A New Legacy of Traditional Missions

The exchange of missionary personnel among developing countries

During the past 30 years there has been an explosion of missionary activity by churches in Latin America. This movement began as Latin American leaders studied materials from American and Canadian missiologists translated into Spanish and Portuguese. Soon the idea of "sending missionaries" to other continents spread throughout the region.

Quechua people in the high Andes Mountains
An indigenous ministry in Peru works in unevangelized areas where the Quechua people live, high in the Andes mountains. Several stories in this issue of Christian Mission capture the work of native missionaries who, with the help of Christian Aid, are effectively reaching people in very difficult regions.

In the late 1980s, mission conferences were being held in Brazil and almost all of the other Latin American countries. This triggered a proliferation of "sending" missionary agencies. During this time, a mission statement that became very popular among these agencies was, "We are not a missionary field any more – we are a missionary force." Unfortunately, however, this statement was not referring to Brazilian churches sending their missionaries to reach their own native tribes in the Amazon jungle – or Venezuelan evangelicals taking care of their own ethnic groups. This statement meant these poorer countries wanted to send their own armies of missionaries across the Atlantic – copying the traditional methods used by missions based in industrialized countries. Today when Latin Americans talk about missionary work, they are mainly talking about sending missionaries to the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Therefore, the churches in Latin America have been making extreme sacrifices in order to send missionaries to other continents. And as Latin Americans use up their resources for overseas ventures, an even greater loss occurs. Ethnic groups within their own countries are being neglected. Ironically, this is one of the reasons why North American churches are still sending missionaries to Latin America. Just like many missionary agencies in North America, agencies in Latin America are not recognizing the work of indigenous ministries in those places.

And we are not seeing this trend in Latin America only. Today Nigerians also want to send missionaries to the ends of the earth. Meanwhile, their own country, home to scores of unreached ethnic groups, is being subjected to a wave of Islamic sharia law. This trend is also infiltrating other countries, such as India and the Philippines. It seems the movement is even being celebrated with catchy phrases, like sending missionaries "from everywhere to everywhere."

Missionaries from poor countries are being sent to other poor countries, where they do not speak the language, nor do they understand the culture.

Brazil is an example of one of the largest "new sending countries" in the world today. Scores of Brazilian missionaries, intending to stay on another continent long-term, return home in two or three years – before even learning the language! Their efforts are being aborted because of a lack of funds and for several other reasons. Many churches in poorer countries have merely jumped on the bandwagon and did not first "count the cost" (Luke 14:28). Meanwhile, native missionaries continue to struggle without necessary tools and financial support, thus limiting their outreach.

It´s time we stopped for a moment to take a closer look at the situation. We need to evaluate the financial costs involved in training, sending and sustaining just one missionary to a faraway land.

Time is another valuable consideration. How much of it is being used in temporary overseas ventures, while millions of souls wither away without ever hearing the gospel? We need to compare those calculations against the time and money it would take to get behind an indigenous missionary in his own homeland. Once those differences have been weighed, we then need to compare both strategies. The bottom line would be: which is more effective?

Today tradition dictates that we perpetuate the sending of missionaries to places where they do not speak the language or understand the culture, even though native ministries are already there doing the work. And we have exported this methodology to poorer countries.

We rejoice and give thanks to God for all the churches around the world which have a desire to enlarge the kingdom of God. But, it would be tremendously more cost effective and fruitful for them to prayerfully consider giving support to native ministries in poorer regions. The Macedonian Christians did not send missionaries to Judea, but instead sent a sacrificial offering to "the poor saints" there to help them bear witness for Christ (Romans 15:26).

As for us in industrialized countries, if sound stewardship really matters, then we need to seriously evaluate the concepts we are exporting to the rest of the world.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Luke 14:28