Which Missionary Is Doing The MOST Strategic Work?
Are all mission activities equally strategic? Here are some tests for your mission judgment!
This missionary is working "overseas" (is that important?) with a strong, indigenous church--the result of 80 years of fine missionary effort--helping an existing church movement to get its seminary going, and to get its church-planting efforts better organized. This church movement already undertakes evangelistic efforts which reach individuals from other tribal groups nearby, bringing them as new members into the existing church movement. There is no deliberate attempt thus far to found an "indigenous church movement" within any of the other tribal groups.
Most people would call this "missionary" effort because it is "overseas" and because the missionary has to learn a foreign language to do the job. But, essentially, it is, at best, the kind of work which we would call "home missions" if it were being conducted in the United States. Notice that the fact that the person has to go "overseas" and "learn a language" does not in and of itself assure us of a strategic contribution.
However, what is not explained one way or another is whether or not this missionary is vitally working toward a missionary vision for this overseas church movement. If he (or she) is, then that kind of activity would seem to be VERY HIGHLY STRATEGIC. In this latter case, what the missionary would be doing would not itself be a "pioneer work in a frontier group," but would be precisely frontier mission mobilization, which is probably the highest priority mission task in many situations right at this point in history.
Another missionary has been assigned to a group on an island in Indonesia which is predominantly Muslim, with no known Christians within the group, and no such beachhead within any other portion of this same group in any other location. The goal of this missionary is to establish "a viable, indigenous evangelizing church movement" within this people group.
This kind of work is, by definition, a "pioneer, or frontier missionary task" since the work is within what is called an Unreached People group (a group within which there is not yet a "viable, indigenous, evangelizing church movement").
But, how high a priority is this kind of work? Very high, of course, since the one most obvious, ultimate barrier to world evangelization is the planting of a missionary beachhead in every remaining, sealed off pocket of humanity. We cannot be serious about reaching everyone if we do not make sure that every group has been penetrated. There CANNOT be any other type of evangelism that will be effective until these people can be evangelized from within.
HOWEVER, at this point in history there are not enough missionaries doing precisely this kind of work, either from the Western nations or the mission fields of the world. Right now, then, is not the highest priority mission task still that of "frontier mission mobilization" not frontier mission work itself?
This missionary has worked for many years in an Indian tribe of about 22,000 people in Guatemala. There in Guatemala these tribal people really know their way around, are quite confident of their existence, and don't tend to feel the need of any missionary's wisdom. Now, however, 1,000 of this group are in Santa Monica, California, in the Los Angeles basin where they are refugees from guerrilla warfare in Guatemala. The missionary with his family has moved back to Los Angeles to work with this one portion of the group. Great interest and openness has greeted them here. Now the Indians are at the mercy of a situation they no longer have completely under control. Evangelism for the first time is progressing effectively. But, half of the churches supporting this missionary family have cut off their support because the missionary is "no longer on a mission field overseas." With dwindling support it is not certain that they can continue.
This partially fictional example could be multiplied at least two hundred times in the U.S.A. alone. Is this not a tragic misunderstanding of the definition of mission? The Bible says nothing at all about a missionary being one who flies over salt water to get to his field. There are thousands of Kurds in San Diego, California. Does not that mean, then, that San Diego is a mission field, a frontier mission field? Unreached peoples are wherever you find them, not merely "overseas." Classical, Pauline "go where Christ is not named" mission has no geographical significance.