Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Christian Missions’ Category

ICOM 2014My dad played the violin–not the fiddle, the violin. He had polio when he was ten, and, fortunately, it didn’t leave him crippled, but he could never really run again, so he couldn’t play sports like the other boys. He chose to play in the orchestra–in the high school orchestra, which was the pride of Glasco, Kansas.

When I was eight and in the third grade, my school offered free violin lessons, so, of course, I started getting out of class one or two days a week and taking violin lessons. I used my dad’s violin.

By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was the only one who was playing at my level at the Bonnie Brae Elementary School, so my weekly lessons were private lessons–and still free. Because I was pretty good for my age–maybe–my teacher would take me to other schools and we would play short programs together in their assembly, probably trying to get younger children to enroll in the free strings programs at their schools.

In the All-City Elementary school orchestra, I sat on the first row with four or five other kids, so I guess I was decent, but the perk I really liked was that because I was in the violin program, each year I was taken out of school one day with the other kids in strings to attend a special concert by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at the Will Rogers Auditorium. I knew nothing about what they played or who the composers were, but I loved the music–the huge blend of all of those different instruments: violins, violas, cellos, bass violins, oboes, bassoons–even the triangle and tympani.

How could all of those different people–maybe 40-50 players–with so many different gifts and playing so many different instruments at the same time produce a result that was so beautiful?

The word symphony comes to English from two Greek words: sun, which means “together,” and phone, which means “sound.” The word is usually translated harmony, harmonious, or harmoniously, when talking about music, but is also commonly used to mean to agree, to be of one mind, or to connect the most literal meaning with the vernacular: to be in unison.

Matthew used a derivative of symphony in chapter 18, verse 19, quoting Jesus he writes, “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth are in agreement (symphōnēsōsin) about anything whatever you may ask, it will be done for you by my Father who is in heaven.”

About five years ago, we started attending the National Missionary Convention of the Independent Christian Church/Church of Christ. Having been involved with foreign missions our whole life together, Sherrylee and I have been to many, many missions conferences and mission workshops in our branch of the Restoration Movement–and because of our direct involvement we know lots and lots of the people involved.

But just across the aisle at the NMC the first time, our most common feeling was: we don’t know anybody here!

That was five or six years ago. Last week we attended the International Conference on Missions (ICOM), which is the new name of the NMC. Over 10,000 people attended the 2-3 day event, held in the Convention Center in Columbus, OH–one of the largest single venues I’ve ever been in. One huge section of the convention center was set aside for “exhibitors,” which at most conventions means businesses which are trying to sell you something, either immediately or after you get home.

At ICOM it was different. Picture an area the size of your nearest Super Wal-Mart or Super Target–not just your neighborhood sized–and then fill that whole area with small booths, each one representing a mission effort of some kind.

There were individual missionaries, like Pino Neglia, missionary to Lecce, Italy and to Albania. We met him three years ago at his booth and in 2014, LST sent him a team to be a part of his efforts. Eric Estrada (not the movie star), missionary to Murcia, Spain, was there. We sent him three teams in 2014.

There were also plenty of mission organizations like us: Pioneer Bible Translators, Open Door Libraries, Holy Land Christian Foundation–and other businesses and organizations that support missions: transportation, security, training ministries, even fund raising ministries.

It was a symphony! So much diversity of talent and interest. Long-term, short-term, house church, mega-church, men and women, social justice and evangelism, academic and common, all these different instruments but all playing their part in the same symphony: the Missio Dei — the Mission of God!

I came home wondering why we in Churches of Christ have so much trouble playing together? Many have already spoken to this question, but one part of the answer is that we are rapidly losing our sense of together. We know the music, we know the director, but too many of us do “what is right in our own eyes,” a phrase from Judges 21:25 that introduces some of the darkest days for God’s chosen people Israel.

Our papers first created a sense of together, but we are down to one, the Christian Chronicle, and it struggles to survive. Then our lectureships held us together–but they are a shadow of what they used to be–perhaps with the exception of Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Even our song books used to keep us together, but we don’t all sing the same songs anymore!

Our symphony is not in harmony. We try to have a Global Missions Conference every three years–and we hope to have 1000 people attend. The World Missions Workshop for college students is barely hanging on to life. There are lots of small, independent gatherings for missions, nice little quartets, but where is the symphonic chorus?

After the fifth grade, I changed schools. I started attending Fort Worth Christian School, which offered no free violin lessons–so I quit playing the violin. Two years later, when FWC started a band program, I took up the trombone and played through college. My brother Gary was three years behind me in school, but that was not a big gap at FWC in those years. He and I were the whole trombone section of the band for 4-5 years. We didn’t march–we were too few; we did well just to have enough of the required instruments to play at all.

We as a fellowship have been satisfied too long with being a small non-marching band.

Jesus said he wanted a symphony.

We dare not forget how to play in harmony together.

 

About these ads

Read Full Post »

short term mission globeI moderated the four panels on short-term missions for the Global Missions Conference in October. This is a summary of the last three panels. The previous post summarizes the first panel. You can find it at the bottom of this post.  MW

 

Why and How Should Teens Do Short-Term Missions (Buster Clemens, Youth minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis, TN, and George Welty, Youth minister at White Station Church of Christ, Memphis, TN.)

The two panel members in this second session had not heard the great debate of the first session. These two ministers had at least forty years of youth ministry between them; in other words, they weren’t fresh-out-of-college youth ministers. These two guys have between them literally hundreds of kids in their programs. These guys both do at least one youth mission trip each year personally, and they help organize others for their students.

How do they feel about short-term missions?

Buster just told his story, how he was a young man with a quite predictable, successful future, then he participated in a short-term mission and it changed his life. He left the safe lane and became a youth minister, so he could help young people find what he found. One of the main ways he does this is to make sure they all have short-term mission experiences–like he did!

These guys had not read those academic studies that said short-term missions have no impact on those who participate. They have years of experience and lives of hundreds of their young people who contradict the conclusions of those studies.

They did acknowledge, however, that without proper planning and preparation, that a lot can go wrong. There is, however, no need for every church to re-invent the wheel. Many resources exist to help you evaluate your church’s teen mission program. (MW: Start with “Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Missions”   www.soe.org ).

 

Short-term Missions Opportunities in Hard Places. (Craig Altrock, LST; Tom Langley, World English Institute; Benny Baker, Mision Para Cristo)

This third panel began by confessing confusion over the topic that I had given them. What is a “hard” place? Were we talking about unreceptive places, about inaccessible places, or perhaps unsafe places. As they talked about unreceptive and inaccessible places, their message seemed clear: sometimes short-term missions are the only productive way to work in these places. I can tell you that LST was created for the unreceptive people of Germany and Western Europe, and over three decades later, what created opportunities in Germany has created the same kinds of opportunities all over the world. World English Institute is also penetrating places previously considered inaccessible.

What really captured the conversation in this session was the question of those places in the world that might be considered unsafe! Benny Baker has worked in Nicaragua for many years, and one of his main strategies has been to bring short-term teams in–lots of them–and to send them all over the country, including some places where they went with armed guards.

Our American obsession with safety (see the whole Ebola-in-America drama going on right now!) was referenced more than once. Benny argued strongly and well that safety is a solvable problem with good information. He argued that most churches, schools, and volunteers make their decisions about whether it is safe to go to Mexico or Africa or anywhere based on what they see in television.

Benny offered three good sources of information that are available to anyone wondering if it is safe to send their teens or their members–or to go themselves–to a particular spot. The first is just common sense, but the other two need to be out there where you can get to them too:

  • Pick up the phone and call the local missionary or your most trusted person at the site you are considering.
  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) – a U.S. State Department sponsored source of daily information on a global scale.   http://www.osac.gov
  • Fang Protective Services –dedicated to enhancing the safety and security of faith-based humanitarian and medical mission teams as they care for the most vulnerable members of humanity. http://www.fangprotectiveservices.org

 

Session Four: New Opportunities For Adults in Short-Term Missions (Leslee Altrock, LST; Chris Altrock, Senior Minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis)

If you thought that short-term missions were only for teens or college students, then these two panel members were prepared to change your thinking. Leslee described the great shift that Let’s Start Talking has experienced in the last few years. Once almost exclusively a college student/ summer short-term mission ministry, now LST finds itself recruiting, equipping, and sending twice as many adult church members as college students. Retired, almost retired, long retired, families on vacation, homeschoolers, teachers off in the summer–the demographic is huge of those church members who have always wanted to do mission work, but they didn’t have a vehicle. Now there are many opportunities.

Chris mentioned many of the activities of their church members that perhaps earlier wouldn’t even have been called a short-term mission. He emphasized how important these were to the local church’s outreach, both at home and abroad.

My Concluding Remarks:

  • Short-term missions are not going away any time soon–nor should we want them to.
  • There is no excuse for doing a poor short-term mission project. There are enough resources to guide you and enough people who do them right. Use them. Join them.
  • There is a short-term mission experience that every Christian can do! And they will be better for it. And the Kingdom of God will be advanced because they did it.

Read Full Post »

short term mission globeEvery three years, missions leaders among Churches of Christ stage an event called the Global Missions Conference. In size and scope it is a poor cousin to the International Conference On Missions hosted annually by the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. The smaller scale, in my opinion, is more because of greater resistance to central organizations rather than a lesser commitment to missions in Churches of Christ. A comparison of missions history between the two fellowships, however, would be a great dissertation topic for someone.

The Global Missions Conference was held October 16-18 at the Goodman Oaks Church of Christ in Southhaven, Mississippi, a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. I have not heard an official number of attendees yet, but I would guess it might be near 1000, although I suspect that many local people did not register.

I had the privilege of organizing the Short-Term Missions track for this conference, which consisted of four separate one-hour classes conducted over two days. My concept was to develop a practical topic for each session, then invite highly experienced workers in those areas to form a panel to discuss each particular topic, first among themselves and then with those who were present.

I was quite pleased with the classes, which were all well attended, so I thought I would summarize the content and share it with you as well.

Session One: The Changing Look of Short-Term Mission (Panel Members: Ken Graves–Harding University Director of Global Outreach, Dr. Bob Carpenter–Oklahoma Christian University Professor of Missions, Dr. Gary Green–Abilene Christian University Director of World Wide Witness, and Ben Langford–Oklahoma Christian University Director of Center for Global Missions.)

Without exception, all of the panel members agreed that the emphasis in short-term missions had shifted in the last two decades from evangelism to humanitarian aid/social justice. Some of them saw this shift more as cultural, while others understood it to be a theological shift. The cultural proponents held that the post-modern shift to tolerance as the highest virtue creates an environment where people are no longer willing to “judge” other people’s views, much less feel the need to “correct” them.

Those who argued for a theological shift were divided–which made for a great panel discussion. One argued that students no longer believe in Hell or Judgment Day, so there is no motivation for evangelism. (As moderator, I kept my opinions to myself and just facilitated, but this is my blog, so I’m going to insert myself here to say that I see both the cultural and theological arguments as virtually the same–and in my experience, the portrayal of the current generation of college students especially is absolutely true–sadly!)

One of the panel members, however, argued that the shift from evangelism to social justice activities was nothing to worry about, that, in fact, when we teach a poor farmer how to irrigate that we are participating in God’s plan to save the whole Creation. You’ll recognize this argument perhaps as one that younger preachers typically have juxtaposed against a type of evangelism that was only interested in the soul of a person and not the whole person. I’ve thought a lot about these comments since the conference and will share some of those thoughts with you soon–but they need to ripen a little.

Being academicians, the panel members quoted some disconcerting research that made the following claims:

  • short-term missions do not make a significant difference in the lives of participants
  • short-term missions do not produce long-term workers
  • short-term missions are not cost-effective ways of doing missions.

As I listened to them quote these results as facts, I could no longer keep quiet because not only did these results go against my whole lifetime of experience, but also against some other very good research with which I was familiar, but which was a little older than what they were quoting.

For instance, the research among young people in Churches of Christ that Dr. Carley Dodd and others published in 1995 as The Gospel According to Generation X: The Culture of Adolescent Belief found a significant correlation between a summer mission experience and the retention of faith after leaving high school. Another good example of contradictory statistics is the research published by Dr. Craig Altrock as the result of his dissertation work at Harding School of Theology as The Shaping of God’s People: One Story of How God is Shaping the North American Church Through Short-Term Missions (2007). His study of Let’s Start Talking workers , not only recent but many from years past, confirmed what we in this ministry all know anecdotally, that those who had good short-term experiences were changed significantly, both in their spiritual formation and in their spiritual activity (if one cares to create false dichotomies!)

I think I can offer a possible explanation for why current research may suggest different results from slightly older studies. First, as the whole panel has confirmed, when we examine short-term missions as a category now, we are only looking at service-oriented experiences. For a whole generation of our fellowship, the word missions refers only to caring for physical or social needs of peoples, not seeking and saving the lost.

Painting houses and digging wells, even healing the sick and loving on orphans, while most certainly the purest of Christian ministry, but if absent of the Word, could all be done by good Muslims or good Agnostics. These kinds of activities in and of themselves do not complete the Great Commission. And, if this is true, then why should we expect short-term mission activities that focus on these services to produce the same kinds of impact and results that short-term missions focused on telling the Story of Jesus have had?

And that was just the first panel! I’ll finish the report on the other three panels in the next post.

Read Full Post »

EDS Byron Nelson ClassicI always think of Byron Nelson, the legendary golfer, during this time of year. I met him eight years ago, just  weeks before he died.  But I’ll finish that story later.

Let’s Start Talking is in the middle of our biggest fund raising activity of the year. Once a year–during August and September–we have what we call our Season of Generous Giving.  Typically, we conclude this season of fund raising with the September Celebration Dinner, this year on September 25.

The activities and emotions of this season are all over the place!  We start with trepidation! Since September 30 is the end of our fiscal year, we need a successful fund raising effort to finish paying for the work that we have already done! The difference between a successful effort and a less successful effort can mean the difference for us of finishing our fiscal year with a positive or negative bank balance! So much is at stake!

But we also start with great faith that our God is rich in mercy and His people have all the resources needed for His kingdom to advance.  Most years, our prayers and efforts are richly blessed, but other years, the same prayers and often greater efforts do not result in all we thought we needed.

In this context, I was thinking about Luke 10 and  the report of Jesus sending out the 72 on their short-term mission.  “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals . . . ” (v.4).  What was he thinking about there–what was he trying to teach them?

If LST put a team on a plane to somewhere, but told them not to carry a suitcase and don’t take any money, we’d be considered irresponsible and negligent.  If a church required missionaries to go without support, they would be used as a negative illustration at every missions conference for the next decade.

So what was Jesus doing?  Teaching?

For those being sent out, perhaps he was trying to teach them total dependence on the Great Commissioner!  If they went out completely self-sufficient,  they would not learn to be content with whatever God provided.  Remember Paul’s words, a missionary who also went out with insufficient support–measured at least by today’s standards–but with absolute trust in the One who sent him: ” I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11,12)

But, if the workers had gone out with all they needed, what would those to whom they were going fail to experience or learn? This is what gave me the most pause for thought.

They would not have learned that to be asked for help is an opportunity to participate in the plan of God.  I’m always a little surprised during this Season of Generous Giving at a few people who are somehow offended when we ask them to participate  with us financially.  Some of them are perhaps like Ebenezer Scrooge and simply don’t believe in charity because they believe so strongly that they have earned and deserve everything they have!  What foolishness!

I suspect most, however, just find it awkward, and they don’t like to be put in awkward situations. Either they don’t think money is something you talk about, or they may not be able to say either Yes or No to the request without some embarrassment–and they don’t want to be embarrassed.

So should someone not hear the Gospel because you are embarrassed?  Or maybe this is a place where God can transform our thinking, to refocus us on others rather than ourselves?

They would not have learned that it is more blessed to give than to receive!  We only know that Jesus said this because the great missionary Paul told us so. It’s not recorded in the Gospels.  Those who received the 72 would not know what God would do for them if they had not offered them food, shelter, maybe money, and sandals!

What would God do to bless us if we gave to support those who are going?  I can only imagine good things–and He is able to do more than we can imagine.

They would not have learned that generosity is at the core of the message proclaimed by those who go!  Can you even imagine a person of peace saying, “Well, I totally accept the message from God that you have brought into my home, but I’m not going to give you a bed or share a meal or offer to give you an extra pair of sandals because if I do, I won’t have enough for myself.” Unthinkable!

The 72 took nothing with them because they believed that people of peace would offer them all they needed to accomplish their mission.  My experience with a lifetime in missions is that some are generous if you ask–but almost no one is offering. 

Now back to my memory of Byron Nelson.  One Sunday in August 2006, I was teaching an adult class at church, talking about LST.  After class and after the aisle had cleared, a large elderly man came toward me on his scooter.  He introduced himself to me–but I knew who he was. It was one of the greatest golfers of all times Byron Nelson.

He immediately  asked me a question which I am almost never asked: “How is your ministry doing financially?  Is there something I can do to help?”  I was literally speechless for a second,  managing finally to tell him that we were always in need of support–a pretty lame answer for such a generous question.

He invited us to come to his home that week and present our needs more particularly.  We met him and his wife Peggy, presented our need, then left them to talk and pray about it.  Within days, we received a check in the mail from the Nelsons–not for the amount that we had requested–but for TWICE AS MUCH!

Here was a man of peace who offered  without being asked and who was more generous than “required.”  He will be remembered by many for golf, but he is known by God for his faithfulness and his generosity!

Go out today–and tomorrow–and offer to support someone who needs your help to do the mission of God.  Offer without being asked–and watch that missionary’s  eyes glisten and voice crack–and know that God is smiling.

 

 

Read Full Post »

_foreignmissions2 (1)The fact that foreign missions are hard and getting harder is no excuse for God’s church to be slack in going into all the world. But it does mean that we can’t just pattern future work on the way we have done it in easier times. If your church is still choosing missionaries, supporting missionaries, and sending missionaries in the same way it did in 1960—or 1990 for that matter—then it is time to reexamine your strategy.

While every mission site will have very specific needs, let me offer to you some larger strategies that you need to think about implementing for today’s and tomorrow’s mission efforts.

We can work globally without traveling abroad! American churches have hundreds of thousands of foreign/international people living within ten miles of their church buildings!  Chinese, Bhutanese, Armenians, Vietnamese, Russians, Iraqis, Burmese, Somalis, and Cubans are currently among the most populated refugee communities in the U.S.. Then there are over 800,000 international students in American colleges and universities. Even the local community colleges have significant foreign student populations.

Our churches have begun discovering these opportunities in the last decade. FriendSpeak,a Let’s Start Talking ministry, has been training churches in organizing effective outreach programs to our international population for 25 years now, but has really seen an uptick in the demand from churches in the last ten years.

We are getting better at meeting and welcoming these people into our congregations, helping them with their basic needs (including their English skills) and sharing our faith with them.

But we are missing a great opportunity for global outreach!  If we think globally for a minute, we realize that instead of trying to get these internationals who become Christians in our ministries to become great members of our congregations, we could offer them the opportunity to return to their countries (especially international students) and to be vocational church planters and/or Bible teachers/church leaders in cities and countries that American Christians will never get to—and probably wouldn’t be that effective if we did.

I can imagine congregations large and small reaching out to their international people, some of those people becoming Christians, at which point the church starts planting missional seeds in their hearts for their own people, offers them intensive Bible training as well as church planting/leadership training, and then helps them transition back to their own country or another one until they establish themselves.  If only one-tenth of our congregations would do this, we would double the number of “missionaries” we are sending into all the world in the first wave. They would be going into corners of the world that we Americans may never get to in our lifetime.  Tt would cost only a small percentage of what it costs to send Americans to live abroad for a short number of years, and the chances of a sustained work increase greatly.

All we have to do is think globally instead of locally!

Use the resources of American churches to fund foreign national Christians as missionaries to go places that Americans can’t go!  There are Christian missionaries all over the Middle East—Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan—but most of them are not Americans!  I just had two Christian men in my office yesterday that are doing mission work in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and in Muslim parts of China—but they are not Americans!  In our recent LST project in Amman, Jordan, we heard of 150 Korean missionaries—and we met several of them—most of whom are in Jordan until they can return with their families to the Middle Eastern countries which they fled during recent turmoil.

If we want to go into all the world, we would do well to support the efforts of Christians from other countries who can go places Americans may not be welcomed to for generations!

We must become more collaborative!  Can you imagine that ten churches working together, pooling resources—prayer, influence, people, and money—to do missions in some Muslim or Buddhist country would have a greater impact than if just one church—even a megachurch—tries to do it all alone?  What if all the churches in your city took on a region or a continent—and collaborated—that means worked together—in order to bring the Good News to that part of the world?

I’m convinced that the reason we don’t know about some great mission movements in very foreign places is that we simply don’t get out of the house enough to know what other people are doing!

Our churches can remain autonomous and still be collaborative. Big mission agencies are not the answer; a loving and trusting spirit is what we must learn in order to collaborate.

We need to send Christians to do what only Christians can do! This is just a choice churches make.  We can send 20 people to build a church building in Central America, have a great “mission” experience ourselves, but spend twice as much money getting there as it would have cost to pay a local company to build it. So we have really served ourselves more than we have served the local community.

Muslims do a tremendous amount of charity work all over the Muslim world.  How is our Christian hospital going to be different from the Muslim hospital in the next town?  How is our Christian orphanage going to be different from the Muslim orphanage in the next village?

It is not that we don’t need to bring relief and physical healing to those in need—quite the contrary!  But we MUST remember that “faith comes by hearing the word of God.” We must intentionally plan the communication of the story of Jesus into our humanitarian efforts, or we have done nothing more than what non-Christians could have also done for these people.

And, finally, we need to engender a spirit of fearlessness in our young people and then let them go to places that we are afraid of!  I’m a little embarrassed that the worker in China had to tell us to quit sending our teams with so many “safety” instructions because they were sharing them with the Chinese Christians and making the Chinese afraid to share their faith openly. I had a similar sense in Jordan when American Christians talked about our “bravery” but it was a very safe country to be in; it is those Korean Christians who worked in Syria and Egypt and Iraq who were brave! We’ve got to be strong and courageous and not afraid! And if we can’t do that, then we need to teach our children and grandchildren not to be afraid.  We better resurrect the old hymn Anywhere With Jesus I Can Safely Go if we want to go into all the world!

God has not given us a task that we cannot accomplish!  Let’s prayerfully grow into being a church of great wisdom and courage. That’s how we become missional!

Read Full Post »

_foreignmissions2 (1)In Part One of this blog, I reviewed briefly our history of foreign missions in churches of Christ and then listed characteristics of our efforts, which were

  • We only have the stamina for harvesting, not for planting and nurturing.
  • We believe we should be able to work everywhere else in the world cheaper than in the U.S. 
  • Our mission work is dependent on how many self-motivated missionaries surface in our fellowship as opposed to a strategic global vision.
  • We are not by nature collaborative.
  • Our missionaries tend to be “lone rangers! 
  • We have been and are still too often negligent in carry for missionaries on the field, but especially when they return.

Click here, if you would like to review the comments that went with these points.

 

I suggested at the end of the last post that these particular characteristics would not serve us well going into the near future of foreign missions, so in order to become more effective in carrying the Gospel to the whole world, we are going to have to work differently.  In this and the next post, we will explore these two ideas.

Churches of Christ are represented in a little over 90 of the 196 independent countries of the world with probably around 1000 American workers outside of the United States. We have a lot of work to do—and the challenge of world evangelism is growing. Let me outline why I say that:

  • Americans are less well-liked in the world. After WWII, Americans were welcomed as defenders of liberty. Even into the 60s (our second big wave of mission efforts), Americans were relatively popular because we had defended the world against Communism. That glow was slightly tarnished by Vietnam, but re-polished in most parts of the world through the Reagan era and the collapse of the Soviet Union (another big Mission Wave).  Most of that global popularity has been lost.  Look at this map, charting those who have a favorable view toward the U.S.

worldmap

What you see in dark blue are those countries who like us. Even the other bluish countries have fewer than 50% positive responses.

My point is not about U.S. politics and its participation in the global community, rather that being an American abroad is, at best, no great advantage and, at worst, can be outright dangerous—none of which is really good for the future of foreign missions from the U.S..

  • The world is now urban and becoming increasingly more so!  In 1900 there were only 12 cities of 1 million population or more, but these 12 became 400 by the year 2000. You probably aren’t surprised that Singapore is 89% urban, but Congo is 41%–that’s surprising!  Forty cities in the world boast populations of 5 million plus—and 80% of those are in poor countries, so it is not just the industrialized world where the flight to cities is dramatically changing the landscape.

We Americans have had good rural churches, and now we have good suburban churches, but urban churches are a challenge we have not yet figured out at home, much        less abroad.  Global urbanization is making missions more challenging for us.

  • Poorer countries are getting wealthier. (“The Whole World Is Getting Richer, and That’s Good News,” Charles Kenny, Bloomberg Businessweek, July 29, 2013).  Just ask Google if poor countries are getting richer and look at all the evidence.   If we accept this as true, then here are my conclusions for foreign missions:

o   There are no cheap places in the world to go!! The most expensive city for expatriates in the world is Luanda, Angola—did you expect that? Number four is N’Djamena in Chad. New York City is #32 and the only U.S. city in the top 50!

o   If poorer countries (like African countries) are getting more urban and wealthier, then they are going to be less and less impressed by our humanitarian approach to foreign missions.

To summarize, globally speaking, the people that US–sent missionaries would want to approach view Americans less favorably, they are typically living in very large cities with costs that Americans can hardly afford to live in, and even the poorer places are climbing out of poverty and need our benevolence and services less and less.

These are the challenges in foreign missions for churches of Christ in the near future.

 

Read Full Post »

_foreignmissions2 (1)Although some American churches sent missionaries to foreign countries before World War II, most foreign church planting efforts have occurred since the end of that war. Just like the persecution in Jerusalem forced the first Jesus-followers to scatter throughout Samaria and Judea, the world-wide deployment of American military pushed Christians en masse, both military and civilian, into all the world—and they took the Good News with them.

During the 1950s, U.S. churches of Christ focused on Western Europe and Japan. The focus shifted in the 1960s to Latin America, especially Brazil. We were turning inward again in the 70s and 80s, but the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, followed by the opening of Eastern Europe, once again generated a strong wave of missions from U.S. churches. China is the current hotspot; Africa is always a missions magnet.

I started personally at the end of the 60s, worked with the European guys from the fifties, and have been involved in all of these mission moments since, which is where the following generalizations about our mission work come from:

  • We only have the stamina for harvesting, not for planting and nurturing. If we can’t plow, plant, water and harvest in five years, we look for more receptive fields. When receptive fields get tougher—and they all do–, our money and missionaries go home.
  • We believe we should be able to work everywhere else in the world cheaper than in the U.S.  Very few churches will pay their missionary more than what their local preacher makes—regardless of the cost of living in both countries.
  • Our mission work is dependent on how many self-motivated missionaries surface in our fellowship as opposed to a strategic global vision. Our churches support those who knock on their doors, rather than searching for the right people to send to fulfill their strategic vision for some place or part of the world!
  • We are not by nature collaborative. I have been to relatively small Eastern European cities where two missionaries arrived to work, neither of them knowing that the other had plans to work there.  I have seen mission teams go to cities to plant a new church where there were existing national churches who did not even know they were coming. I have been at missions conferences when American churches in the same city discover that their neighboring church was trying to start a new work in the same mission point where the first church had been planning to send a new missionary.
  • Our missionaries tend to be “lone rangers! We believe in mission teams and almost always send multiple people to new works, but before these teams reach the five-year mark, most of the groups have dwindled to one couple!  Most of our long-term mission work that extends longer than five years is done by a lone person or family—who have a true spiritual gift for working alone.
  • Although the importance of missionary care is rising, thanks primarily to Missions Resource Network, we have been and are still too often negligent in carry for missionaries on the field, but especially when they return.

Admitting to these characteristics of our mission efforts together is important as we go into the future and think about the extraordinarily challenging task of going into all the world with the Good News of Jesus.

I want to continue this post by talking about the world that our future mission efforts must address and why the above characteristics will not serve us well going into that future; however, I do believe that with a new perspective, we can expect to be more successful and bring more glory to God.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,924 other followers

%d bloggers like this: