The Misunderstanding of the Mission Agencies
by Ralph D. Winter
Talk about misunderstanding! Over the Labor Day weekend Intervarsity's Cliffe Knechtle and I were the speakers at the 1988 College Briefing Conference, at Forest Home, California. The theme this year was the Great Commission.
However, as I talked with these restless, bright-eyed collegians, and reflected on where they are coming from, I began to realize what I was up against.
I was baffled even to know where to start. Those 400 wonderful, exciting young people were÷not their fault÷for the most part almost totally ignorant of three major realities:
1) The breathtaking SCOPE of the Christian movement in all the world today÷constituting the biggest 'problem' in China, the Soviet Union, Nicaragua, Cuba (wherever governments are so foolish as to try to get rid of Christians). Collegians don't study things like this.
2) The precise nature of missions to the remaining unreached peoples of the world, whether at home or 'overseas', (as distinguished from the normal evangelistic activity of winning those who remain within the present range of the believing congregations of the world). They don't study things like this.
3) But for me the most troublesome fact was their virtually total lack of comprehension of the magnificent and essential world of the mission agencies.
I am a member of a mission agency. I, with several others, am a founder of a mission agency. I feel that the way of life, the structure, the patterns of the mission agency are unique and strikingly effective. (For example, women in American missions have for at least a hundred years been first-class citizens, with full voting rights in their missions, etc. Also, everyone, high or low, receives the same equivalent pay, based on need and family size, not prestige, seniority, etc÷ this means more missionaries on the field. And so on.)
I told them there are 700 mission agencies in this country and asked if they could name even one out often. If it had been sports, they could have flooded me with names of teams, players, statistics of all kinds...
Most of them had not contemplated how very essential a team of dedicated people is, in a mission situation, embodying knowledge, experience, and local, as well as international, support.
How I wished I could have had more than three times to talk to them, and been able to introduce them to some of the outstanding people you find everywhere you look in the world of mission÷ patient, dedicated, faithful, versatile, capable, highly motivated people.
In my job, I have people from many different agencies dropping in and talking about what they are doing. It is endlessly fascinating to note their creativity, their progressiveness, how wide-awake they are to new approaches.
But I can see how it is difficult for the agencies to make sure "the people back home" can at least begin to comprehend what is going on. It is easy to see why these collegians and other local church people can be confused.
The biggest single difference between agencies is that some of them are general missions and some are specialized missions. A general mission, by my definition, is one that plants churches. A specialized mission, by my definition, is one that performs some more specialized function. Few lay people realize how both general missions and specialized missions work together.
Our extended example of collaboration in this issue involves the widely disparate (and yet cooperating) mission agencies in North Africa and the Middle East.
But similar stories could be told all over the world. Right there in Africa is the coalition of agencies that are concerned about the 15 million Fulani, who are scattered across 3,000 miles of the West African countries, from the extreme West to northern Cameroon. Agency representatives meet annually to compare notes, and it is amazing how much ground is gained in this fashion.
There Southern Baptists, Reformed Church in America, Red Sea Mission, Sudan United Mission, Presbyterians, Wycliffe Translators, teamed up in reaching, in one case, the tribal Murii. With a wide-spectrum approach, whole families were converted and whole villages were reached, just in lime before the guerrilla warfare threw all missionaries out.
Or, take DAWN, that amazing organization that is helping coordinate final-evangelization in 26 different countries. They do not encounter opposition. Agencies have been cooperating for a good long time!
Edwin L. (Jack) Frizen, Jr., like Billy Graham, majored in Anthropology at Wheaton College. Snatched up by the 2nd World War, he spent time in the Philppines and came home with a vision to found, along with three other returning G.l.s, the Far Eastern Gospel Crusade, now called SEND International. As a very capable administrator÷with his wife Grace, who is right there with him at work÷he was drafted for that kind of thing at the home office. His fame spread and he then was given on loan (that's collaboration!) to be the executive Director of the Interdenominalional Foreign Mission Association (IFMA) in 1963, a post he still holds. He also holds a doctorate in missiology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
The IFMA was formed in 1917, specializing in boards that served more than one denomination. The Overseas Missionary Fellowship, the Sudan Interior Mission (now SIM International because it works all over the world), the Africa Inland Mission (which also works in many countries), etc., were founding members. In 1945 a second association, the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association, was formed to accommodate the mission boards of the evangelical denominations.