Getting the Whole Story
Researcher Releases Comprehensive Survey of Third World Missions Today
Dr. Larry Keyes is a man of many talents scholar, researcher, missiologist, teacher, discipler, strategist, author, administrator and dedicated family man.
In the providence of God, the publication of Dr. Keyes' chief work, The Last Age of Missions coincides with his assumption of the presidency of Overseas Crusades, a mission dedicated to completing the task of world evangelization throughout a number of the world's countries.
It is doubtful that any other mission agency in the world has been as thoroughly saturated with the ideas and teaching of Dr. Donald McGavran concerning the growth of the Body of Christ as Overseas Crusades. The mission routinely sends key personnel to study at the Fuller School of World Mission, and has made "church growth strategy" and "people group evangelism" integral to all missionary operations.
Dr. Keyes has labored with Overseas Crusades in Brazil for several terms, helping the Brazilian church reach out across cultural and linguistic barriers to groups without previous missionary work. During his tenure as a student at the School of World Mission, he was challenged to do. research in the area of Third World missions. He saw that challenge as a natural outgrowth of his interest while in Brazil.
Keyes said, "I have always been interested in seeing the Brazilian church send out Brazilians, either to other tribes in Brazil itself or to people groups outside the country. But I noticed that there were many problems connected with such an enterprise. It was Professor Peter Wagner who encouraged me to study this area in greater depth. That was the beginning of what has become an international research project, and now a book."
Keyes grew up in Southern California and attended Biola College (now Biola University) and Talbot Theological Seminary. While still in school, he was challenged by Dr. Dick Hillis to become a missionary to South America. God used the challenge (and a number of other factors) to initiate contact with Overseas Crusades concerning a ministry in Brazil.
As head of the Overseas Crusades team ministering in South America's largest and most populous country, Keyes oversaw the ministry of eight families, all committed to the stimulation of the national church to the evangelism of the country of Brazil. Keyes personally developed a ministry known as "Cresca," which has been involved in training Brazilian church leaders in "balanced church growth."
"In balanced church growth, we are interested in seeing a church grow numerically," Keyes explained, "but also in fellowship with the Lord and with other believers in the church."
Leadership training for pastors. Sunday School administrators, teachers, deacons, etc. is carried out through classes, seminars, conferences and personal discipling relationships. Overseas Crusades emphasizes the discipling of each country by working to equip and train leaders in the existing national church.
Mission Frontiers was able to interview Dr. Keyes shortly after he had been asked by the board of Overseas Crusades to assume the presidency of that organization a position which had been vacated by Dr. Clyde Cook when he assumed the presidency of Biola University.
MF: Dr. Keyes, how will your selection as president of overseas crusades affect your leadership in the area of third world missions research and communication?
KEYES: I feel very humbled by the invitation of the OC Board to accept this new position, and I'm quite challenged by their invitation to begin my responsibilities on the first of February.
Of course, this new position will require that high priority be given to the overall ministry of the Overseas Crusades organization, but parallel to that will be my continuing research into Third World missions.
The international office of our Third World missions information bulletin, "Bridges," will continue to be in So Paulo, Brazil. There is a team of trained personnel willing to continue with that. From Santa Clara, California (headquarters of Overseas Crusades) I will maintain editorship of this bulletin.
In addition, as I travel for Overseas Crusades, I trust I will be able to extend my relationships with Third World mission leaders, and I hope to be able to continue my correspondence with many of them.
Although this new position entails both a change in geography and a major shift in job responsibilities, I sincerely desire to maintain an emphasis on Third World missionary research.
MF: Dr. Keyes, you began your research into third world missions out of a background of eleven years of ministry in Brazil. What was there about that church which sparked your interest?
KEYES: The church in Brazil is a growing church. It is a young church. By and large, it is an urban church. As in many other countries, Brazilians are leaving the rural areas to live in large cities, and the church is growing where this is happening.
On the whole, I'm sorry to say, the church in Brazil has high denominational barriers. One of our goals has been to try to break some of these barriers down, and one of the ways we have tried t do that is to encourage the Brazilian churches to work together in world evangelization.
MF: What was the nature of your research project into third world missions?
KEYES: As I pointed out in the preface to the book, ever since my participation in the Congress on World Evangelism in Berlin in 1966, my hope for a substantial cooperative witness has grown significantly.
With limited funds for outreach, the need for cooperation and sharing information and resources becomes greater. I trust that the data collected during my year long information search can help provide a foundation upon which much greater sharing and partnership can be built.
Simply, we sought to locate and verify the existence and number of missionary sending agencies located in the Third World.
MF: What were the overall results of your research?
KEYES: I am very pleased to report that today we know of at least 15,000 Third World missionaries working cross culturally, proclaiming the clear message of Jesus Christ, trying to win the yet unreached.
We located a total of 368 active mission sending agencies located in the Third World. This is an increase of 81.28% over the 203 agencies found by "researchers" in 1972
MF: Does this mean the formation of 81% more new agencies or just that we have discovered the additional agencies?
KEYES: I think in the general sense we have to say "they have been there and we are just discovering them," since our research shows that many of these Third World societies were formed back in the 1800's. It's not a new movement, but it is a movement that is growing rapidly, approximately five times as fast as the growth rate among North American missionary societies.
We really praise the Lord for this increase in what He is doing among Third World believers and in Third World churches.
MF: What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome in collecting the data for your survey?
KEYES: One barrier was linguistic. Any complete survey must deal with the nations of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania. There is no "international language" of Third World missions.
Another barrier was financial. In this kind of international project you have to make choices between relatively solid data collected by personal travel and research, which is expensive, and information collected by correspondence and questionnaires, which is much less expensive but may also be less reliable.One of the problems affecting reliability is the degree of missiological understanding. Some of the people completing our questionnaires were relatively unschooled in missiology and Western terminology. A number of individuals had difficulty distinguishing an evangelist who reaches out to others in his own culture from a missionary who is sent out cross culturally to an unreached tribe or nation.
It was also difficult for some of the Third World mission leaders to understand terms like "evangelical," "charismatic" and "ecumenical."
MF: Is the development and growth of third world missions a natural thing or something that has been carfeully cultured and nurtured by missionaries?
KEYES: This is an issue that greatly concerns me. I have to agree with Dr. Ralph Winter that one of the great problems of mission history is that after an individual responds personally to the missionary call and arrives in a "foreign" country to begin his missionary endeavor, it is often the case that he forgets to share his missionary vision. He receives it and acknowledges it, obeys it, and then for some reason forgets to continue the cycle and share it with others.
My concern as I work with Third World missionaries is to call this oversight to their attention. I did this in Brazil just a few weeks ago. I was speaking to about 35 missionary candidates in a training center, and I specifically prayed with them that as they went out, they would not forget to challenge those they would work with to become personally involved in the missionary vision.
MF: This is the only way the cycle of "being blessed and then being a blessing" can spread from people group to people group as God intended.
KEYES: That is so true; we must never neglect that. The great commission is for every people in every generation. We must see this everexpanding cycle continue until the Lord comes.
MF: Dr. Keyes, I'm curious about how third world churches send their missionaries. Do they start by forming an agency, or is there some other pattern?
KEYES: Third World churches have as many ways of sending out new missionaries as we do in the Western churches. Sometimes an individual will join a traditional denominational or interdenominational mission structure and be sent to work in another people group.
Others are sent out by their own local churches. They do not join another organization, but the church itself becomes a missionsending body.
Still others go out as "tentmaking" missionaries.
Finally, one of the more creative approaches involves partnership between two mission agencies. An individual from India, for instance, might be sent to Africa, where he would work with a Western agency to minister to Africans. There are many possibilities for these "partnership relationships," which have begun to develop in Western missions and are now also developing in the Third World.
MF: What part does the "internationalization" of western agencies like Overseas Crusades, OMF, Latin America Mission and others play in this?
KEYES: From the Westen, perspective, accepting Third World members into Western missions is very significant. It means that we are willing to accept the Third World church on an equal basis into the business of world evangelization.
From Third World perspective, there is some natural apprehension about working in a situation dominated by Westerners. The years of colonialism, imperialism, and Western attitudes of superiority affected relationships, consciously or subconsciously. Yet, in spite of this, both Third World missionaries and Third World agencies are surprisingly open and anxious for this kind of partnership to grow and develop.
MF: What lies ahead in the area of third world missions research?
KEYES: I believe we are just beginning just scratching the surface. The missions are growing so fast that the data in my book just being released is already in some caseS outdated. I receive letters
every day from Third World countries and mission leaders.
I would like to see formed a network of Third World missiologists who would update this information on a constant basis. Only thus can we work together to devise better strategies for the advance of God's kingdom worldwide.
MF: Is it possible that some conference like the International Consultation on Frontier Missions in 1980 at Edinburgh could provide the framework for this kind of structure? I understand that more than one-third of the delegates there were from third world agencies.
KEYES: I was very pleased with the Edinburgh meeting. I had the opportunity to assist in selecting some of the Third World participants for that meeting, just as I am doing for the Wheaton '83 conference.
I attended the Asia Missiological Association Convention in Seoul last June, and there we discussed this matter quite openly and freely. My concern is to see the network formed. My own personal involvement is a secondary concern to me.
I think it might take more time to see this network really come together maybe four or five years. But such a network is really urgent because it would give Third World missiologists a platform for information exchange and dialogue.
MF: Dr. Keyes, please accept our best wishes and prayers for success in your new responsibilities. We believe it is especially providential that someone with special expertise and interest in the area of third world missions should be selected to head a mission agency so committed to the success of third world churches.
KEYES : I am looking forward to continuing encouragement and challenge from Dr. Ralph Winter in this new responsibility. He has been a source of tremendous encouragement to me, especially in the area of research, as have others from MARC, the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization and the Missions Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship.