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Mission from the majority world

Mission is not a Western business!  This post opens up some of the headshifts that we need to make (as I suggested last post).  It’s based on an ‘Issues in Missiology’ class; the material is largely from David Williams.

Between 1850 and 1970, ‘missionaries’ were white Europeans.  Their common practice was to go to one place and work monoculturally there.  However, with the explosion of majority world Christianity, new winds are rushing through ‘world mission’.  In the 1960s, for example, African national consciousness became a political fact and colonies became nations.  In 1971, John Gatu began calling for the withdrawal of western missionaries from the majority world, saying in 1974, ‘We cannot build the church in Africa on alms given by overseas churches…  Africa has money and personnel…  Let mission be the mission of God in the world, not of the West to the Third world’.  Since then, a range of movements have been bubbling to the surface.

1. Mission from the ‘developed’ majority world

Countries like South Korea and Brazil are the new vanguard of ‘professional’ mission.  In 1980, South Korea sent 93 missionaries; by 2010 it was around 20000, and the projected number by 2030 is 100000.  Although USA still currently sends more missionaries, South Korea is proportionally one of the top senders, with 1 missionary per 1.4 congregations (a list in which USA doesn’t make the top ten).  Already, some Australian CMS missionaries on their way to Tanzania require a bicultural education: along with Tanzanian culture, they must learn Korean culture, because their team members and leaders are Korean missionaries.

2. Mission from the majority world

Majority world churches aren’t waiting for their countries to ‘develop’ before they pour resources into mission.  This growing movement is seen in, for example, the thousands of South Indian Christians moving into North India.  Or take these Kenyan missionaries working in Madagascar.  This movement totally undoes the Western paradigm of professional mission: this new generation of missionaries knows how to depend on God, just as Jesus told his missionaries to carry nothing (Lk 9-10).

3. The shifting compass of world church leadership

The locus of world Christian leadership has swung right out of the West and into the majority world, often referred to in this context as the Global South, for example in the Anglican Communion.  The most influential Christian leaders are now majority world Christians like Peter Akinola.  This trend is already being felt in the West — for example, the head of New Zealand CMS is Steve Maina, a Kenyan.

4. Mission from below

The paradigm of professional mission simply isn’t accessible to most Christians in the world, and so this powerful fourth movement doesn’t involve ‘missionaries’ at all, but regular Christians.  For example, many Ethiopian churches are not ordaining missionaries so much as training all their members in mission.  Beginning in the 1980s, great numbers of young women from these churches have been seeking work and become domestic servants in the Middle East, bringing the gospel with them.  As Samuel Escobar writes,

It is the transcultural witnessing for Christ that takes place as people move around as migrants or refugees, just as in New Testament days. … They are missionaries ‘from below’ who do not have the power, the prestige, or the money from a developed nation, and are not part of a missionary organisation.  They are vulnerable in many ways, but have learnt the art of survival, supported by their faith in Jesus Christ.

What does this mean?

The 200-year-old Western emphasis on professional missionaries is being shaken to the ground as these new movements surge to the surface.  After all, professional missionaries form only one group amongst the vast historical range of missionaries, such as displaced peoples, traders, and monastic communities.

Our Western missionary societies need to:

  • Build multicultural relationships on multiple levels. Mission teams are multicultural teams.  It’s no surprise to find SMBC focusing on this reality.
  • Accept vulnerability. Westerners do not have the answers.
  • Submit to local leaders. Be deliberate about partnering with the indigenous church, to the point where they call the shots.
  • Listen to what God is doing.
  • Engage with the Western church. Our missionary societies might be increasing their majority world awareness, but chances are that our churches are still promoting the old idea — that mission is to people who are ‘less’ than us, or more ‘needy’.  This must change!

Check out Missions from the Majority World, edited by Enoch Wan and Michael Pocock.

Categories: Written by Arthur

Tagged as:

Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

3 replies

  1. I’m sure there were more than 93 supported Korean missionaries in 1980, many flying under the radar in China & N Korea.

    The paradigm I like is that every Christian shares the mission. Most stay in their home country, but it is a global partnership. And like in the military, some are on the frontline and most are in supporting roles.

    In terms of money, the Western world is still rich, the majority world needy in comparison. I don’t see why our dollars shouldn’t fund Nigerian missions to unreached peoples.

  2. Yeah, I think it’s been a good change since Edinburgh 1910, that Western churches increasingly see mission as a whole-church task. :)

    The West is resource-rich, no question (not just money but also things like educational/training structures). But I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we think we have ‘the’ know-how, or that we know what’s best to do with those resources…

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