Asia Mission Congress II
Asians Moving Forward to Reach
Last fall 388 mission leaders from 15 Asian countries gathered together in Pattaya, Thailand for the second Asia Missions Congress. The theme of the conference, “Into the 21st Century: Asian Churches in Missions,” highlighted the growing awareness within the local church of its missionary responsibility. The congress was organized by the Missions Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia, (EFA-MC) which now networks together missions associations in 12 Asian countries.
Responsible for this strategic network, among others, is Dr. Met Castillo, who pioneered the Philippine Missions Association. Leading up to the congress Dr. Castillo helped organize nine national consultations, many of which have led to the formation of national missions associations. Bringing together the diverse cultures and traditions of Asia has not been easy, but the pioneering work of the EFA-MC has proven the strategic importance of a closely networked Asian missions movement.
Presently, efforts are moving forward in every country to take responsibility for every unreached people group in Asia. Remarkably, India, with the largest number of unreached peoples in the world, has taken the lead. As a result of the pioneering research conducted by the India Missions Association, YWAM, and the Church Growth Association, the unfinished task in India has become increasingly better understood. Exhaustive research has been compiled of all people groups over 10,000 in population revealing that 363 groups are without any missionary activity. These groups have previously been omitted from all other published unreached people group listings. In a plenary address by Paul McKaughan of the EFMA, a call was given to begin moving beyond the ethno-linguistic approach to the unfinished task so that those language groups representing many ethnic groups will not be perceived as one large group.
Representatives from Korea revealed that there are now over 6,000 Korean missionaries. This is not only the largest foreign missionary sending country in Asia, but also the largest in the non-western world. This is a dramatic climb from 511 in 1986 and 1,645 in 1990. Reports from Mission Korea, a student mobilization movement, revealed that the interest in missions is so high among students that the Church can’t keep up. Major adjustments will have to be made in church spending and missionary training if the goal of 12,000 Korean missionaries by AD2000 is to be realized.
The Philippines is preparing for its Centennial Missions Congress celebrating 100 years of the evangelical Gospel and looking forward to what God will do through the Philippines to make disciples of all nations. Philippine delegates at the AMC were asked to help with the ongoing research to identify 1,000 overseas Filipino missionaries. This is complicated by the large number of local church initiatives. The Philippines is also unique with regard to the large number of tentmakers serving in the Middle East. Presently, 300 tentmakers have been identified in that region.
Japan, Malaysia and Sri Lanka have recently formed missions associations due in no small part to the efforts of the EFA Missions Commission. The Chinese churches in Malaysia and Singapore have become especially active in missionary outreach. Special attention was given to Hong Kong because of their unique situation now as part of China. It is hoped that the missionary vision in that land will soon spread into China through the many missions resources that have been prepared for the Hong Kong Church. It is anticipated that there will be 2 million Internet users in China by AD2000. Jun Vencer, International Director of the World Evangelical Fellowship, gave a plenary address calling for the strategic use of this medium of communication.
Despite the ever present dangers of evangelism in Indonesia, Church leaders have begun forming strategies together on how they might reach all of Indonesia’s 170 million Muslims. With 10 million evangelicals in that country, the potential is considered tremendous even though there are many cultural differences within the church itself. Yet through persecution and renewal the Church has begun to come together. The growing economic crisis in Asia is another challenge that mission agencies in this area will have to overcome to meet their goals.
Ten special strategy sessions were held on various basic issues concerning mission infrastructure, such as mission training, mission mobilization, MK education, short term missions, funding the missions movement and strategies for missionary deployment. Notably missing were strategy issues dealing with field work such as contextualization, church multiplication, team dynamics, field partnerships, national leadership development and relating to the existing national church. This was unique to the congress as it sought to emphasize the role of the sending church. Perhaps an exception to this was a session on missionary care. Research for this session had previously been conducted as part of the WEF Missionary Attrition Study which involved four Asian countries. In this regard it was deemed very important for the local church to understand field concerns in order to care for their missionaries effectively.
Those involved in mission training revealed a growing trend toward a reduction in student to mentor ratios. In many countries, the mission training programs are tending to become more focused on the practical dimensions of missionary work, emphasizing not only what needs to be done but how to do it. Because most of the unfinished task is in Asia, it has not been difficult for Asian training programs to incorporate field work into their programs. In fact many programs are inviting students from other countries to participate. Thus, if a Filipino missionary team was planning to minister in Malaysia, they could receive training there that would not only help them adjust to the culture but could help build important relationships for ministry as well.
With regard to mobilization, several unique strategies for adopting unreached peoples were presented. One large church in Singapore has selected four groups which have then been individually adopted by clusters of cell groups within the church. Paul Han of the Korean Center for Adopt-A-People reported on a strategy that has involved international partnerships between Korean churches and churches living within the same country as the target unreached group. One Presbyterian denomination in Korea has selected 500 groups for adoption and is actively mobilizing their churches to adopt them. Another church in Malaysia has adopted groups in countries where overseas workers from their church are employed or have started businesses. However, notably missing from the mobilization discussions was the issue of mobilizing students for missions. India now has an emerging student movement, as well as Korea and the Philippines. This may be a sign of a generation gap within the missions movement in Asia.
In contrast with the past there is a growing desire for interdependence with the West in missionary work in Asia. Denominations such as the Assembly of God and the Southern Baptist are beginning to assist their Asian sister churches in setting up national mission agencies. Other non-denominational agencies such as YWAM, OM, OMF, Frontiers and New Tribes have been much quicker to provide a means of sending Asian missionaries. Because YWAM has set up bases all over the world, they can easily send missionaries from one country to another which has allowed them to grow very rapidly. Other mission agencies have begun to follow this strategy, linking up workers from the Philippines, for example, with their American workers in Cambodia. But in the midst of this growing cooperation, many cautions were given. In a paper prepared for the conference, Ebe Sunder Raj of the India Missions Association made the following observation: a new threat is perceived in the scene—the emergence of international interdenominational parachurch ministries that are mushrooming all over Asia. They often come with an appealing agenda but seem to quickly proliferate and proselytize the native Christian workers into their respective camps. Almost all of them pledge that they have come to help the local church (and local missions) but very soon build their own powerful domain much to the dismay of the local churches and missions” Sunder Raj goes on to say that this can divide the Church and recommends that international organizations consult with national leaders before funding and taking control of local ministry initiatives.
In the final analysis one can definitely see that God is doing a new thing in Asia. The missions movement is maturing and the unfinished task is shrinking. There is still a great deal of work that must be done, but it can be done and will be done, if we all do it together (politely).