If evangelical Christians have the equivalent of a “sacred cow,” it must be foreign missions. At the risk of martyrdom, I hereby declare that it’s time to slay that cow (or at least herd it into different pastures)!
I’ve had the privilege over the years of traveling extensively, both for business and ministry, and seeing what really happens out on the “mission field.” It’s not pretty, and in many cases it’s counterproductive.
Forget about those missionary newsletters with pictures of half-naked starving kids and open air meetings led by the Great White Hope – that’s good for raising money, but has very little to do with the vast majority of where our mission dollars and energies are needed.
The Real Story
My frank assessment, shared by others I know with extensive “in country” exposure to foreign missions (but with no self interest in promoting them), is that at least nine out of ten Western missionaries should be called home because they are having little, if any, positive impact. Often, they are making things worse.
Most foreign missionaries are burned out, disillusioned and spiritually unhealthy. It’s sad, but true, that many become resentful of the people they were sent to help.
Yes, there are those few ministries that are actually healthy and reproducing health, and I’m not discouraging their continued support. The trick, however, is separating the wheat from the chaff and also understanding that one of the greatest mission fields today is here in the U.S.
It’s risky to ask people on a U.S. “mission board”, who have never been “in country”, to decide how to prioritize a church’s mission dollars. Even if they’ve bothered to actually visit and evaluate a foreign mission, they’ve typically only done so as part of a chaperoned short-term mission trip where they are shown a sanitized “Western” picture of what’s going on, rather than seeing the true indigenous situation beyond the guided tour or the mission compounds.
Only by experiencing the day-to-day reality of the town or locale and getting to personally know the local people and leaders – not as objects of “ministry” but as real people who share our common humanity – can someone understand the context and legitimacy of a mission’s existence.
A Recent Example
Several years ago, the church I was then attending sent me on a short-term mission trip to Albania with a group of about ten U.S. pastors. My task was to evaluate a request by several U.S. missionaries for funds to start a local Bible college.
Normally, when I minister overseas, I avoid western missionaries like the plague because I generally find that they are more of a hindrance to the gospel than a help. On this trip, I couldn’t do that, and so I resolved to keep an open mind while trying to learn as much as I could from our missionary hosts.
If at all possible, during my first ministry trip to a new country or region I try to lay low, avoid public ministry, and spend as much time as possible talking to, getting to know, and peppering the local leaders and lay people with as many questions as possible.
Only then to I feel somewhat entitled, during my subsequent trips, to minster to them in the context of our new relationships, trust and mutual understanding – rather than imposing some outside agenda on them.
My goal always is to work through indigenous church leaders, rather than with the missionaries, by serving them and letting them tell me what I can do to help.
My Albanian trip, however, was one the rare times I had no choice but to participate in a more typical short-term “mission trip”. It was an eye-opener.
So-Called “Mission Trips”
For the week or so we were in Albania, the U.S. missionaries chaperoned us 24/7 with a well-oiled, carefully-scripted program. Their time was totally consumed trying to impress us with what they were doing.
We went on various bus trips into the countryside and toured selected local churches.
However, it never occurred to the U.S. pastors in our group – who had good hearts but not much discernment – to break free so they could gain a true, unscripted understanding of Albania and the local needs, or to meet with independent local leaders outside our carefully orchestrated guided tours.
I guess I’ve always been willing to look behind the curtain, so I broke free and took the time to meet local Albanian leaders and see what they were doing. As a result, I was able to contrast the “show and tell” of the western missionaries with what was really going on in Albania.
I saw that the western missionaries had totally failed to raise up healthy local leaders or indigenous churches. Rather, everything was totally dependent on them and their stream of western dollars from generous U.S. churches. Take away the missionaries and their dollars, and their local “churches” would vanish.
I also learned that the money they wanted to start a Bible college was extremely excessive and unwarranted, given local standards and costs.
Most of the missionaries’ time was spent serving as tour guides for a continual stream of short-term “mission teams” from the U.S.
Week after week, all they did was give grand tours to those teams, who would then go home to convince mission boards to fund the missionaries’ efforts to spread the “gospel” in Albania.
In reality, the missionaries had no time to advance the gospel because they had become little more than short-term mission tour guides.
Believe me, this was not unique. It is very, very common.
I got a kick out of what one local leader told me. Every time a group of Americans showed up to evangelize his village during their short-term mission trip to help the town’s permanent missionary, the same ten children raised their hands to “receive the Lord”.
The short-term “missionaries” then go home with glowing accounts of how they saved those poor, unfortunate, impoverished locals, only to give way to the next mission team that shows up and “saves” the same ten kids.
In a typical year, two times more people are saved in his village, at least according to the mission reports sent back to the U.S., than there are people in the village – yet the percentage of actual Christians is less than 5%!
On my Albanian trip, the ten pastors had a great time and enjoyed what, in essence, was little more than a great vacation – all in Jesus’ name, of course!
They nonetheless spoke in some churches, prayed for some potential students, ate lots of local cuisine so they could “understand” the culture, and claimed the proposed Bible college property “for Jesus” while slugging through some mud and rain.
Most importantly, they all left with tears in their eyes, open checkbooks, and glowing accounts about having “ministered” during their trip to those poor, needy Albanians.
They never saw the local indigenous ministries that were actually advancing the Kingdom of God, saw the real picture regarding the pros and cons of the proposed Bible college, or gained any context for conducting “fruit inspection” regarding the activities of their missionary hosts.
Me? I left feeling cheapened and used, and asked God to forgive me for wasting His resources with such nonsense.
Interestingly, the church that sent me nonetheless gave a significant donation to help build that Bible college. My critique was so outside the traditional mission approach that they couldn’t comprehend, nor want to even consider, doing anything different.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against spreading the gospel overseas, and there are lots of worthwhile missions with great missionaries.
The question, however, is what’s the “gospel”? What most people think the “gospel” is, really isn’t.
By misunderstanding what the gospel is, we’ve produced little fruit and many problems with how our American churches approach foreign missions.
The Gospel of the Kingdom
Very few missionaries or mission projects are proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God has come and that it is expanding as we do the Father’s will “on earth, as it is in heaven.”
God has not ceded his authority over any aspect of his creation, thus His will is comprehensive and the Kingdom of God is not limited solely to “spiritual” problems or concerns. God’s grace and precepts apply to all spheres of human activity, and inure to our benefit and blessing if we have the courage to apply them to all of life, culture and history.
The Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt. 4:23, 9:35 & 24:14) is the gospel that Jesus actually proclaimed during his ministry on earth.
Rather than joining Jesus in spreading the “Gospel of the Kingdom,” most Western missionaries proclaim a stripped down gospel of evangelism and church (which are part of the Kingdom, but not the sum total of the Kingdom) – or a gospel of band-aid humanitarianism which typically ignores hard solutions rooted in Biblical principles.
These two extremes are based on a dualistic worldview that tries to separate the spiritual and the material by forgetting that the Kingdom of God encompasses both. Thus, they are either so spiritual they are no earthly good, or so consumed with humanitarian problems that they forget the need for spiritual transformation and Biblical principles.
The Greatest Mission Field
The other problem is that we’re so fixated at saving those “poor, unfortunate souls” in “deep dark Africa,” or Albania, or China, or wherever, that we’ve let our lights go out in our own communities and lost our saltiness at home.
Apart from countries where Christians are still persecuted, the Church outside the U.S. by and large really doesn’t need us – they are doing quite fine.
Yes, they always need money, if judged by U.S. standards. But that money often distorts the work of Christ because it creates an unhealthy condition of dependency rather than self sufficiency (as determined by the relevant yard stick of local standards).
In many parts of the world, those churches that have broken out of the U.S. funding ghetto are stronger and growing faster then our stagnant churches in America. In fact, they are beginning to send missionaries to the U.S.!
At the same time, we often fail to see the needy mission field in our own communities. Our local crisis pregnancy centers go unfunded, our outreaches to men and women in jail go by the wayside, and many of our high school students don’t know who Jesus is (except as a curse word).
The greatest mission fields are all around us, and we have more people untouched by the gospel in the U.S. than in nearly any other part of the world. Yet we keep pumping money into overseas missions and mission trips, where it is often unneeded, misused and counterproductive.
I’m not saying we should abandon overseas missions. There’s lots of valid work being done, and that yet needs to be done. We must remain engaged in advancing the Kingdom of God in all parts of the world.
However, we need discernment about what warrants support, and what doesn’t, and also seek balance between the mission fields in our own communities and those in other countries.
My prayer is that we become wise and and faithful stewards of our mission dollars, and start re-thinking our approach and priorities. Let’s promote the Gospel of the Kingdom, and let’s not ignore the biggest mission field of all – our own backyards!
- Ukraine Trip Report (crossroadjunction.com)
- Pentecost in the Local Jail (crossroadjunction.com)
I completely agree. I actually wrote a related article for a feature writing class last year, displaying the tension between the benefits and downsides of short-term mission trips. I’ll have to send it to you sometime.
Janelle, sometime I’d like to hear about your experiences in Kenya (in addition to reading your article on short-term mission trips). I read your story on one of your blogs about the activist and the evangelist. It was very good and made me want to hear more about what you saw and what you thought about Kenya and your time there. I’ve never been there, but maybe some day . . .
A couple of years ago, my church had a youth missions trip in our own town. They went to the shelters, nursing homes, and other places. They saw a side of Woodbridge of which they may have been unaware and it was a really worthwhile experience for them. I had to smile when they had a short term mission trip to El Salvador. They really did not need to leave town; our El Salvadorian population was huge at that time.
I hate to jump in with a negative comment, but you posted this, so here it goes.
This report is full of blatant half truths or downright errors. I am sorry you have had these experiences, but they are NOT the vast majority of missions work going on in the world. Are there problems? Yes – we live in a fallen world and everything is full or problems and will be until Christ returns. So that question is moot.
The real question is the relative need of the church and people overseas, and to state that the majority of the church is doing fine without us is to miss the point. Do we need more western missions in Nagaland India or certain places in Central America? Probably not. Is that the typical situation inside the 10/40 window? Absolutely not, and to act as if it is the situation is almost criminal.
You state that “many of our high school students have never even heard of Jesus (except as a curse word). The greatest mission fields are all around us, and we have more people untouched by the gospel in the U.S. than in nearly any other part of the world.” I hope you are kidding. My children all went to a public high school which had Muslims, agnostics, atheists and every other stripe of kid and none of them “have never even heard of Jesus.” In fact, my children laughed and asked if you were kidding. There is NO ONE in America that does not have overwhelming access to the Gospel. It is on the radio, TV, and in thousands of local churches. There are believers in every workplace, grocery store, school and neighborhood. If you think that there are vast numbers of people here in the US untouched by the Gospel you are kidding yourself and deceived my friend. Vast numbers who need to see a living demonstration of Christ’s kingdom? Yes. Vast numbers who need Christians to be friends and build relationships instead of just handing them a tract? Yes. Vast numbers with no access to the gospel and untouched by the Gospel – absolutely not!
Contrast this with Niger Africa, from which I just returned. Over 99% Muslim, with poverty that makes the sections of the rural south we think of as poor look like the lap of luxury. Most of the Hausa people in this nation do not know any Christians and have no real access to the Gospel. Most of the villages have no church, and no Christians at all living in them. They have no electricity, so TV broadcasts are pointless. The ONLY way to get the Gospel is for those from other countries (US, Nigeria, Germany) to send people who can do evangelism, plant churches, train new believers, raise up new leaders to plant new churches and so continue the process. To maintain that they do not need outside help is either ignorant of the facts or blatantly misleading. To maintain that ANYBODY in the US lacks access to the Gospel like these people is so wrong I can not even come up with words. And this is not isolated – there are BILLIONS of people in this state. Not millions – BILLIONS (as compared to the 300 million who live in the US, all of whom have ready access to the Gospel). And this does not even count the almost 1 billion Hindu’s in the same situation, along with hundreds of millions of Buddhists. If this does not break a believers heart then they are so far from the heart of God that I can only pray for them that God will have mercy on them because they are absolutely ignoring the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. In case I am not being clear enough, any Christian or church that is not giving money, time, and prayer to translate the Scriptures, reach out with mercy and compassion to these poor, and to plant churches among these billions who truly have no access to the Gospel is radically disobedient and massively out of touch with God’s heart as clearly and consistently expressed in His Word and commanded for all believers.
And local involvement, while also very important, does not excuse us from involvement in taking the Gospel to every people group (the real meaning of ethne – nations). That is why our church also supports the local crisis pregnancy home, has people who volunteer in the jail, provides meals for the homeless shelter, etc. But to be honest, there are plenty of people doing these things. When I volunteered at the local detention center for several years, there were over 600 volunteers – most of them from churches. In fact many they were not even allowing new volunteers. I can assure you this is not the case in the 10/40 window. No one is turning away qualified people there.
I am sorry you hit these anomalies, but I urge you to rethink your statements. If you mean to say American Christians should just focus on our mission field here, because the needs here are equal to or greater than those overseas – either in terms of numbers, lack of access to the Gospel, or poverty – then you are flatly wrong. There is no kinder way to say it. If your intention is to say that we need to make sure our foreign mission work is really reaching the massive numbers of unreached people (as opposed to merely going places where there is already a vibrant indigenous church with sufficient numbers and resources to reach the local population), and should not be an excuse for ignoring needs right around us, then I think you could choose you words much more carefully, because that is not what they convey.
As you can see, I am passionate about this. It is not something that I have not thought about, nor is it the product of simply hearing a few missionaries. It has come about through careful reflection upon God’s Word, a lot of reading, and trips to places like Bangladesh, Assam India, and Niger – all of which have virtually no penetration of the Gospel. I pray that you will reconsider your words and be part of God’s sweeping mission – from here to the ends of the earth, so that every tribe and language might be reached for Christ and His kingdom.
I very much agree with you!
In Ukraine, we saw missionaries who came with superior attitudes but who were graciously and humbly received by the “poor and needy” Ukrainians. Yet, the witness of the Holy Spirit to our hearts was that Ukrainians were way ahead of us and we needed to sit at THEIR feet (which we did with great blessing).
The last three years that we have lived in a retirement community, it has been heartbreaking to see the lack of valid, soul saving ministry to the dying elderly by the local Christian community. The need is so great but it just isn’t as exciting or sensational as a trip to Africa. I am so thankful for those who came to minister at our service on Friday evenings, but much more one-on-one ministry is needed. These precious people have heard about Jesus but they are as lost as the unreached people groups around the world. I say a resounding YES to home missions!
Wow. Jim, where to begin. First of all, I agree with you, once again. I believe the Lord is shaking up his church and he’s telling us that we are to self focused,inward oriented and not outward minded at all. I don’t believe the Lord is going to tolerate this any more. There’s a big shaking going on. I also agree that this country is in the greatest need of missionary work. I truly believe that we have to get rid of Christianese and seek the Lord for wisdom on how to reach the people where they’re at.(Regardless of where it is, programs just don’t work anymore).
I was talking to a friend of my son, Jason. He’s the college kids pastor at his church and he told me that a few guys were starting up a cigar club. It was specifically formed to reach out to people who don’t have a clue as to who Jesus is. Ten to one it will work.
Missions are needed. The problem is that we are stuck in the past on how to do it. Jesus wants us to take the time to get to know the people, become part of them, live with them without religiosity, and let our life share Christ. They will eventually ask questions. Our approaches will be different where ever we go.
I do more evangelism in Borders than if I had gone to another country. For some reason women will start talking to me. For example, two women were sitting across from me and somehow a conversation started. Barry got up, smiled and walked away. He knew what was going to happen.
A early 20’s woman said that she was a Christian and told me that she believed in free choice concerning abortion. She cringed waiting for my condemnation. I smiled and said you expected me to blast you, didn’t you. She said yes, she’s always being told she’s going to burn in hell for her beliefs. I told her that Jesus is big enough for her to think the way she does and that it’s not my job to be the sheriff in the kingdom of God. I then told her that I didn’t agree with her, but respected her right to believe the way she does. She started asking questions and I answered to the best of my ability. After almost 2 hours the other woman said “let me go get a bible so you can show her the truth”. I told her no thank you. I said that we are all tired here and I don’t think either one of us is up to a scripture search right now. The girl I was talking to smiled at me. I never saw her again, but I know that the Lord did something that night.
I don’t know who the other gentleman is that you have been having your discussion with, but I would like to encourage him with “a gentle word, will turn away wrath”. We have to be able to agree to disagree without making the other person feel small. No one is 100% correct except for Jesus. We just have to accept we’re fallible and if we can’t agree, then go to something that you can agree about.
Discord is just not worth it. It’s causes division and heartbreak. We are the body of Christ. If we treat each other harshly, then the enemy has won.
To Jim and Colleen and all,
I should also point out that when it comes to local evangelism and the need to reach out to people, build relationships, not throw tracts at them but get to know them, etc. – you and I are in total agreement. I have done more sharing of the Gospel at local coffee shops, over a beer, at little league games, etc. than through any canned program. I rejoice to hear stories like the one about Colleen in the Borders, and it is how we try to encourage people in our congregation to minister.
I just think that is totally different than saying the need here is as great as the need in Iran – there is simply plenty of access to the Gospel here, and none over there. I could not run into a Christian in a Borders in Iran (I doubt they even would allow a Borders in Iran, but you get the point…). That is my only point, which I think is critical to keep in focus.
Brett, Hi I’m Colleen. I may have known you all those years ago also. My husband and I were part of the Maryland crowd until we moved in 91′.
I think evangelism in needed everywhere. I believe it’s each persons responsibility to seek God out and be available regardless of where he wants to send you, be it your neighbor or around the world. I just believe that we have as a great a need here in the U.S. as anywhere else. The sad reality is that our nation in no longer Christian based. The majority of 30’s and younger don’t even know who Jesus is and they certainly don’t know what a bible is. I’ve talked to a lot of people and there are several things said over and over again. #1. They are looking for truth #2. They believe the church is full of hypocrites and don’t want any part of it. #3 the word “church” is a dirty word to them. #4 you can talk about Jesus and what he did, but mention church and they walk #5 they are tired of Christianese (a double standard and Pharisaical words). They want to see our lives, not just hear our words.
When I talk to teenagers and young 20’s. I listen and try not to say to much. Most of the time I’ll ask questions and listen to their response. Even when my adult hackles rise, I try to keep my words to myself. They don’t want to be judged, they want to be heard. They will test your endurance levels to the limit. But if we genuinely listen and try to understand where there at, they will begin to listen to us.
I think that’s the biggest thing that’s wrong with missions today. We go and tell people how wrong they are and we expect them to be grateful. I’ve known Jesus for over 30 years and I don’t appreciate people coming at me that way.
I think that a new wind is blowing and we have to be open to the changes that Jesus wants to make in his church. If we do that, we won’t care about the other stuff anyway because we will realize it’s all about Jesus and not about us anyway.
I am not sure if we have ever met or not. I was part of Cedar Hill in Annapolis, and my wife Linda was part of Arnold. Which fellowship were you are part of back then?
Regarding your latest post, I do understand the need for listening and building relationships rather than targeting people with programs. I have 3 bys in college, and a daughter who is a senior in a public high school. We have spent a lot of time keeping open communication with them, which is not always easy. By the grace of God, all 4 of them are still walking with Christ and involved in a local church (2 at our church and 2 churches near their colleges). Our church has also been blessed in that most of our kids that have reached college age and beyond have continued walking with Christ and being part of a local church. We do not take that for granted and realize that many kids do not continue on with Christ after they leave home.
I also know that the church is often not effective at reaching people. We have been too program oriented, using cheesy ideas, handing out tracts, etc. rather than building real relationships with people. These things need to be corrected, but that is another topic and another post.
My concerns are two-fold. First, there is a confusion between evangelism and missions. These two have historically been considered as distinct, and for good reasons. America certainly needs to continue being evangelized, and that needs to be done in the context of relationships rather than programs – precisely because we are a Gospel saturated culture.
Second, and more to the point in this post, I fundamentally disagree that the need here is as great as the need overseas. I believe this is demonstrably false, and will continue to believe this until someone can show me that one of the four ideas below is false:
1. There are more people in the 10/40 window than here. Since there are almost 2 billion Muslims alone, this point seems indisputable. This fact alone makes the idea of America being a bigger mission field – or even one nearly as large – virtually impossible.
2. There are far more people in the 10/40 window who do not know Christ. This is true in absolute numbers as well as percentages. In many of these countries 95% or more are unbelievers.
3. The percentage of Christians here is much higher than within the 10/40 Window. This is true even if you take the most pessimistic assessments of the number of Christians in America and the most optimistic assessments of the number of Christians in the 10/40 window. Thus, the number of people to reach the unreached is far higher here, and especially as a percentage of the unreached population.
4. The church here has far greater resources (numbers, education, finances, materials such as Bibles and other books, freedom to share, and freedom for conversion) than the church in the 10/40 window.
When taken together, these four facts – which I believe are indisputable – mean that in the 10/40 window there are far more people, with far more lost and unreached people, with far fewer believers to reach them, and those few believers have far fewer resources than here Thus, how can one say that America is in any way even close to comparable as a mission field? In every conceivable criteria it is simply not the case.
To see an example, think of a person here in America who wants to know Christ. Do they have anyone in their extended family that is a believer? Is there someone they work with that is a believer? Is there someone in the grocery store of coffee shop they frequent that is a believer? Is there someone in their neighborhood or town that is a believer? Is there a church nearby (within say 30 minutes travel time) that can explain the Gospel to them and lead them to Christ? Can they find a single Bible in their own language, and can they read so that they can understand the Gospel? I think it is clear that the answer to every one of these questions is “yes” for virtually every single person in America. And yet, the answer for every one of these questions is a resounding “No” for well over a billion people inside the 10/40 window. Even if every person in America – every last one – could answer “No” to every one of those questions, that would still be less than a third of the number that would answer “No” in the 10/40 window. If that is true, how can we say the greatest mission field is here? By what calculus do we arrive at that conclusion?
Let that sink in for a moment. Over 1 billion people – and I am being conservative – that not only do not know Christ, but have absolutely no means of getting to know Him at present. If they long to know him, they have no one that can explain Who He is and what He has done. There are no churches in their village or in a nearby village. They have no believers in their family. If they have a bible in their language, most of them can not read. And the church there simply does not have the resources – people or otherwise – to reach them. And my answer is “I have a greater mission field here”????
If anyone can explain to me which of my points above are false, I will gladly change my position, propose we radically alter our church budget, quit taking short term trips to God forsaken places like Niger and Bangladesh, and stop weeping over the fate of these people (which I do far too often for being such a doctrinaire Calvinist 🙂 ). I hope someone can show me I am wrong – it would make my life far easier. But no one has ever shown me where I am incorrect on these points yet, and thus I continue to labor with all of my heart to stir up the church to this task.
And the reason the post created such a passionate response is that I have heard this mantra – the greatest mission field is here – over and over and over as an excuse for why so many evangelicals and their churches do not weep, pray, give, and labor to reach the lost around the world. In my estimation, it is the single greatest idea that hinders the church here from really taking our part in fulfilling the Great Commission, and why I have banged my head on the wall in trying to get other churches to invest themselves in reaching out to the Window.
Well I will close for now. I have an elders meeting. I hope you and everyone else on the list have a great evening.
As western missionary in Africa who has been on the field for about 5 years now, I believe my input would be relevant to this topic.
First, I would like to say that most of what I have learned has been in the school of life and I have had no formal biblical training at any university so be sure and take what I say with a grain of salt.
My experience in high school would seem to disagree with what you are hearing from the prisoners, although I would not be surprised to hear that a large portion of those who have never heard can be found in prisons. I don’t mean that as a put down to prisoners but simply stated, I think the less the light of Christ has been shone in your life, the more likely you will be found in dark places both physically and spiritually.
On the surface, you might come to believe things to be similar in Botswana as in the US if you were a visitor here. The government officials and politicians speak of God and prayer and a number of them I would consider to be brothers and sisters in the Lord. If you attended our church, you might believe you were in a western church. (aside from the fact we meet in a tent, everything is translated, and african’s are all wearing colorful outfits that I could never pull off with my white skin 🙂 There are many churches in the village(town) of Maun where I live that claim to be christian and a good number (I won’t even try to guess at an actual figure but the majority of those I have met) have attended one or more of these churches at some point in their lives.
Of course if you really get down and dirty with the locals, you will find the story is completely different than in the US. Most of these churches I mentioned would be called cults in the US because they simply don’t teach what’s in the Bible or even have a bible. An unfortunate reality of tribal culture is that the son takes over for the father even when it is not appropriate. So after a generation or more, even churches that were planted by men like John G. Lake are being run like cults for the purpose of profit and have pastors that still need to learn the basic gospel story. So if those who are “in the church” are not even being taught from scripture, you can imagine how distorted things are with the un-churched.
In general, I would describe the african as being more open spiritually than the westerner. As a result, I have witnessed a larger percentage of them having a true experience with God, but they are more often led estray by false doctrine so severe that it contradics the very heart of the Gospel. I’m talking about false doctrine that makes the differences between the Catholics and the Evangelicals look like a minor tiff.
Simply put, the Batswana are not solving this problem and it’s not because they are not intelligent enough.
I believe it’s because they can’t even see the real problem because of their cultural blinders. Both Jim and Brett have mentioned their travel experiences to other countries so you know what I mean when I say that there is just no way for someone to really see the faults of their own culture until they see themselves through the eyes of another culture. (Well, that’s not entirely true, the Spirit can reveal all things, but hopefully you get what I’m trying to say)
So my point here with all this is that I have to disagree with any idea that lessens the concentration on foriegn missions because in the end, we need foriegn missions in America too.
Jim, you said, “that at least nine out of ten Western missionaries should be called home because they are having little, if any, positive impact. Often, they are making things worse.”
As a missionary let me just say “Ouch, that hurts!” From what you have said, I would have to say that I probably fall into the catagory of the nine that you think should be called home. Most missionaries are trained while I’m just a pilot that went cause God said, “Go” My work at the mission has been exactly that, Work.
For the past 5 years I have literally fixed toilets, built fences, driven trucks, typed reports, handled scheduling, etc and that has constituted the bulk of my time. And if you think I have been effective in my spare time, think again. Because I’m a rude, direct american, I have pissed off, offended, and generally aleinated those that i would seek to minister too. So maybe I have impacted a few people along the way, but that’s not really justification for 5 years of labor right? No, it’s not, because I could have impacted far more people in my own town in that amount of time. So why do I stay? Because HE said “Go” and I went and I’m not giving up till HE says so. Besides, isn’t it a little presumptuous to assume that any man can even begin to judge the impact that they or anyone else has had for the Kingdom of God and deem it “not worthy” and say, they should just go home.
Jim, I get that you are saying that we are not doing good enough and that we should do better, and I agree, but please don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. There are few enough of us doing the job, that even if we are doing it badly, it’s better than nothing because it’s what Jesus said we are supposed to be doing.
What I want is for Batswana to go on missions to the US so that they can help some of the problems that we as americans can’t even see because we are too close to the problem. It has also been my experience that the more you focus on solving your own problems the worse they get, but when you focus on others and helping and supporting them in any way you can, you free the Spirit to do things in your life while your not even looking. The greatest leaps in my relationship with the Lord have been as a result of going on missions to a foreign country both short and long term.
So now I can sort of here Jim in my head saying, “So have any of your disciples come to the states on missions?” And the answer is a resounding “NO” So I guess I’m not very good at my job.
Short term trips.
What I have witnessed is that the short term mission’s goal of “Get them saved and go home” is effective for about 1 out of 100 Botswana if not less. At the same time, I have seen many teens and adults from the US have a true life change because they went on a short term mission trip to a foreign country. During my trips to US locations, I witnessed less dramatic change in the lives of those that I was leading. As a result, I have personally concluded that oversees short term missions is effective and efficient in producing real change for the missionary, but not the people of the host country. None the less, it is producing real change. I therefore encourage anyone in the states who is thinking about short term missions to go oversees. Get out of the US so that you can see yourself through a different set of eyes. Our vision at Love Botswana Outreach Mission is to Launch Leaders and Build Nations and I believe that the time and work involved in hosting short term trips is well worth it because it produces stronger christian leaders back home, and helps build america as a nation, even if they never come back to foreign soil. So I agree with you Jim that short term missions is not very effective at achieving long term change in a foreign country, but I still think it’s worth it.
So my final thought for you Jim as a representative of Western missionaries is this: Yes, I thoroughly stink at my job, and I need a lot more wisdom than I currently have to do it well, but I do as I’m told by my master and I continue to pray for more laborers in the fields of foreign missions. I firmly believe that even the most ineffective missions out there, are for us and not against us and that foreign missions are more needed than ever before and more likely to result in a positive impact on America for Jesus, because as we seek to bless others (as a nation), God will bless us, (as a nation).
I hope you can hear my heart in all this and not just my words, and may my English teacher forgive me for all the run on sentences and the host
of other errors.
March 2, 2009 7:04 PM
Colleen Simmons said…
I’m sorry if I’ve created the impression that one place is more important than the other. That simply is not true. I do believe that Jesus calls people to different places to tell people about who he is. Every culture is different so our approaches will be different with each circumstance. I don’t see over seas missions being more important than the U.S., nor U.S. focused missions being more important than over seas. I believe both are equally important.
I believe the issue at hand is how we can change our approach in sharing Jesus with other people, and how can we do more effectively. I’m generally not a stats person. I usually like talking with people who are doing the work. In many different circle people are saying that programs are just not working. When something is broken, we need to take time to find out how to fix it.
We have to be willing to go to a culture and spend time with, build trust and slowly open the door to find a way to share Jesus in a way that they can understand. We must not push our agendas and our values at them. They will not accept it and will eventually turn on you.
This is a silly example but, I’m from the north east and moved to the south 17 years ago. It was completely foreign to me and the people were so different from what I was used to. In the northeast we could tell someone that we didn’t have time to talk and that wouldn’t be offensive, but if you did that here, someone will smile and so okay, but walk away and ask what they’ve done wrong. I’ve learned over the years to adapt to a different culture, but be able to keep my identity at the same time.
On a whole, over seas missions programs are failing. People are burning out, money just isn’t coming in and few people are turning to Christ through their work. I just don’t believe our Jesus would give us a commission and then leave us to fail at it. I believe he has a way to do it that will work and we have to be willing to seek the Lord to find out what’s right for that specific people at that specific time.
We are a family and we should respect each others differences. I believe that there shouldn’t be a blanket statement about missions and I think we need to be willing to look at different view points and see if what’s being said has any credence. If it doesn’t work then it won’t matter, but if it does, we have to be faithful to find that out for ourselves. Kevin, I commend your hard work and commitment. Besides you have an awesome name. My twin brother’s name is Kevin, and Brett, it’s awesome with your stats with the kids. That’s something that’s just not happening on a whole.
Also, Barry and I went to Laurel CF. I started out a Bowie before I got married.
Let me throw another idea into the mix.
Perhaps one of the most effective things Americans can do overseas is to train non-Americans to themselves become missionaries to other cultures.
I’ve heard that some of the most effective workers in Muslim cultures are folks from Latin America. They don’t seem to carry the political baggage with them that USA citizens do, and something about the blending of cultures in Spain during the long period of Islamic occupation seems to ease the communication barriers between west and east. I know one man in Bogota, Columbia who has been a recruiter for such efforts.
Anybody else see this?
Yes. Some of the churches in Ukraine that I relate to have a burden for Islamic countries. Although they are “western”, they are not threatening to muslims like Western Europeans or Americans, and are able to establish a beach head.
One woman I know, who can pick up local languages very quickly, was sent by these churches to Turkey where she lived among the people in their communities and adopted their culture. She actually helped established local home fellowships. An American never could have done that because of all the geo-political issues associated with us in their eyes. Furthermore, having a woman do it allowed her to fly under the radar, which is important because Christian evangelism is illegal.
When the time was right, she then left and allowed the local home churches to continue and to develop independent under local leaders and without becoming dependent on outside support.
God, too, seems to have been “rethinking missions” over the past few decades.
My experience has been different from yours, Jim. I’ve circumnavigated the globe with Open Doors with Brother Andrew ministering to the persecuted church, ministered for the past five years to persecuted families in Darfur and Southern Sudan, traveled Palestine and Baghdad, researching and writing books on Palestinian Christians and the Church in Iraq and worked in Eastern Europe. And I just signed a contract with Tyndale to write a book about Hamas. I also work with e3 Partners and its amazing church-planting and leadership development ministries.
And over the years, I’ve watched the Lord change the face of missiology.
That doesn’t mean either of is wrong. We’ve simply been to different places and worked with different folks. It’s like the old saw about China. “Anything you say about China is true . . . someplace.” Different does not mean contradictory.
Career missionaries are our fathers, worthy of deep respect and honor, whose ceiling has become the floor of a new paradigm.
Short-term missions have emerged as a powerful new phase of evangelism, church planting and kingdom growth. No longer requiring massive resources for day-to-day living, language and cross-cultural training, short-term missionaries are self-supporting. They do not Americanize other people groups. They build relationships with local church leaders in other countries, place themselves under their authority and provide whatever the nationals lack. Then these wonderful “weekend warriors” return home and continue their support through prayer, intercession and encouragement. No longer must missionaries sacrifice their entire lives or be approved by cumbersome missions boards. Now everyone can take a whack at the Great Commission, exercising their gifts, sharing their resources and growing in their faith.
And God has given them a growing arsenal of tools, from e3 Partners EvangeCube and AIDSCube to God’s Story on mp3 to the exciting orality movement.
As exciting as everything else is the partnering that has begun. No longer protecting their own turf, ministries are working hand in hand, supplementing and shoring up one another. In Darfur, The Voice of the Martyrs provides self-powered shortwave am/fm radios so people living in a country with virtually no infrastructure can listen to the Persecution Project Foundation’s premier Christian station, Radio PEACE, broadcasting the evengelism and discipleship programming. Adding another piece is Samaritan’s Feet which provides shoes to the victims of poverty, war and genocide. Its ministers wash every pair of feet and share the love of Christ with every person before fitting them with a new pair of shoes. We dig borehole wells for Muslim refugees from the genocide in Darfur and provide them with food, clothing and medical attention. And they ask for Bibles. And Nairobi-based Children for Christ launches Christian Kids Clubs (they have them now in more than a dozen African countries with hundreds of thousands of children who attend weekly—90 percent of them from Muslim families! And their parents love the clubs because they see their children become more respectful and kind and doing dramatically better in school).
Speaking of the Arab world, Youth With A Mission cites valid studies that say about 6 million Muslims are coming to Christ yearly. And all you have to do is turn on Arabic satellite tv to see the fruit. MBBs (Muslim Background Believers) risking their lives to be baptized in public. Sacrificing everything for their wonderful new-found Savior. Surely, “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for [Christ’s] sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”
I know scores of MBBs personally and am shamed by their faith.
Jesus is after them and is hauling in a great harvest. One friend of mine, from World Concern, works in Ethiopia. He told me about a young man who was working on road construction (read busting rocks). One rock cracked in half, and on the inside was written in Arabic, “Jesus is Lord.” The shocked young man showed it to his father who shattered it into shards. Not long after, the young man cracked open another rock and again, Arabic writing declared, “Jesus is Lord.” The young man found Christians, asked questions, embraced his Savior and proceeded to evangelize the area.
I know men and women—missionaries who have spent years in prisons, been beaten and tortured and lost loved ones. In Upper Nile and Guangzhow and Amman and the Gaza Strip and Baghdad . . . their’s is the face of missions today. And I pray that you get to meet them one day.
It’s so good to reestablish contact, Jim. It’s been a quarter of a century since we labored together over a hot layout table, putting together another issue of the Free State Monitor and arguing theology (from the vast store of knowledge I acquired in my first year as a believer).
I am very sorry to hear about your marriage, and I pray that you are among the firstfruits of the new healing movement I am confident is headed our way.
Love and blessings,
Ron I thought that you while I was reading. That was very insightful and a very good example of how listening to the Lord and going in with the plan Jesus gave them works. That’s so awesome and encouraging. I remember when YWAM came to our church and showed us how to reach out to people through drama. I think the in and out approach along with handing it over to the people who live there is the way to go. That’s the approach for today. Hopefully other nations will use that same approach on our land. We need it as well.
Gentlemen, Jim and Brett
I am sure we agree that God calls men to witness and equips them in the spirit for the task- home or away. His power saves souls and its by hearing the Word that saving faith comes. Jesus warned against “losing heart” Becoming cynical and contemptious of real truth sharers (missionaries) after a relatively brief stay in their ministry area is not loving and may cause supporters and missionaries to lose heart. We might want to pray harder for those tour -groupie type trips, that some young folks might learn how to effectively share the gospel and even gain a heart for people bound for perdition. Do we fly in for a brief trip, massage our ego with the belief that we can understand and more effectively minister to the needs of those people than the called among them, and then return to a comfortable life back home? Maybe someone might come check out our own daily ministry and find us wanting. Look- if souls are being saved- then miracles are taking place. We could stop judging and start praying.
I did not find Jim’s reply full of any grace I ever could identify and certainly no understanding. What troubles me most is the lack of love. After all it should be ringing in our ears- ” If you do not have love- you have none of me.”– Jesus
Scriptural truth cuts against a rough and uninspired opinion but, that scripture should be presented respectfully. For example, the statement that the Muslem culture is a barrier to the work of the Holy Spirit is not scriptural. The issue is not how true it is that I know more than someone else about that culture or any other but, do I believe in the power of God. (and understand the self asserting, fearful heart of those who find it easier to reject than receive.) Quote “The heart- (any heart)- is desperately wicked- who can know it”?
Jim, your article certainly reveals issues which, for years, have been ‘swept under the carpet.’ I was born in the United Kingdom but have lived for many years in Africa (Rhodesia / Zimbabwe, South West Africa / Namibia and South Africa). Having recently been involved in a ‘short-term mission’ to Malawi, your article gives plenty of food for thought. In particular, I agree with your comment, “My goal is to work under the indigenous church leaders, rather than with the missionaries, by serving them and letting them tell me what I can do to help.” I have always regarded this approach as one of the manifestations of true mission work.
Yes several valid points. Things I have seen myself in 20 years of onfield missions. BUT He would much better spend his time opening the eyes of the missionaries (the 9 out of 10) that he calls them rather than “avoiding them like the plauge” as he said. One more finger pointer who does not help to bring change to where it is actualy needed… how does that help?
Mike, thanks for commenting. Some are called to work within that institutional missionary system to reform it, while others are called to bypass it and focus on what I think are more Biblical approaches that are more life giving. I don’t discount either calling, because no one person can do all things.
I understand your frustrations and even disillusionment, but I think you reach too far in some of your applications.
Wow, I can find little, if any fault with what you’ve written here. And, I’m a missionary.