By Peter Maiden
Peter served as International Director of Operation Mobilisation (OM) for ten years. Here Peter shares why today’s world of mission is radically different.
Peter served as International Director of Operation Mobilisation (OM) for ten years.
A professional soccer player gives up his career to go to the Muslim world, using his skills to engage young people and share Christ with them. A Christian businessman in the UK invests in a pancake house run by two mission workers, who live among an unreached people group. Business visas enable them to stay in the country. The honest way they run the business witnesses to their Kingdom values and opportunities to share the gospel soon follow. Christian leaders appear before MPs in parliament and senators in Washington, appealing for recognition of and respect for the human rights of the Dalits of India, among whom they minister.
“Soccer, business and law were not my understanding of mission as a child.”
I still recall an occasion when we were on the station platform with a missionary couple and one of their children. They were leaving for a country I had not heard of. Their other child would stay behind with his grandparents, as his educational needs could not be met in the country they were going to. They were not expected back for at least four years.
Mission in those days involved servants of God, almost exclusively from the Western world, going long-term to non-Western nations proclaiming the good news. The main areas of ministry were proclamation evangelism, educational and medical work.
Mission Involvement in the 21st Century
Today’s world of mission is radically different. A great deal of that is attributable to the success of those faithful men and women. God’s blessing on their work has been clearly evident in the nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Churches have been planted and now they have become mission-sending churches. The map of missions has been transformed. When I began my work with Operation Mobilisation (OM) in the early 1970s, most workers were from Western nations. Today the Africans, Asians and Latins have joined the West in number. It is a global missions force.
This is true of the mission’s force as a whole. Andrew Walls has written of ‘The massive southward shift of the centre of gravity of the Christian world.’ Not only is the church strong in many of these nations of the global south, the mission force is also growing.
Take China as an example. When the communists took power, it is estimated that there were about 700,000 Protestants and 3-4 million Roman Catholics in the country. By 1953, almost all foreign mission workers had been expelled. Paul Hattaway wrote,
“…reading mission newsletters and magazines from the early 50s, it’s clear that few of the expelled missionaries could see the hand of God anywhere in their bitter experience. Most believed their expulsion was a victory for the Devil and many lamented the death of the Chinese church.”
Today, the estimate of the total number of Christians in China varies, but Paul Hattaway believes that a figure of between 80 and 100 million Protestants is realistic and up to 12 million Roman Catholics. The Chinese church leaders see the gospel as having spread west from Jerusalem to them in China. There is now a passionate, dynamic conviction among Chinese church leaders that they must continue this westward and southern spread of the gospel, establishing Christ’s Kingdom in all the remaining countries and people groups of Asia, the Middle East and Islamic North Africa.
One of the results of all of this, is what has become known as reverse mission. It is a phenomenon sufficiently extensive for a BBC documentary to have been made about it. Those nations to which mission workers were going when I was a child are now sending workers to the nations from which the missionaries came to bring them the gospel. For example, it has been a very moving experience for me to be in a mission prayer meeting in South Korea listening to Christians praying for secular Europe and asking God to send mission workers from their land to our continent. The mobility of people in recent decades means that we have people from many of the lands to which missionaries traditionally went, now living here in the UK. What a privilege it is to have mission workers from these nations helping us to reach their people now living here. However, it is more than that. These new missionaries have a fervent passion to reach the indigenous people of the UK with the gospel. And don’t we need their help?
So, the mission’s force has changed and therefore the practice of mission has changed. Short-term mission, for example, is now a significant part of the total mission contribution of the church. Fifty years ago, short-term mission would have been suspect. How could this compare with the sacrifice of those who gave up everything to go? Could short-termers really contribute, or is this mission tourism? Today, most of the mission societies have a short term programme. The contribution short-termers can make as part of their long term mission’s strategy is widely recognised and, of course, many who come for a short term return for a longer period of service.
Fifty years ago, if you had chosen to go and work as a Christian in the oil fields of a Muslim nation, to show by word and deed the love of Christ, you would not have been recognised as a mission worker. Today, the non-professional mission force, or ‘tent makers’, as they are known, are making a recognised and significant contribution to the mission task.
Holistic is the Word!
A holistic approach is not new. As I said previously, many of the earlier mission workers ministered to the bodies and minds of those they went to, as well as bringing the good news. Today, people are using their gifts, whether in art, business or sports, to minister to the whole person and impact the communities in which they live. The conviction today is that whatever your gifts, skills and experience, God can use them in mission, somewhere in His world.
So, no more standing on platforms and waving goodbye to long-term missionaries? I certainly hope there will be many more such partings! There are some extreme ideas floating around the church, which are very damaging to the cause of mission. One such idea, is that the day of the missionary, certainly the Western mission worker, is over. How can we begin to believe that, when almost 7,000 of the world’s people groups remain unreached? In at least 60 nations of the world, the church is just not strong enough to reach their own people. We need a new army of people willing to give many years to learn a language and study a culture, to bring the good news appropriately in that culture. Some argue that this should no longer be the province of the Western church. It is far less expensive to send mission workers from non-Western nations. No, this is the responsibility of the whole Church. We must encourage and, where appropriate, help those from non-Western nations to do this, but let us never neglect our responsibility.
It is the beauty of mission today. The whole Church, taking the whole gospel to all the peoples of the world – a global privilege and responsibility in mission.