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!