Proceed With Caution Part 1
Motivating the church to reach the unreached people groups has been like pushing a car up a hill. Today, the car has reached the top of the hill--churches are excited about the final frontiers of missions and want to get involved. But, "zeal without knowledge" may cause the car to speed downhill out-of-control.Let's face it--missions is complex. Just as we need to be aware of medical warning signs and highway road signs, so too with missions.
Let's examine 13 "warning signs" where we risk going off the road. Some of these are explained by non-Western mission leaders from South Asia. Their comments have been inserted into this report from other sources. These leaders live among hundreds of unreached people groups. Their wisdom and experience can guide us into successful missions in this area of the world.
Most cars travel successfully to their destination and most mission activity is proceeding forward fruitfully. Therefore we struggle with presenting these warnings in such a way as to not discourage involvement or hinder good work. These cautions may be controversial. Hopefully they will not be considered as absolutes but merely one view.
Alert: Immobile Message
Western money and mission methods have helped produce a growing church in many countries. The Christianity, often culturally Western, tends to come with cultural baggage that immobilizes the message. The message is not effectively bridging into many unreached people groups.
Those open to Western culture are relatively more receptive to the Gospel. Usually this is the people who come from oppressed groups within the society and have the least to lose and the most to gain. The result is a Westernized church on one hand, and on the other, people groups that are toughest to reach and most resistant to the West. Therefore, simply continuing with existing efforts may increase the number of Christians in one sphere only. Much like two balloons -- inflating one does nothing to the other.
In addition to efforts in one sphere, new attempts that de-Westernize the Gospel are needed--ones that will repackage the Gospel and propel it into the remaining unreached spheres.
This repackaging may emerge from younger leaders. Old traditions and ways of thinking are hard to change. In fact, sometimes the older, more experienced world leaders are the least likely to perceive entrenched patterns.
New efforts that de-Westernize the Gospel may not be done by South Asian agencies. If they are linked to the West or birthed in the West, they themselves may be Westernized even though they don't live or minister in the West. They may be culturally Western and use Western methods and materials and may even be planting culturally Western churches. They may not be willing to take the risks of starting non-Western churches that are unfamiliar to their Western donors.
Their Western donors may want to see numbers of people "converted, baptized, and counted." Thus their goals and methods become Western oriented. They may extract people from their own culture into a new Christian culture and count them, rather than leaving them quietly in their community. They are doing good work building God's Kingdom, but only in one sphere.
In the process of expanding the number of Christians in the culturally Western sphere, they may even be unknowingly erecting a barrier to those in the other sphere who are offended by the West. They may require people to leave their traditions and join an unfamiliar group with its own traditions. It is like the early Christians requiring circumcision.
Almost all the exciting reports of mission advances in South Asia come from only one relatively small sphere. God is working in a powerful way. Mission efforts need to continue but additional efforts can target the large groups repulsed by a decadent Western society and thus resistant to a Western message.,
Joseph DeSouza, Executive Director of OM India, has stated "Respect for Indian culture and the Indian way of life is critical. One accepts that certain aspects of the culture need to be redeemed, but that can be said of Western culture as well. Yet there is so much good in the Indian culture that has been ignored in the past and, sad to say, is even ignored today by indigenous Indian missionaries. Indians are proud to be Indians. In their focus on the problems of poverty and the complexities of Indian life, Westerners must not lose sight of the fact that there is something unique and wonderful about being Indian."
Adrian DeVisser, church planter and a leader of a missions movement in Sri Lanka, says," foreign missionaries who have recently graduated from Bible college enter the country (Sri Lanka) brimming with fresh new concepts. Sadly they do not take the time or make the effort to scrutinize the 'ground realities' or the community they have come to serve. Thus, their perceptions and attitudes fail to bridge the cultural gap; and the local community reinforces its view of Christianity as a 'foreign religion' resulting in their rejection of the Gospel."
When Hindus and Muslims see enthusiastic foreigners distributing literature or holding crusades (like medieval crusades?), does it confirm that Christianity is a just a Western conquering religion?
Joseph DeSouza suggests avoiding this pitfall: "A confrontationalist, apologetic approach to sharing the love of Christ with both Hindus and Muslims is largely unacceptable. Bridge building and contextualization are essential if the majority of the Indian communities are to come to know the love of Christ. The propagandist approach to evangelism and publicity of the religious needs of Indian society is causing more harm than good to the cause of the Gospel and for those who live and serve as missionaries in India."
Atul Aghamkar, an expert in urban ministries, stated that: "The model of Westerners with big budgets and 'prepared material' coming to India to organize a 'crusade' or evangelistic campaign, and returning home with glorious reports must be stopped. The Western 'crusade' is not relevant in India, with its emphasis upon immediate response and decision, and its total lack of follow-up training. The Indian people are not conditioned to make 'individual' decisions. Decisions, particularly religious decisions, are made by the elderly and within the context of the group, caste and family."
No Passing: Local Leadership
In many countries of South Asia there is good, long-term mission activity taking place. But some enthusiastic Western teams are by- passing existing local mission activity and are failing to listen to local leaders.
Many leaders are also discouraged at the ignorance of newcomers. The inexperienced novices don't realize the sophistication of the South Asian mission organizations, many which have matured for over 20 years.
Sam Kamaleson has suggested that "Westerners should not play the role of God. They should not pretend that they can be parents to people or act paternalistically. They should not be inconsistent in their body language. By this I mean, they give the impression they are keenly interested but in their mind and heart they are thinking of other things. They should not think about controlling or managing people because of some commitment in funding."
John Richard one of the founders of the AD 2000 movement has said: "Often young Western Christians in their zeal for the Lord claim they are going to India to train church leaders who may be twice their age. This is totally unacceptable to national leaders. Western disciplers and teachers should go with an attitude of teachability."
Warning: Money Talks
Enthusiastic agencies, denominations and churches are expanding their good work from the West to other countries. Unfortunately, the power that comes from money allows some well intentioned agencies to control the organizations and people they associate with in less wealthy countries. The result is that the local organizations closest to the situation (the developing world organizations) are having to change their vision and purpose to match the more wealthy partner.
Mr. Kingsley, a leader in the Friends Missionary Prayer Band, reports: "Western agencies should not be involved in twisting the hands of the partner agencies to fulfill their own dreams and goals."
T.V. Thomas President of North American Council for South Asian Christians has written: 'Money Talks' is an often-heard statement. The truthfulness of that statement is often experienced even in missions. Those who supply the funds often call the shots."
Stop: No Short Cuts
The need to satisfy Western donors sets the direction of some mission activity. Sometimes this means doing hasty work that produces short- term results. For example, traveling crusades and street-preaching produce good newsletter photos, but slower church-planting may get neglected.
Joseph DeSouza, recently wrote in Evangelical Missions Quarterly: "The numbers game, so essential to raising money, has its own drawbacks. Many young people are recruited to work in North India from South India in a hurry, without proper training or language skills, and they are thus ill-equipped to handle the massive challenge of a very complex and culturally-rooted North India. If they are to remain in North India, to be effective church planters, they need proper training, and that cannot be done on $30 per month. The general trend is that ministry will be done to satisfy the demands of donors."
Kingsley stated: "Western agencies should not support individuals who do not have an accountable relationship with any association or umbrella organization in India. Therefore, a great amount of money is being given to them that is not being invested in missions."
Hazardous: Side Effects
Subsidizing projects may have some subtle side effects. For example, collecting books in America and giving them away for free in India may hurt the market for local, non-subsidized books. Also Christian books then develop a reputation for being inexpensive which further kills the incentive for local writers and publishers. The result is that few books are being written locally by writers who understand the readers.
If books are supported by the readers they tend to be relevant and indigenous, but if they are subsidized they don't need to be in touch with the market. They are given away whether they are useful or not.
For example: giving away books that teach about the American nuclear family values to a country that has stronger extended families may not be the best idea.
All kinds of Western organizations are "dumping" their programs on the South Asians. Some are good but many are implemented without understanding the realities of the culture and the situation, or without the advice of South Asian Christians. Generally, subsidizing can prevent projects from becoming reproducible. A good rule of thumb is: If the project will die without Western money, then it is not reproducible in the local context and should be reconsidered.
Giving can cause dependency and discourage creativity. This can be seen in the well intentioned welfare system in America. The opposite has happened with the Hmar church in Northeast India. Ninety years ago the missionaries gave responsibility to the locals. ,
These missionaries taught the Hmar to give generously and let them be independent. Now when the Hmar people bring firewood back from the forest for cooking, they drop a portion of it into a special bin. This is the "first fruits" for their own missionaries.
Another people group in a nearby area received what they needed from the missionaries. This dependency has created a receiving mentality that manifests itself in a church with very little missionary outreach.
T.V Thomas has said that "Constant supply of funds from the West could create a weak Christian and a weak church in India. This has been the pattern in many areas in the past. I believe that indigenous funding needs to increase as the church matures...The ongoing, full financial support of national workers for evangelists, church planters and pastors would create an unhealthy dependency on the West. "
Mr. Kingsley: "It's sad to say that foreign money has caused more harm than good in Indian missions. The result is culturally- irrelevant, pseudo-Christian leaders and organizations that have long forgotten their roots."
Atul Aghamkar responding to the question, "Should the West send only money?" said: "It continues to make the national church dependent on the West. It creates a sense of rivalry, greed and competition. It often robs the national church of its natural potential. When the easy money from the West is available, very few want to explore indigenous ways of fund raising."
Detour: National Church Support
The American church cannot support the church around the world. No wonder Americans feel overwhelmed with missions. Perhaps supporting existing national churches has diverted efforts away from going where the church is not.
Consider what happens when foreign money is given to the national church.
- One small house church in South Asia lost its sense of community and family fellowship when it became an "institution" after a Western donor provided funds for the construction of a church building. Once the church was built, they began to do the formalities that come with a church building. The people lost the motivation to give, as well as their sense of ownership. Furthermore, the new large building confirmed to the observing neighbors that this is a Western-funded religion.
- Good-intentioned, hard-working, zealous Koreans are going to other countries and "helping churches" and at the same time expanding their denomination. They are locating small, independent, indigenous churches; hiring the South Asian pastor, changing worship to a Korean pattern and making them part of their denomination. This leaves the church with the impression it can not grow without foreign support.
- When the pastor receives his income from the West his church may lose its desire to give. The pastor also is more independent and less accountable to the church and May live a notch above others. This may send a signal that this is a lucrative career and attracting people for the wrong reasons.
Alert: Avoid Extremes
Supporting national workers is being promoted by some organizations as the only sensible way to do missions. The following consequences of sending only money may help balance the issue.
- The national church does not receive the privilege of having their missionaries speaking in the church, raising funds and therefore is not gaining a mission vision. Missionaries supported and sent from a church is one of the essentials for the future of a church and its mission vision.
- In some cases, the paid national worker is doing local evangelism (not missions). Often this takes the work away from the layman in the local church. The layman is "off-the-hook" because he or she perceives evangelism as the job for a "professional."
- In many cases a national worker is not as well received as a foreigner. For example, an Anglo would not be the best one to reach an American Indian because of prejudice, but an Asian may not have this problem. Local caste divisions, and other prejudices may make it hard for the non-Christians to accept the messenger and, in turn, the message.
- The national worker is hired by an "outsider." He does not go through the support-raising process. The support-raising process is slower but it has many advantages. It screens out many who are not called and who do not have enough credibility or can't raise support. It also builds relationships between the church and the missionary and connects the church to the work. It gives the missionary a support-base for finances and prayer. On the other hand, if the South Asian agency is too quick to hire a missionary that has not proved himself in his local church, the church will question why the candidate was selected and the credibility of missionaries and missions in general will be damaged.
- The church and mission agencies are being divided as Western money is going to one and not the other. In some cases this allows the agencies to have more assets and even allows the mission agency personnel to live one step above the same category person in the mainline churches.
- It is more cost and time-effective to raise funds in the US, so some South Asian mission leaders spend their time fund raising and mobilizing the American church and give less time to the task and to inspiring the almost 25 million evangelical Christians in South Asia.
T.V. Thomas has stated this about supporting national workers: "I personally find it too simplistic and pragmatic a solution. 'Nationals can do it best' and 'Nationals can do it cheap' sounds inviting in the pressures of raising global missionary dollars. Christ's mandate for the church was not primarily to "give" but to "go." Our pragmatic approaches should not give the impression that Christ has retracted or revised His Great Commission mandates for the global church (Matt.28:18-20).
Joseph Desouza further emphasizes this thinking "The idea that the West should only send money is neither Biblically sound nor a very practical idea for the India of the 90's. ...limiting partnership to the contribution of money is an inadequate proposal. Partnership should go beyond the dollar contribution to the active involvement of the Western personnel in the mission work. The present over-emphasis on only sending money to support the national worker downgrades the national worker both as a cheap commodity and presents an unrealistic estimate of what it really costs to maintain a national worker in India. It also robs the Westerner of the privilege of giving of their life and moving out in cross-cultural mission..."
Sam Kamaleson said that "Potential problems of Western money rob the initiative of sacrificial giving from within India itself and create, in the already suspicious mindset of the non-Christian, the idea that Western Christian engagement in mission within India is purely mercenary."
Many Americans connect with people and ministries who are operating without cooperating with the country leadership. They rise to leadership by their ability to raise funds. Connecting with people who are from wealthy countries can be a hope of future comfort, education for children, better ministry opportunities.
Adrian DeVisser writes that: "Foreign missionaries, by virtue of their financial stability, begin to attract people who are disconnected in their existing ministries. After several years the missionary realizes that his investment has not opened doors for non- Christians to enter the Kingdom of God, but rather improved the lifestyle of one or two individuals. This can also be observed in the organizing of international programs, when, with no prior consultation or direction of local leaders, the organizers choose representatives based on personal acquaintance. These representatives do not command the respect of the local Christian community, resulting in poor response to the program."
Kingsley "The Western partner should verify the credibility of any agency before supporting it. It's sad to note that many Indian mission agencies are successful in soliciting funds from outside but have poor testimonies and track records within, while many sincere ministries suffer financially..."
Think: You May Be Responsible
The problems associated with giving are not only on the receiving side: the giver shares the responsibility. There is a potential immorality in giving. The danger lies in the assumption of virtue. The good intention to help can be disguised in wrong motives, such as guilt or a desire to control or be known.
The subtle, false superiority and arrogance that comes with giving results in paternalism rather than equality. Many of the problems identified in this article are the responsibility of the giver. Careless giving is like careless parenting. It can create long-term negative consequences. Informed, careful, loving giving is a great blessing and has advanced the Gospel to every country of the world.
Kingsley once said that "India, its people, and the church's mission there should not be used merely as a tool for fund-raising. Wherever the need of the land is projected, the dignity of the people and the land must not be marred. An appeal should be made to stimulate not only the emotions of Westerners, but also their minds. They need to develop a love for the people of India .
Danger: Culture Clash
Vasanth Albert, director of the Church Growth Research Center in India, tells this story: "Cross-cultural missionary work is one of the most complicated vocations. Though zeal and commitment are primary requirements, knowledge is equally important. A few years back a young man from the USA came on a short-term mission to assist a Christian organization with their computers. He paid his own way and met all the expenses for his stay and travel within India. He had strong prayer support of his home church, but did not feel the need to undergo training to equip himself to face the cross-cultural situation. Somebody wrongly guided him that Indian girls would be happy to marry an American. So he directly asked the girl who worked with him in the organization to marry him. It was done with all good intentions. But the girl, who was a Hindu convert, was deeply hurt. In India, proposals for marriages are not made directly to the girl but from one family to another.
When the incident came to the notice of others in the organization, the American was misunderstood as sexually-driven and his commitment to ministry was questioned. He had to shorten his stay and leave immediately."
Warning: Unconscious Attitude
Vasanth Albert says, "At times relationships are strained with foreigners because the technically advanced Americans look down on the Indian leaders who may lack technical expertise. I had a bitter experience of meeting a researcher (he claims) of a big denomination in the USA. He, within an hour, began to criticize a questionnaire and the way in which the data collection process was carried on by us. In other words, he questioned and rejected the collected wisdom of the Indian mission leaders. His expertise and knowledge became useless to the Indian church. With that kind of critical attitude he was not able to stay in India for a long time."
T.V. Thomas states that: "The primary role to be avoided in India is the paternalistic one that the Westerner has tended to historically play in missions. Indians have come to expect this and Westerners have had it forced on them. I believe the Westerner could surprise them by refusing to be in charge all the time, but go on and serve as an equal partner.
In his book, A Genuinely Human Existence, Stephen Neil writes: "People need to be taught how to rebel. Violent or sullen rebelliousness is useless. What is required is to learn how to be the courteous and constructive rebel after the pattern of Jesus Christ."
There is much responsible partnering between the West and South Asia than one might gather from this report. Yet many of the problems mentioned are increasing as excitement builds in America for frontier missions. Hopefully, these warning signs will be considered, by each of us, to be courteous and constructive and will help advance the Gospel to the ends of earth. Please send your comments or suggestions to MF or [email protected] Feel free to copy this article for your missions committee.