This is an article from the September-October 1994 issue: Money & Missions

Do “Native Missionaries” Exist?

Do “Native Missionaries” Exist?

The word "native" is not welcome in many places. They say if you refer to a white man from South Africa as "a native of South Africa" you may pick a fight. However, I call myself "a native Californian,"-- scarce as such people are in California--and I was still a native of California even when I worked in Guatemala as a missionary.But I was not a native of Guatemala. If I try to reach other native Californians here in California, the best word, I feel, is evangelism. Here I am a native but not a missionary. In Guatemala I am a missionary but not a native.

It seems clear that there is no such a thing as "a native missionary" unless it makes no difference whether someone is working with his own people or is working with people not his own. Paul, in Galatians, made quite a point out of the fact that while Peter worked with Jews, Paul (also a Jew) worked with Gentiles. Thus, we usually call Paul a missionary but not Peter, although both of them did both things part of the time.

Today's missionaries also do both kinds of work: 1) they help "national" churches reach their own people--which I call evangelism, and 2) they may also be pioneering in an unreached group, or at least encouraging "national" Christians to reach out to other still- unreached groups. This #2 task promotes further, true-Pauline, classical missionary work!

Why Sending Money Does Not Work As Well As Sending People

Money can be more easily misused than people. Missionaries have enough trouble sometimes with what have been called "rice Christians," that is people who welcome the missionary just as the crowds welcomed Jesus after He fed the 5,000.

But suppose there is no missionary, and there is merely a letter with a check in it. That is a problem even if the letter goes to the board of a duly constituted "national" Christian ministry, enough of a problem so that the India Mission Association (IMA) will not admit Indian mission agencies as members if they receive more than half their funds from abroad!

Furthermore, the largest mission agency in the IMA is the amazing Friends Missionary Prayer Band (FMPB) with close to a 1,000 missionaries being supported by some of the poorest populations in the world. Can you believe it? The FMPB will not accept a cent from abroad. Probably a single large U.S. church could provide their entire FMPB missionary budget. And why not do that? Because they value spiritual discipline more than money. They have prayerfully concluded that relying on foreign funds would spiritually damage their 30,000 prayer partners. These dear, poor people are members of the FMPB because they are willing to pray all night one night a week and give 20% of their meager incomes.

My wife and I lived for ten years among the poorest large (1/3 of a million) population in the Western hemisphere. In our town the believers were gradually building a church out of adobe brick which they could make themselves. When it came time to put the roof on, they needed hard currency to pay for the corrugated iron sheets. A Christian tourist lady was moved by this need and offered to pay the necessary $300. (In the USA a comparable situation would be like a congregation of 100 members getting a gift of $300,000.) But then they needed a floor. They discreetly inquired about another $300. It came through, a bit reluctantly. But now they had good reason no longer to skimp and save for their church. Their own giving ceased…for years to come. I cannot blame them.

The Strategic Value of Foreign Missionaries

Don't let anyone tell you that foreign missionaries are no longer affordable. Many thousands receive relatively less than 100 years ago in comparison to U.S. living standards today. Sure, everything costs more. But, foreign missionaries are the best bargain in the Christian kingdom. No matter what they cost, we need first to realize how necessary and desirable foreign missionaries are!

Bob Finley is basically right when he says "costly foreign missionaries" ought not to be doing things which an abundance of "native" or "national" Christians can better do "ten times more…in the context of their own culture and language."

However he is a bit careless if he suggests that such workers can go nearby to a different language and culture, and do far better work than foreign missionaries from afar.

For example, Navajos are better missionaries (right now in 1994) in Mongolia, in Mexico with the Tarahumara, and in Norway with the Laplanders, than they ever imagined.


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