What is the Story?
Noting Errors of Fact, Concept and Strategy
What is today called the Christian Aid Mission has an interesting history which is summed up in the Summer 2005 issue of its magazine, Christian Mission.
Bob Finley first went out as a missionary to China in 1948, the year before the Communist movement there started expelling missionaries. In 1950 he crossed paths with Bob Pierce and the two spoke to large crowds of people in Korea.
That led Bob Pierce to found World Vision in the same year, 1950. Between 1948 and 1953, the magazine explains (p. 6), many Christian leaders in Asia told Bob Finley, “It would be best for the cause of Christ if all foreign missionaries left their country.” Thus, in 1953 he founded International Students, Inc. (ISI).
During the early years of ISI Bob Finley kept quiet about the need for reformation in traditional foreign mission activities carried on by U.S. churches. Consequently he received enthusiastic support from many Christian friends … Dr. (Donald Grey) Barnhouse served on the board of directors. Others who served were Bob Jones, Jr. … Oswald J. Smith … Jack Wyrtzen … Dawson Trotman loaned staff … Billy Graham … served on the board … The goal of ISI was to reach foreign students as a new approach to foreign missions, but from day one it included helping them financially when they went back overseas as missionaries among their own people. Thus the Christian Aid division was an integral part of the total ISI ministry.
Thus far there was still little criticism of standard missions. The article goes on,
In 1960 ISI published the first of several articles pointing out the need for a reformation in the way foreign missionary work is done. Emphasis was placed on how missionary colonialism was hindering the cause of Christ throughout the world. A chorus of approval was heard from leaders of indigenous evangelical ministries overseas, but heads of traditional U.S. missions were fierce in expressing their opposition to the articles. Division and disputation resulted.
In 1970 ISI and Christian Aid divided, and Christian Aid Mission then later moved to Charlottsville, VA. By 2005, 700 different ministries were receiving some sort of help from Christian Aid, through which 90,000 “native missionaries” were being fielded. Today the rift is very clear. Christian Aid Mission and some other similar missions don’t send people but just money, loudly proclaiming that theirs is the only legitimate kind of mission, and that sending people of love and integrity is both unbiblical and harmful. Standard missions both send people, and by means of those people on-site channel lots of money and goods to overseas ministries. (They are much more likely to know to what and to whom they are giving, as well as monitoring results.)
Isolated and rejected by the standard mission agencies their shrill publications constantly denounce, Christian Aid does not seem to have learned very much since 1970. This most recent issue of their magazine clearly displays errors of fact, of concept and of strategy. It is a pity when one type of work, in order to attract donors, falls into the rut of tearing down all other types of work, but you can understand the temptation.
Errors of Fact
In the sidebar on pages 10 which quotes exactly Christian Aid’s mission statement (with their permission), the italicized text, which is highlighted in the original, has got to be one of the most completely misleading statements ever made in the history of missions. The Christian Aid statement, referring back over 50 years, says that “foreign missionaries are still not allowed in Nepal.”
The fact is that during those same 50 years the United Mission to Nepal has been an umbrella organization for dozens of standard foreign mission agencies working all over Nepal, maintaining hundreds of foreign missionaries in that country at any given time. Their love and their integrity has had enormous impact. Even the government has been willing for them to work there.
No doubt what Christian Aid has done for Nepal has been helpful, but during those 50 years well over a thousand different foreign missionaries have also been faithfully at work. Not none, as the Christian Aid statement reads. What will Christian Aid say to this? They can be counted on to point out that “what they meant” was the workers these dozens of foreign mission (“colonial”) agencies are sending into Nepal are not there under a “missionary visa.” So what? As many as half of the workers sent out by many agencies live and labor under some other kind of visa.
In any case is it at all fair to imply that “with the help of Christian Aid the number of believers has grown to more than a million”? Doesn’t this imply that the movement was all or mainly the work of Christian Aid? This is a wide departure from the facts.
Errors of Concept
Persistently in their literature is the claim that “native missionaries” whom they support already speak the language as natives. They say,
Because they already know the language and customs of their people … Native missionaries are much more effective in reaching their own people than are foreigners from a diverse culture.
It is all well and good, and perfectly normal, for believers to win their own people. This is what all foreign missionaries count on once a breakthrough occurs. But classical mission has always been bent on reaching into societies where there are not yet any Christians. Once there are believers in a society, if they are paid with foreign funds to preach the Gospel, their motives are suspect and their funding is envied.
Furthermore, if they wish to venture out of their native group to reach into another, different, unreached group, they are no longer natives and they face language and culture barriers like any other missionary would.
A little-understood fact about missions is that most of the peoples of the world are seriously alienated from groups nearby that are ethnically different. It would be much better for a Navajo evangelist to go to Norway to reach out to the Laplanders than to try to reach the Hopi who are their next-door neighbors, with whom there have been tensions for years. And, it would be much better for a Navajo evangelist to go to Norway to reach out to the Laplanders than for a Norwegian to go to their next-door neighbors, the Laplanders. It would be better for a Norwegian missionary to come to the USA to reach the Hopi Indians in Arizona than for a white citizen from Phoenix.
This is simply the way it is, and it is one of the most unavoidable obstacles in missions.
In any case, all missionaries are native in their home culture and foreign in their field culture. You are either a “native” where you are, and not a missionary but an evangelist, or you are a non-native and a “missionary” where you have gone. You can’t be both a native and a missionary. The phrase “native missionary” is a contradiction in terms.
This is a fact: if you can already speak the language and understand the culture (as those supported by Christian Aid are purported to be able to do) you are native, not a missionary. If you can’t speak the language and have to learn the culture where you are, then you are no longer a “native” in that situation, but a missionary who faces cross-cultural barriers of communication. Real, cross-cultural missionaries are not merely pastors paid to reach their own people for less money. And, if they try to reach out to a next-door neighbor group, they often face greater local prejudices and barriers of culture and communication than would a missionary from afar.
Frequently foreign missionaries soon become the most trusted people in the situation. Americans are often highly respected. Very often groups do not trust people from a group speaking differently right next to them. This is why rarely in the Middle East are the thousands of Christians (surrounded by millions of Muslims) the best ones to win those Muslims. You can understand that Christians living in minority enclaves through centuries of oppression are often the last ones even to wish that the Muslims would come to Christ, and if one here and one there does come, suspicions are so great that they may not even be allowed to enter a Christian assembly!
Errors of Strategy
It is perfectly understandable that if sending checks would be all that is necessary, it would save an enormous amount of sacrifice and heartache. No one would, humanly speaking, wish to leave family, friends, and country to labor in risk and relentless, wrenching ambiguity in a strange foreign culture. But that has had to be the case in the past wherever untouched cultures were yet to be penetrated, where you cannot simply send money to Christians who are already there.
On page 11 of Christian Mission we find,
When William Carey went from England to India as a missionary in 1792 he found no churches or native missionaries. When Bob Finley traveled throughout India in 1948, 1951, 1973, 1974, and 1975 he found thousands of Evangelical churches and tens of thousands of native missionaries. He soon came to realize that a new day had dawned in the history of missions.
What this statement does not reveal is that India is a huge continent of ethnic and cultural diversity. These thousands of churches in India (which really are there!) are 95% within only one stratum of culturally-oppressed minority peoples. Even within that oppressed minority they are a minority. Reaching all of the rest of the unfortunate people in this huge, oppressed stratum has, indeed, got to be considered a major mission challenge, but that is only part of the story.
Sending existing believers money to reach the rest of India is, thus, not by any means the only thing that has to be done. A parallel would be if the only Christians in the USA were among native Americans, that is, Navajo, Choctaw, Apache, Cherokee, etc. Suppose also that Japan was mainly Christian and Japanese believers wanted to spread the Gospel in the USA. Would it be sufficient simply to send money to Navajo believers and expect them to fan out and effectively reach the huge US population of non-Christian Caucasians? And, would it be fair to say that no other method is valid?
The phenomenal spread of the Gospel into the Roman empire in Paul’s ministry was specifically due to the fact that for hundreds of years “foreign” Jewish believers had fanned out across the empire and established maybe a thousand synagogues. Their strangeness of diet and culture did not obscure their integrity and worship of the true God, and in Paul’s day there may have been as many as a million non-Jewish “God-fearers” and “devout persons” sitting in the back rows of the synagogues. They were there because they were attracted by the integrity and clean living of the foreigners, the Jews, who had come to live among them.
Those Jews had to learn the language and the culture of their new locale. They were no doubt often misunderstood. Nevertheless, because of their physical presence thousands of Gentiles were attracted to their synagogues (such as Cornelius in the NT).
For these reasons it is painful to report, the virulent Christian Aid denunciation of any sending of missionaries is a poison spread even in mission fields themselves. One of the brightest and best “new things” in missions is the fact that all over the former mission lands the mission-planted churches have become outnumbered greatly by home-planted churches, and – great! – they are now wanting to send their own missionaries. But, Christian Aid workers are there to urge them not to do so but rather to send money to Christian Aid to send on to Christians elsewhere! You can see this illustrated in the second report on pages 13-14.
Today we see exciting growth of mission-sending vision within the former mission-field churches themselves. The Nigerian Evangelical Mission Association (NEMA, with dozens of agency members) reports that there are 500,000 pastors in that country (with the largest population in Africa). But there are still at least 100 languages in Nigeria within which there are not yet any pastors who can be paid to reach their own people (even if that were a good idea). And the next-door neighbors of these unreached groups are not necessarily the ones most likely to reach them.
The India Missions Association (IMA) is even bigger, with 199 agency members and 40,000 missionaries, the bulk of which are true cross-cultural missionaries. Christian Aid Mission would tell US donors that these two large associations are dead-wrong, and that they should send their money to Chrisian Aid.
On the other hand, if Christian Aid tells donors that they should send money to Christian Aid so that Christian Aid can then send money to such indigenous missions, they are contravening their constant message that cross-cultural missionaries from different or strange cultures are not needed or can’t do the job. Apparently it all boils down to “send money to Christian Aid,” whether you live in Central America or India or the USA.