significant role in this out-of-school education of young people, because transistor sets are now available at such low prices that practically everyone can afford to get one.
One of the commonest sights on the streets of the larger West Indian cities is that of a young man walking along with a transistor pressed against his ear. It transmits to his mind world news, political propaganda, cleverly disguised communist philosophy, news of space travel and sports, cheap music and songs, sex stories and suggestive jokes, the teaching of modern religious cults and the message of the Gospel. All this enters his mind to make a confusing, often contradictory conglomeration of impressions.
In many persons this stream of new and confusing impressions goes in one ear and out the other, but by no means in every case. A large percentage of intelligent young people listen with keen interest, and they are deeply influenced. They may not be able to point out the United States, Russia or Congo on the map, but they know about the war in Viet Nam and the revolt in Rhodesia. They hear the propaganda and learn about racial conflicts. They take note of the ideologies, take sides, and form opinions.
They think it is very important to have an opinion about these affairs. The philosophy of life of these more intelligent young people is being molded not by the humble influences of their island homes, but by the propaganda and ideologies, political and otherwise of the outside world. Even though in some cases their homelands are not yet fully developed, these young men and women are becoming modern. With this new generation the future of these countries rests.
Are missionaries and mission boards as realistic about the challenge and potential of these millions as was the young official with whom I talked? That which is achallenge tothe governments of new nations cannot be a matter of indifference to us, because these same nations are our mission fields. We must revise our thinking and planning in light of the fact that over half of the population of these fields is under fifteen years of age. The sight of young people with transistor radios pressed against their ears ought to make us aware of how terribly real the battle is for the minds of young people. Many ideologies are inspired by "the god of this world," whose untiring efforts are bent on blinding "the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ . . . should shine unto them" (2 Cor. 4:4). Young people must be won for Christ if Christianity is to have a place in the future of new nations.
The time has come to make the younger generation our prime objective in evangelism. To neglect it would be a strategic blunder. Winning young people must be made a definite goal, and be given priority in our plans. We must eliminate objectives of lesser importance, and dedicate as much as possible of our missionary force to this effort.
KIND OF TRAINING NEEDED
More and better missionaries are needed. One must have a definite call to the specific field of youth work, be realistic about it, and recognize that the work is neither easy nor glamorous, but "blood, sweat, and tears." The prospective youth missionary must be earnest about his preparation. In most cases university training is highly desirable. The essential thing he must have is a working knowledge of modern trends of thought, and a sound, realistic, Christian philosophy of life. He must be alert to the rapid changes in the world, and constantly be sharpening his intellectual and spiritual weapons. His knowledge of the Bible must be far deeper, and more thorough, than simple surveys and outlines. He must know how to teach biblical truth and how to apply it to everyday living. His training cannot be completed in college and seminary; it must be continued on the field.
When he reaches the field, he must give a large place to the study of the history, culture, political orientation, and general philosophy of life of the people. He must take time to read and study books about contemporary history and current ideologies. It is far more helpful to be able to explain dispassionately the origin, development, and weakness (or strength) of modern movements, than it is merely to denounce them and dismiss them as anti-Christian. This kind of self-training requires time, determination, and work. To be able to orient young people, by adequate and factual explanation of current issues, inspires confidence and puts the missionary in a better position to present the Gospel as the ultimate philosophy of life. The missionary to young people must like people and know how to make friends among the unconverted. If he can get contacts by giving lectures in schools and colleges on nonreligious subjects, he should use the opportunity. Much of the actual soul-winning will be by personal contact rather than by meetings. He must be more concerned about winning the person, than about getting that person into an organization.
Missionary training schools, Bible colleges, and seminaries must do something about the need for better preparation of missionary candidates in the subjects mentioned above. Most colleges have good courses in anthropology, and these are useful, provided it is remembered that customs, superstitions, and taboos, that only a few years ago were part of life in many areas of the world, have since been swept away by the currents in modern life. Nationals now would be deeply offended if these were considered their way of life. These things are now considered folklore, reminiscent of the past. Prospective missionaries should be given thorough courses in contemporary history and current trends of thought, and these courses should be kept up to date. Reading along these lines must berequiredforexample, such books as The Winds of Revolution, Latin America Today and Tomorrow, and East Asia Today and Tomorrow. The missionary candidate should specialize in the area of his intended service. Those interested in Latin America would do well to acquaint themselves with the writings of St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
Tested, valuable ways and means of winning young people must be improved and intensified. To reach students in young nations, missionaries with high level training should be placed in strategic centers, the large cities where universities and colleges are located.
We must train capable young men and women for national leadership. We have Bible schools and seminaries to train national pastors, but what about training young people on the layman’s level? Much of the know-how can be taught by missionaries in evening classes and small group studies.
We must explore the possibilities of camp work and other specialized young people’s activities. These can be used to develop and strengthen Christian character. It is wrong to think that young people want only to be entertained. I know missionaries who believe their main task is to show young people how to have fun and still be a Christian, or how to glorify the Lord in their sports, or how to date a girl. The missionary should radiate the joy of the Lord, but that is something different from the Christian "happiness" that some unwise missionaries promote. Young people in the new nations are, on the whole, serious, and our programs must be of a serious nature. Thev want to know how thev as Christians can advance educationally and economically, and vet shine as lights iii a crooked and perverse nation. They want to know what their relationship as Christians should be to the political currents of their country. They want to know how they should act as Christians when revolution breaks out. They want to know how to meet the arguments of atheism.
When I attended young people’s camps in Cuba in 1962-63, 1 was amazed to note how much time was dedicated to the study of how to refute the materialistic, atheistic philosophy they were facing daily. They were dead in earnest about it. Young people in these countries are keenly interested in solid Bible study – the kind that enables them to understand the Word, the kind that is applicable to their problems and situations. To get satisfactory participation in such discussions. it may prove best to have the sexes separate. Few young women will come out with personal questions if men are present.
LITERATURE MUST BE STRENGTHENED
Our literature must be strengthened. It is not enough to make old tracts and booklets look more attractive. Content must be vital, too. "Boy meets girl" stuff can be eliminated. We need books (not too big or ponderous) in which Christianity is presented as the best and most reasonable philosophy of life.
While in Cuba in 1963, 1 read the new Introduction to Philosophy now being used in the secondary schools in the new Cuba. Idealism and religion were dealt with briefly, and then ridiculed as absurd and unscientific. The materialistic philosophy, was presented as the only sensible and scientific outlook on life. This was done in nontechnical language, easily understood by a young person not previously schooled in philosophy. It was written so that the content could be grasped readily by an untrained mind. The style captivated the mind of the reader and made him feel that he was learning something of importance.
Christian literature written in this way is needed. We must find men who can produce books and reading material relevant to our turbulent times, material of greater spiritual help and more practical orientation than some of the current Christian fiction that deals only with sex. I am not suggesting that the only kind of literature we need is intellectual and academic. We also need serious devotional books, sound Bible exposition, and the like. This, of course, should not all be the work of American writers; material written by European, Latin, and Oriental authors must be included.
REVISED RADIO OUTREACH
In addition to the many good radio programs that present the basic Gospel message, there should be some that meet the perplexities and problems of young people. Programs produced against the background of North American life will not do. We need programs produced by men thoroughly conversant with conditions on the field. The impressions young people get through radio are confusing, and in many cases subversive, instilling lawlessness in the minds of the youth. We can counteract this with programs of clear moral and spiritual orientation, and with a message that points to Christ.
BEGIN TO RETHINK STRATEGY
The need to rethink our strategy is urgent. If we are to make an impact on this young people’s world, we must begin now. Missionaries and evangelical mission boards should get together for a thorough survey of each field, before applying any given method of work or specific approach. Planning and working together would avoid wasteful duplication on the one hand, and unattended gaps on the other. No method will work with the same degree of success on a given field at all times. Too often we think up some method, and then make the use of that method a goal in itself. But it is the goal that must be kept constant, the winning of this young generation for Christ. Methods are only ways and means of reaching the goal. Methods like weapons, may become obsolete and have to be replaced by new and better ones. If they no longer do the work efficiently, scrap them without mercy or sentiment.
The most important fact to be kept in mind is that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds" (2 Cor. 10:4). Whatever method we use to win young people, it must be dynamic. The dynamic that God uses is not that of the trained human personality, or the effectiveness of human strategy, but the dynamic of the Holy Ghost. Only the light of the Gospel will dispel the darkness created in the unbelieving mind by the god of this age. Our Gospel message, therefore, must be crystal clear. "We use no hocus-pocus, no clever tricks, no dishonest manipulation of the Word of God" (2 Cor. 4:2, Phillips).
This means that we free our Gospel message from all the clutter of our own culture, from the cliches and current "new of popular language, and that we renounce the use of human schemes to promote "our own work." We must be helpful to those we want to reach. This is not so much a matter of doing things for them, nor of organizing everything for them. (How fond we are of organizing!) It means, rather, that we try to understand and appreciate them, that we enter into their perplexities and problems, and try to orient them in the midst of the confusing contradictions of modern propaganda. Only then shall we be able to point them to what will remain when all else in the world is shaken.
Above all, the missionary to young people must radiate the religion of the warm heart rather than that of cold dogma. "For god, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" The maintenance of this personal, living relationship with the Lord is the ultimate, indispensable qualification for winning young people. The missionary to them is only a weak, fragile, earthen vessel of small value and expendable, yet he carries in his heart the light of Another, even of Him, who is the light of the world-the light also of young people in the young nations.
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