In the New Millennium: What Will NOT Be New in Missions
Navajos in Norway?
Will the new millennium outmode the need for Navajo evangelists among the Laplanders of Norway? Why would crossing saltwater make a missionary?
Why would Navajos from Arizona go as missionaries to the Laplanders of Norway? Why don't the Norwegians reach their own Laplanders?
Well, why would tribal evangelists from Sarawak in South East Asia come to Arizona to help reach the Papagos? Why don't Arizona citizens do their own local mission outreach to the Papagos? Are you serious that saltwater makes the difference?
Zany as this may sound we are dealing here with a crucial principle of missions.
Luis Bush is surely one of the most globally conscious Christian strategists in the world today. In fact, in recent years it is incontestable that no one has travelled more places, met more Christian leaders, and inspired more local energies of outreach than he.
As a result his article (p. 16) subtitled "The Virtues and Vulnerabilities of Career Missionaries," gives great insight into the one thing in missions that will not pass away in the new millennium: the long-term missionary from afar.
Why is this? Indeed, how in the world could this be? Are there not now believers in every country, ready to reach out to the remaining unreached peoples in their own country? How in the world, then, do we still need "missionaries from afar"any at all?
At first glance this is admittedly puzzling.
Let us instantly admit that in many, many far-flung corners of the earth where there may already be warm-hearted evangelizing believers who speak the language as their mother tongue, you surely don't any longer need a "missionary from afar" to do basic ongoing evangelistic and church-planting work. The existing believers may need many things and greatly appreciate someone from afar to help them in a number of ways. But such workers from afar aren't going to be pioneer missionary types. They won't be starting from scratch, winning people to Christ, and planting churches. By this date national leaders will be able to do that kind of thing far better than a foreigner.
In other words in all such situations the worker from afar is not, in a classical sense, a missionaryhe or she is not in such cases going "where Christ is not named." Such "workers from afar" are, however, often very valuable to the work as doctors, dentists or professors from afar.
Is Distance Important?
But where missionaries from a distance are truly essential is where there is still no national church or national workers. Why not workers from near by, from the next group over?
The peculiar reason why workers from a nearby language group suffer disadvantages over the "missionary from afar" is precisely because age-old tensions almost always exist between neighboring groups who are, in fact, often well-known oppressors or antagonists.
The Laplanders may have learned over many years not to trust the mainstream Norwegians who run the government and control their destinies. Popagos may over time have learned not to trust the white citizens of Phoenix even though some of the latter are very loving, unselfish believers who truly want to be helpful to the Papago.
This is where the missionaries from Sarawak come in. Back in their own country, like the Papago, they are a minority, a somewhat oppressed people. Their joyful acceptance of the Gospel did not come as the initiative of their oppressors but from missionaries "from afar" who sought to liberate them from their tribal and minority limitations and who became their advocates with the Islamic government of their land.
Such "workers from afar" are not going out of date. The majority of the worlds last unreached peoples are surrounded by other groups that despise them. Only workers "from afar" can best gain their trustdespite their limitations of language and culture.