Do we still need to send people overseas?
- Isn’t it a bad use of resources to send expensive western missionaries when others are able to manage it much more cheaply.
- Isn’t it a model that better suited a colonial approach to the world?
- Isn’t it time to let other sending countries like Brazil and South Korea do the heavy lifting?
- Don’t western missionaries create more barriers than they cross, particularly in Muslim and other countries where the church is weak?
There are lots of reasons why we might want to reconsider sending people overseas and some reasons why we should dissuade people from serving, but I believe there is a still a need for people to go.
Christians are called to make disciples of all people groups, to be witnesses of the good news all across the world and to take the gospel to places it has not yet taken root.
The global church remains a community of sent ones, we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors and we do not live that out if we all stay home.
Yet I wonder if Acts 13 might be a model for us as we look to go, “set apart ……… for the work to which I have called them”. This recognises both an openness to the Spirit working and sending, but also that there are particular things that we are called to do. It opens the way to reshaping the types of work that we are called to.
In the history of mission movements there have been various waves. Carey and others settled largely in coastal regions, then came missions to the interiors (eg: China Inland Mission), then missions to unreached people groups. Most recently see have seen the rise of truly global mission (from everywhere to everywhere) but it maybe that western missions has some particular roles to play.
For example, in seeing the gospel taken to unreached people westerners may not be so effective in some situations (for example John Chau’s attempt to reach the Sentinelese may have been better done by encouraging Christians in other local tribes) but excellent in others (for example business leaders in China or Japan).
This means that we need to consider what we mean by call. The danger of a focus on individual call (which plays a huge role in mission agency processes) is that someone who feels called, often also feels the call needs to be lived out (with whatever dreams they have about that) and this may not match the realities on the field or the local needs. Some sense of call is important, but don’t be too specific about it.
There remain places where the church needs help. Often western agencies can help with training (though care is needed to develop indigenous teachers and theology) and supporting (for example with Bible translation). British agencies have often been proponents of integral mission and brought a development focus (though we might ponder whose agenda is being fulfilled by these initiatives).
There will be places that we partner. Of course we should be looking to partner all the time, but in large parts of the world now there are local believers and churches and it is they who should be setting the agenda. Where western agencies work, and what they do, should be guided by these local churches and groups. And often the aim should be genuine partnership – where we work together, for the benefit of both communities and countries.
Do we still need to go? Yes, but often to learn and to build relationship, so that we can partner together in the mission of God.