This is an article from the January - February 1997 issue: Dependency

Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment

Dear Reader,

Before we get down to the serious business of this issue, let's take note of the momentous things that may have happened in your life and mine since our last issue in 1996.

For me personally: two very large events.

  • My wife's return to unslowed cancer after a never-ending month of hospitalization. (How does this relate to missiology? See below.)
  • The marvelous 19,000-student mission conference at Urbana, Illinois, focused as never before on the unreached peoples! See page 41 and then Christianity Today's comments on page 42. Thousands of Korean students were present--400 from Korea alone. (The periodic "Urbana" in Korea is proportionately far larger.)

However, beyond my small world, what happened?

More Important!

Three other events were probably even more important to God's expanding global Kingdom:

  1. A PANAMA gathering united 3,600 from the entire Latin American Spanish sphere of evangelicals. Why? The challenge of the unreached peoples! Southern Baptist leaders, Campus Crusade's Bill Bright…catalyzed by the AD 2000 Movement. See p. 43.
  2. A similar-sized meeting in BRAZIL united the Portuguese sphere. There are more evangelicals in Brazil than in all the rest of Latin America. Again, the unreached peoples were the main focus!

At this meeting some new, radically conservative statistics indicated that the evangelical movement in Brazil is growing at only 17 to 20 thousand new members per week. Earlier predictions had been much higher. However, this could still mean 100 new churches a week! (More details next time. The email I received reported "17.8 million Evangelicals growing at 5% to 6% per year"--over twice Brazil's population growth rate.)

3. In INDONESIA…Well, you can't read the quality report on page 46 without realizing how mature and serious are these Indonesian leaders as they shoulder true world mission burdens in reaching the final unreached peoples!

My, you can hardly keep up with the global level meetings, much less the many regional meetings!

But these regional meetings feed into still other global gatherings-- the coming March meeting in Singapore and then the April meeting in Pasadena on our campus, where further strategic planning will take place. Finally, the huge South Africa meeting at the end of June, 1997, also global.

What in the world is happening? Well, of course, much of this is due to the very existence of the gigantic global family of earnest believers whose lives have been transformed by Christ.

But a significant part of all this is the dynamic AD 2000 movement, its outstanding multi-ethnic team, and its unprecedented global network. See the quote at the bottom of this file after my editorial.

But the heaviest burden of this issue of Mission Frontiers is the increasingly delicate relation between all this global exuberance and the role of the Western world.

Dependency, Interdependency

Knowing personally keen Korean leaders, sober Indian leaders, dynamic Latin American leaders, indefatigable Singaporean leaders, creative Indonesian leaders, etc., I am irretrievably impressed by the astounding strength and balance in the diversity of the world church family.

But, missions has never been simple. Inevitably we hear of Korean missionaries in Mongolia trying to bind the egalitarian Mongolians into strict, authoritarian, Korean-style church structures, while other Korean missionaries are buying up congregations in India by the dozen as part of their in-a-hurry missionary strategy.

These dear brothers may not have learned these tactics from Western missionaries, but they easily could have. No nationality has the most to offer now. All parts of the body of Christ are plunging in with all their hearts, making mistakes but also learning valuable lessons.

The exceedingly delicate issue of dependency and interdependency raised this time will not go away. And it will not be resolved in these pages either. But we need to be reminded of its complexities. The Schwartz video series is a staggering blow to common assumptions. See p. 17.

Will the lengthy, arduous learning process of our own Western missionaries now be repeated by Third World missionaries? Let's not forget that each new surge of younger missionaries from the West has in general also had to learn all over again.

One of the most difficult lessons relates to the all-too-often result of missions: a "dependency" that stagnates growth. This is what this issue of Mission Frontiers is all about. You can read a lot about it here.

Meanwhile, I would like to bring up a different topic, the matter of "invisible sin." If reader response seems to justify it we may take it up in greater depth later this year.

Personal experience for Roberta and me has highlighted the existence of "invisible sin." I'll try to explain:

Cancer Anyone?

Yes, anyone. I am newly aware of the fact that I am now talking to a very large sector of our readership, namely, all those readers who are now or who someday soon will be personally concerned with cancer.

Evangelicals are by now being compelled annually to spend at the very least five times as much on cancer as on missions.

I have no interest in ballyhooing my wife's trials, although I am eager to express my profound appreciation for all those who are praying for her all over the world. George Verwer--one of the greatest stars of the recent Urbana meeting--was in our home a few days ago and guessed that 100,000 people are praying for Roberta. Thank you. We FEEL your prayers.

But what does God have in mind for us in this ordeal? You too, dear reader, have cancer cells floating around in your body, trying to do their deadly work.

Right now (I hope) your "immune system" is keeping those very clever cells at bay. Doesn't this sound like I Peter? "Your adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour?"

One specialist said that bone marrow cancer cells seem to be "designed" to destroy other cells, and to fake hormones to block further production of the real thing. Hmm. Cancer cells are not damaged cells. They are terrorist cells, ominously well designed to do their deadly work. They succeed only when your "good" cells are damaged to the extent that they cannot continue to fight off cancer cells.

It is not that either Roberta or I have any rosy hopes about avoiding or even postponing death. We both feel very gratified and full of blessings as our ages straddle the 70 mark. We are certainly still trying to achieve "great things" beyond the great things in which God has already involved us. But we seek these additional goals on God's behalf: they will happen in His timing, if at all.

I confess that many truths I have long "known" and "believed" have in these days come much closer to home. Certain realities have somehow "gripped me" in a new way as a result of the sudden, saddening events of the past few weeks.

But, poignantly, the reality of the phenomenon of cancer in American society HAS COME HOME to us now. All those statistics we've heard for years are now somehow seized with new reality: "one out of five" Americans (of our readers?) will be touched by cancer before they die. Some say one out of three. Even the lower figure is more people than live in California. Americans are now spending $100 billion per year fighting the results of cancer cells.

So, why is less than 1% of our cancer money going for discovering the reasons for the strangely high rate in the USA and Canada? Is this shortsightedness? Blindness? Invisible sin? Anger, impatience, tears, frustration, as well as massive diversion of activity has often encompassed us in these weeks.

Is cancer just one of those things Christians have to put up with? Does God expect us to just "grin and bear it?" Is it reasonable for three out of four Americans to die of either heart/vein disease or cancer? Are we simply to be bystanders in the effort to understand these menaces? Are our personal survival instincts so powerful as to blind us to what joint efforts could do? Is cancer something theological, Satanic?

"Invisible Sin"

I believe that the linkage of all this with missions is the simple fact that BOTH on the mission field and at home our invisible culture is an over-arching force determining almost everything we can (and can't) expect our society to do for us. The power of culture and the limitations of cultural blind spots is relentless, subtle, dogged, blinding.

Great evils are often invisible--whether we look at our own culture or at a "mission field" culture. Why should missionaries expect people they deal with on the field to be any more able to change their culture than we can at home? If all the Christians in the USA together cannot discover and tackle invisible sin here, how well can the missionaries fare? Suppose the USA had no cancer, and we saw other countries with a lot of cancer doing almost nothing to prevent it. Wouldn't we think they were blind to the problem?

Paul and Invisible Sin

Paul grew up in a Jewish home in a Greek Tarsus under the Roman Empire. That means he was acquainted with polygamous Semitic society, celibate and homosexual Greek society, as well as slavery and public human executions in Roman society. Polygamy, a blind spot for the Jews, was reprehensible to the Greeks. Homosexuality, a blind spot to the Greeks, was reprehensible to the Jews. Is that why Paul told elders not to have more than one wife?

Invisible sin-a cultural blind spot-is not something that a missionary (or a pastor at home) can simply "point out." People growing up into such blindness have endless and instant rationalizations for truly invisible sin. Well, the vampire bat first anesthetizes before sucking blood!!

Kill the Chinese?

How long did it take for Christians to have their eyes opened in regard to slavery? How long did it take for Christians to have their eyes opened to abortion? To nicotine? How can we forget that solemn scene before a Senate committee where every one of 15 tobacco executives raised their hands when asked if they believed nicotine was not addictive! But gradually our eyes, culturally, have been opened to this incredible menace. Yet we still let these same nice executives sell enough of their drug in China to kill (some calculate) 50,000,000 Chinese?

Take another example of cultural blindness I feel is an invisible sin:

Insight magazine for February 17, 1997 has a two-page article about the mysterious absence of serious clinical trials for the use of selenium in the treatment heart disease and cancer. The article reports a researcher, Sheldon Marks, as saying,

It's an orphan nutrient--there's not a lot of money to be made. It's fairly inexpensive to make and distribute--pennies to the dollar.

and concludes,

As a result, pharmaceutical companies have displayed little interest in funding selenium research. Though Marks sees selenium as a safer and less expensive alternative to cancer therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy, he acknowledges that "it's like pulling teeth to get grants of $10,000 or $50,000 where other studies are receiving millions."

As others see us!

This is where the world family of believers comes in (other countries are racing ahead with selenium). It may be easier to see objectively in a foreign country and ask questions about things that seem stupid than it is to detect such things in our own society. Thus, we need believers from elsewhere to help us see ourselves-our cultural imprisonment. This is one of the significant potentials of intercultural mission efforts.

Westerners have often talked about widow burning in India, footbinding in China, human sacrifice among the Aztecs, etc.. But where was our vast Biblical insight when the first recorded sermon title in the history of the city of Los Angeles was "Niggers don't have souls." Even earlier in 1852 the nascent California legislature provided a hefty cash bounty for killing off Indians in California--a law that stayed on the books for 50 years, until 1902. (And decimated California Indians.) "Good Christians" were involved in this. I am not talking about a crazy minority. These were politically correct, officially condoned atrocities. They were "invisible sin."

In my later years it has seemed to me increasingly incongruous for us to deplore violence between human beings but to say nothing about our children watching TV stories of "natural history" in which animals tear each other apart.

Save the bugs?

On the other hand, some of our environmentalists seem unconcerned about the fate of abused and starving children while directing our attention to the fate of bugs!

I heard that the county of San Bernardino near where I live bought 68 acres on which to build a hospital that would serve the area. Environmentalists went in and scrutinized those 68 acres and discovered eight flies of a threatened species, the "New Delhi Flower Loving Fly."

These earnest people then proceeded to block the building of the hospital. And, since these flies come out of the ground two weeks a year, during which time they might be hit by a car, the reasoning goes, the environmentalists want to shut down the adjoining freeway during those two weeks or at least impose a 15 mile-per-hour speed limit. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that already $500,000 PER FLY has been spent in the attempt to surmount this objection. If you multiply the eight flies by that amount you get $4 million. (Could that have been better spent on cancer prevention?)

In earth's history already 999 out of a 1,000 species have gone extinct in earth's history. Why not one more minor species, if children are at stake? Think how many unique snow flakes have been allowed to melt! A friend of ours is talking about starting a "Save the termites" society.

All this may seem funny, especially to people from other countries. But the little children that are neglected while their parents argue about the fate of eight strange flies are not a laughing matter.

Who's killing the family?

However, one of the most mysterious and unexplainable oddities of the U.S. culture is the fact that we have come to the place where we call it a "family" when you have parents and children but no grandparents in the picture. Our invention of the "nuclear family" appears to believers in most countries dangerous and disastrous, and they immediately link it with our world's highest juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, child abuse, prison rate, divorce rate, out of wedlock births, etc..

But we don't see the connection. We're blind to this! In most of the world, for example, young people marry into (become a stable part of) one or the other of the parents' families. In the main stream culture of the USA they marry out of both families into the "freedom," anguish and instability of our vaunted "nuclear family." The instability of such "nuclear" family fragments has now been proven by the glaring fact of the USA's world's highest divorce rate, a scandal to all the world. All the rest of the world sees this. We have pursued the cultural ideal of "freedom" to its illogical end. And this mania for "freedom" is as delicious (to us) as it is disastrous. The number of college-age young people in prison is getting close to the number in college. And both places are very expensive in money and (in general) very harmful to morality. It is invisible. Well, 2% of our youth went to college a century ago. Being from wealthy families they made good. So, we thought, college made them wealthy! Now with 50% of our youth in college we see little connection between wealth and what happens in college. This is also "invisible?" On and on. RDW

Why? Why? Why?

Ever wonder why in issue after issue we continue to highlight the AD 2000 Movement? Listen to what a high-ranking denominational official recently wrote of a vote in last year's PCUSA General Assembly:

(We recognized) in an official way that Presbyterians want to be part of the largest ecumenical movement in the world. The AD 2000 Movement is larger than the World Council of Churches. It is larger than Lausanne. It is THE emerging ecumenical movement of the 21st century.

As such it has been and will be energizing for the PCUSA. PCUSA representatives to the mid-decade Global Consulation on World Evangelization in Seoul, Korea discovered this for themselves as they participated in dynamic worship, fervent prayer, and deep sharing in the things of God with almost 4,000 persons, 2/3rds of whom were from the non-Western world.


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