Sending Money, Not Missionaries - Or, Why Missions is Not What You Think!
[Ed: The following series of events tells its own story.]
Act One: A member of a mission committee in a local congregation read a magazine put out by Christian Aid Mission.
Act Two: Trying to be helpful, he then put the following words in the church bulletin:
"If American missionaries had used their resources to get behind those (indigenous mission boards in India) and supplied their needs, millions of Hindus and Muslims could have been reached for Christ. With little or no help from abroad, tens of thousands of Indian native missionaries have been working day and night with little or no food, clothing, housing or means of transportation. God has blessed their preaching and thousands of new churches have been planted where American missionaries were never able to start an active Christian witness. They continue to need our support...
"U. S. Christians are then encouraged to send financial support for these works which may well be more effective among their own people than foreigners could ever be, and at a fraction of the cost...
"In spite of poverty and deprivation, indigenous missions are doing 90% of the effective pioneer missionary work among unreached peoples that is being done in our world today...
"The Missions Committee has been able to direct some of your gifts to these stalwart saints through the Christian Aid Mission..."
Act Three: Another member of the mission committee was disturbed by these and other comments in the bulletin and wrote up a series of questions which he then gave to the other members of the mission committee and also sent both to Ralph Winter and Patrick Johnstone, with these comments: "I do not have the materials--you may have--I ask that you please review this and provide me such observations as you believe are appropriate."
Act Four: Ralph Winter did not actually see his letter in his mail--but would have been glad to respond. Patrick Johnstone, however, did see the letter and immediately sat down and wrote a careful response which is reproduced below, with his permission. The list of questions to which he is responding (Note: they begin on the next page) can be inferred from what he says.
Act Five: Patrick Johnstone's reply:
25 June 1998
Greetings in our Lord Jesus. Thank you for your letter of 15 June. The breadth and seriousness of the matter you cover in your letter deserves a far longer response than I have the time to write, so please bear with me if I am fairly brief but try to cover the points that you raise.
You have every right to be concerned about the nature of the newsletter in your Church magazine. At best it is biased and at worst it is both uncharitable and wrong and certainly denigrates many servants of God who have dedicated their life, health and wealth to the evangelisation of the least-reached parts of the world.
[Before taking up your questions] I will just make a few general comments concerning Aid missions. I made a basic policy with Operation World that I would mention only one or two agencies that specifically raise funds to support non-Western missions thrusts. I personally have grave misgivings in certain areas but I do want to stress that I see this as an entirely valid way of enabling the missionary task to be completed. My concerns are in the theology, philosophy and practice that is often pursued by those that use this method as if it is the way of evangelising the world with exclusion to all other ways. This is obviously wrong and goes right against all that the Lord Jesus said about praying that labourers might be thrust forth into the harvest field. Here are the dangers:
- It appeals to the materialistic desire for comfort amongst Western Christians, that just by giving a bit of money they are let off the missionary hook and do not have to sacrifice themselves.
- Foreign money can very often damage the growth of missionary vision in countries where this is developing. Note how the Friends Missionary Prayer Band in India [Ed: the largest mission in India] made the deliberate decision that they would not accept foreign money for the support of their missionaries because of this very fact and they have a significant impact on many parts of India (look at Operation World).
- Foreign money, if not given through indigenous bodies of believers, diverts the accountability from the body of Christ within that country to an expatriate group - often in the States - who call the tune and set the parameters of that ministry. It can so easily become foreign-controlled and is a step back from true indigeneity of missionary thrust. Donors in the West are far more inclined to insist on accountability to them than to the body of Christ in the country to which the money goes, which is tragic.
- There is an implied division in the body of Christ. In our own mission, WEC International, we have made a deliberate decision that we make no difference about where a person comes from or to what ethnic group he belongs. We are all treated at the same level. I believe this is essential for the body of Christ worldwide. We are all responsible to give and to pray and to go. There may be different parts of the body that are better able to do certain aspects of these three types of ministry than others, but that is beside the point. We are one body.
- There is an implied paternalism in this type of mission activity. We see it in our vocabulary. I heard of someone saying that a national pastor was preaching in his church in New York. My immediate comment was, "Oh, you mean an American." "Oh, no, somebody from Africa!" We use this term "national" which is really just a paternalistic pat on the head for those good little boys who are willing to work for less in another country. May I just add this point that if a missionary leaves India to work in Africa and vice versa, it costs them as much and possibly even more to serve as a missionary in another country. We know this adds to our cost for our workers from these continents who have gone to other continents for Jesus.
Now to come to the seven questions or comments that you make in your letter.
- You are correct in observing that there are violations of trust in the exercise of authority and in use of funds by such agencies. Not all are like that, but as I have indicated above, often funds bypass the correct channels and make indigenous workers employees of a foreign organisation. There have been too many cases of money coming from abroad and being misused because there is no accountability structure in the country and foreigners coming to visit an indigenous work can often be very much deceived and shown only what the local people want to show and it may not be the whole story.
- Certain Christian Aid statements in this article have been dramatic and have overdrawn the picture. This is definitely divisive and unhelpful. K.P. Yohannan has written a number of books in his efforts to gain funds to support missionaries in India. However, when challenged about unreached peoples, K.P. began to realise that almost all the so-called missionaries he was supporting were actually just national pastors in India and very few were reaching the unreached. He then changed the whole policy of the mission and Gospel For Asia has now become one of the more significant pioneer missionary agencies with many Indian workers members of that mission and with a good accountability structure. At first I was unwilling to put them into Operation World but in the coming edition I am going to make good mention of them because of the way they have developed and are now doing an excellent job. K.P. Yohannan spoke at the GCOWE in Pretoria last year and he prefaced his comments by first apologising to the mission agencies represented for the unkind things he had said in earlier immature periods of his life. It is not a case of either/or but a case of both/and in this type of ministry. We need the foreign missionaries too.
- Foreign missionaries do have to teach the indigenous church about mission. Often we have failed to do this. But there have also been wonderful success stories. If you look at the situation in India you will find that many of the indigenous agencies were born through the work of Operation Mobilisation. It was their innovative vision and willingness to live inexpensively for Jesus, whether foreign or national, that enabled this tremendous missionary thrust to gain more effectiveness. I think of our own mission. Not only have we been a church-planting mission but we have also been a missions-planting mission. I think of Bob Harvey who was once our field leader in Brazil. He became known as Mister Missions in Brazil and I see many of the Brazilian missionary agencies today have had quite an impact on the world. But many of them look back to that early ministry of Bob Harvey in getting them going and giving them advice. I could multiply these examples many times over. Just one more will suffice. My wife and I were in Chad in November on the eastern side of the country near the border of Sudan --a poverty-stricken area on the edge of the Sahara and almost entirely Muslim--but at last little groups of believers are beginning to appear. And it's the love and sacrifice of those missionaries that have enabled this to happen. I have a picture before me of a Dutch missionary holding the foot of a leper within a few inches of his face and cleaning-up the leprous foot. When we interrupted the process by arriving and this missionary had to excuse himself for a few minutes, the look of love on the face of that man whom he was caring for was astonishing and the chief of the little leper village said to us, "We want this man to stay for twenty years. Nobody took care of us until he came."
- Indigenous missions do not exist in many countries of the world. This is not only true in the Muslim world but as you rightly say in Vietnam--except for some of the tribal peoples who have sent missionaries to neighbouring tribes. If a careful analysis were made of the world where indigenous missionaries do not exist simply because the church is too small in that country to even support a missionary thrust, who is going to do the job?
- The training of church planters is, of course, a vital ministry for both expatriates and indigenous people. But to say that the indigenous are more effective than foreigners is only true within their own culture or maybe a near culture. Often you find that a missionary who comes from far away has less baggage of history and cultural hatred than a local missionary. To quote Chad again, the centre and the north is Muslim; the south is Christian. For centuries the north raided the south to make them into slaves. Now the former slaves are Christians and the centre and north are less-educated Muslims and they deeply resent the education of the southerners and are very unwilling to receive the Gospel from them. The cultural distance between them is so great that it is harder for a local person to be a missionary to these people than a foreigner.
- You ask to what extent indigenous missionaries are reaching Muslims. The quick answer is, "Very little." The same is true for Hindus in India. You will find that the 15,000 or so missionaries in India are largely concentrating on the tribal and marginalised of society and not the main body of society and the decision-makers. Certainly, you cannot speak about indigenous missionaries in the former Soviet Union as necessarily being effective to the ethnic minorities. It was the Ukrainians and the Russians who oppressed the non-Slavic peoples and they are deeply resented. And, may I add, Russians are generally much less willing to learn indigenous languages. There is the almost unstated thought that Russian is the language of education and therefore everybody ought to learn it.
- You wisely question whether indigenous missionaries are doing 90% of the effective work among unreached peoples. All I can say is that that is absolute nonsense. For a person to make a statement like that means they have no knowledge of what is going on in the world and they have an axe to grind, which is tragic.
You ask for additional information about Christian Aid. I know very little about Christian Aid. However, I do note that Ralph Winter of the U.S. Center for World Mission has recently written an article that he said was one of the most difficult he has ever had to write and within it he challenges specifically Christian Aid's manner of criticising traditional mission work and the sending of missionaries. I hope to enclose a copy of it for you. I strongly advise that you obtain this magazine. It really gives a very good picture of the world and its need. I am sending a copy of this letter to Dr. Winter himself.
Finally, may I close with a request for prayer. We are, at the moment, working on a new edition of Operation World and experiencing many obstacles and difficulties. We need prayer that this book will once again see the light of day. We are aiming for publication in the year 2000. It is going to need many miracles for this to occur.
In Jesus and for world evangelisation,
cc.Dr R Winter, Dr D Kuhl (WEC)
Editorial Post Script: Note that Johnstone's reply is measured and kindly. Much of what he and I have been saying can be summed up in two points:
- Just sending money rather than men and women of character, love, and integrity is simplistic and is very difficult to do without creating dependency and all kinds of local problems, etc. It is not impossible. I think of Partners International, which has greatly changed over the years, and now Gospel for Asia which is trying to do better, as Patrick has reported above. I was there in South Africa when Yohannan apologized to the 800 mission executives. Alas, to undo some of his work will be very difficult. But he's a great guy.
- No organization of the send-money-only mission type is being fair, however, if in its eagerness to attract funds it turns against and belittles the many marvelous things which the oft maligned "traditional missionaries" have done and are doing.
Stop and think. You can't send funds at all to "indigenous missions" if, 1) none exist where they might be needed, or, where 2) foreign missionaries have not started things off in the first place.
This, however, is the most important point: neither Patrick nor I are seeking to denounce everything these missions are funding. We have both 1) cautioned that sending money is not all that simple, and 2) we have strongly disagreed when such agencies imply or bluntly state that all other types of mission work are wrong.