Jack, I have just read ...

Laura asked:

Jack, I have just read Revolutiuon in World Missionsby K.P. Yohannan which has given me some good realizations but also left me with a lot of questions. I grieve that Christianity and colonialism were so linked in the past (and probably still are in many ways), Yohannan "sells" (and that is definitely what it feels like) the idea of Americans sending money for indigenous missionaries to do the work of evangelism (makes a lot of sense), but how does this system avoid dependency and a different kind of colonialism?General insights into the book would be great as well.Laura

Jack Answered:

K.P. Yohannan's argument that for a fraction of what it takes to support a missionary from the developed countries, one can support many more indigenous workers is compelling, from the unique point of view of economics. However, it does raise some questions, as you have experienced. 1) First of all, we need to applaud Mr. Yohannan's vision and his heart to see the Gospel spread and churches established. May his tribe increase! 2) Also, the idea that the Church is one body and those who have more resources should share them with those who have less has merit. 3) You have placed your finger on one major issue, however, the great danger of creating dependency on the churches of wealthy countries. Dependency in itself is a profound truth - God teaches us to depend on Him. But large scale dependence on other countries easily leads people to think first of making contacts abroad rather than trusting the Lord, who may have other creative ways of meeting these needs. 4) It is interesting to note that in the first two centuries the Church grew astonishingly quickly, often in the face of terrible persecution, without modern means of communication or technology. Paul raised money for the physical needs of Christians suffering economic distress in Jerusalem, but never mentions raising money for missionaries. It would seem that he expected that the churches he founded would be involved in extending the Gospel beyond their own boundaries with their own resources. I find it instructive to read his letter to the Philippians (4:10-20) where in every verse he mentions the matter of finances and their supporting him, but in Ephesians 20, when he speaks to the Ephesian elders, he notes that through his secular job he provided for those who accompanied him. 5) All down through history the Lord has sent out missionaries who have used many and varied means to cross boundaries with the Gospel. Catholic missionaries have usually been self-supporting. John Nevius, 19th Century missionary to China, concerned about the paternalism and the creation of dependence he noticed in the work of his colleagues, put a great emphasis on self-support and propagation. The pioneer Presbyterian missionaries to Korea adopted his approach and decided to never provide money for national church buildings, pastors, or evangelists. "A vigorous church rapidly developed there which maintained an independent spirit virtually unmatched in the non-Western world" (R.V. Pierard, in J.D. Douglas (ed) Dictionary of the Christian Church. Zondervan, 1978). 6) Although supporting Western missionaries is increasingly expensive, more than money is involved. We in the West are far from perfect, but we have a lot to share from our experience that goes beyond just financing. The cross-cultural missionary also is a key link to his homeland to keep before his supporters, friends, and family the reality, needs, and blessings of the people he works among. Often the very vitality of these "new churches" brings a needed witness back to the missionary's home culture where so much of Christianity is taken for granted.

This is a much debated topic, and all missionaries have struggled with the needs they face every day and the possibility of investing directly in them financially. But the larger picture needs to be kept in mind.

Jack

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