Christian Missions among The World's Suffering Masses
Abilene Christian University Abilene, Texas
Are the devastation and destruction in Burundi and Bosnia anomalies or is such bloodshed becoming a regular feature of life on earth? What is the future of Christian missions in the face of such agony? What kind of world will missionaries enter over the next fifty years? Will we be caught by surprise or should we prepare for missions among the suffering? Scholars are beginning to see the dawning of just such a new era.
"To understand the events of the next fifty years, then, one must understand environmental scarcity, cultural and racial clash, geographic destiny, and the transformation of war. The order in which I have named these is not accidental. Each concept except the first relies partly on the one or ones before it, meaning that the last-two-new approaches to mapmaking and to warfare--are the most important. They are also the least understood" (Kaplin 1994:54).
These words are from a very thought provoking article, "The Coming Anarchy," Atlantic Monthly, February (1994). It spawned many discussions by scholars in Political Science, Anthropology and Communications. It has much to say to missionaries who enter the least evangelized people groups and urban centers of the world. Kaplin paints a believable picture of a violent and troubled future about which many experts concur.
Over the next fifty years, the world population will increase from 5.5 billion to 11 billion. Most of this growth will happen in the least evangelized countries. Kaplin observes that nations with the highest growth rates have the poorest infrastructure to deal with the social and physical demands that are already part of life. This continued growth makes their future extremely risky. Donor countries and agencies are already beginning to pull out. Kaplin predicts that increased famine and joblessness will erupt into violence.
There are presently more racial clashes taking place on this planet than ever before. As governments find it increasingly difficult to rule their countries, the divisions will occur along ethnic lines, the slaughter will increase. Many of these clashes will culminate in the formation of new countries, scores of them. The obvious solution that Christians bring to such situations is Good News from the Prince of Peace. There are some hurdles that will not be easy to surmount as the servants of the Prince go into an increasingly precarious world.
At present very little training is available to prepare prospective missionaries for service in areas where there are above average security risks. Jesus lived with the risk of riots. Ultimately he was arrested and put to death. He cried out to God to deliver him, but he never abandoned his mission. He knew why he was on earth and what was at stake. Mission needs to be viewed as worth the ultimate sacrifice so that others can live.
For years we have advised missionaries not to become involved in politics. That is still good advice. What alternative teachings and actions should missionaries take when they find themselves working among people who are vying for independence or fighting another ethnic group?
There is no need for missionaries to enter danger zones without some appropriate understanding and preparation. There are steps that can be taken to train missionaries for the possibility of being kidnapped or caught in the crossfire. There are Christians who specialize in hostage negotiation for international business people. They need to speak to prospective missionaries and supporting congregations. Spiritual and emotional training needs to include coping with danger.
Even if the missionaries never find themselves in life threatening circumstances, they will most likely find themselves among the world's poorest people. Formerly there were numerous mission opportunities among receptive people in conditions that were not terribly unpleasant for the cross-cultural worker. In such areas good works have been initiated. Several are completely under the direction of national leadership. Some receptive rural areas and urban centers have similar environments. However, the majority of other situations present greater challenges.
In Africa, the areas that are primarily unreached fall into at least one of three categories. Many of them in the northwestern section of the continent are predominantly Moslem. A great number are in the non-English speaking countries. Finally, the unreached are predominantly in countries where there is a high degree of human suffering. Many unreached people fall into all three categories.
The countries that are located in the 10X40 window are the least evangelized on the planet. When we view the 10x40 window, we are looking at countries in all three of the above categories. Only a few of them are African. Some are Asian and others are Middle Eastern. According to Global Mapping, fifty-eight percent or 2.8 billion people live with high human suffering (Jansen 1989:88). Will missionaries take on the challenge of entering these countries?
We must challenge and prepare mission candidates, from both developed and developing countries, to enter these difficult areas. Many nationals from developing countries will find it easier to make the adjustments, but it will not come without sacrifice for them either. The basic principles of church planting and nurturing will probably withstand the changing world, but the theology and lifestyle of Western missionaries will require careful evaluation.
North Americans must be deeply rooted in the sovereign God. Flashy cars, new movies and huge shopping malls surround them. Will they leave these behind. K. P. Yohannan sees the Western church as a multi-billion dollar business. In a religious periodical, he observed "ads for twenty-one Christian colleges, seminaries and correspondence courses; five different English translations of the Bible; seven conferences and retreats; five new Christian films; seven Christian health or diet programs; five fund-raising services" (Johannan 1993:61).
The affluence of the church is beginning to erode her ability to send missionaries to the suffering.
Our Lord purposely put himself at risk ministering to the poor. He overturned the tables of the money changers and stood before the rulers and said, "you can do nothing except what God lets you do." He spent very little time among the moneyed minority. In fact, he testified that his father had sent him, "to preach good news to the poor."
In contrast to the plight of the poor, for almost a decade, there has been an enormous escalation in the amount of funds missionaries raise. This allows them to live in houses with electricity, running water, and other luxuries while their neighbors huddle in clapboard shacks and crowded apartments. As countries are unable to provide sufficient food, clean water, shelter, and security, missionaries must adjust their lifestyle if they are to remain a witness of the Lord's presence among the poor.
The challenges are great, but so is our Lord. Where will the adjustments come in missions during the next fifty years? The Journal of Applied Missiology would like to read your thoughts.
Jansen, Frank Kaleb
1989 Target Earth, Pasadena, California: Global Mapping Incorporated.
Johannan, K. P.
1993 Revolution in World Missions, Altamodte Springs, Florida: Creation House.
Kaplin, Robert P.
1994 "The Coming Anarchy", Atlantic Monthly, February.