Mission FROM: A Needed Paradigm in North American Missions
Two hundred years ago this week the first North American Protestant missionaries left the United States and were sent to the world.Their courageous example paved the way for the last two centuries of American involvement in the Great Commission. Remembering this anniversary allows us to celebrate how far we’ve come, but also honestly assess how far we have yet to go.
Mission TO: The Three Eras
The history of North American Protestant missions has been told via the structure of three eras: to the Coastlands, to the Interior, and to Unreached Peoples. Ralph Winter’s article from the Perspectives course, “Four Men, Three Eras, Two Transitions: Modern Missions“, is a great introduction. This is a common way to understand the last 200+ years of Western Protestant Missions. (I choose these modifiers purposefully. Missions has been occurring since Christ, including by Catholics, the Orthodox Church, and others. Another post for another time.)
Reading the history of great men of faith such as William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Cameron Townsend, and Donald McGavran reveals their desire that no person be without a chance to hear the gospel. For Carey it was the non-European world, for Taylor the millions who did not live on the coast, for Townsend and McGavran it was people who were socially and linguistically isolated from the gospel even though not geographically. Their example of continually pushing the church forward to new fields should be celebrated and emulated.
As you can see, the structure of the “Three Eras” fundamentally views missions from the perspective of the recipients. Who are we going TO? TO the coastlands? TO the interiors? TO unreached peoples? While this “TO” paradigm is helpful, I think it blinds us to some of the changes needed to see the fulfillment of the Great Commission in our generation.
Mission FROM: A New Paradigm
For all our focus on who we are going TO, we’ve all but ignored a question just as important, “Who is the gospel coming FROM?”. In our desire to go to the world we have created a movement that fails to help all Americans be a part. Many have been left out.
Did you know that African Americans make up ~12% of the U.S. population, but less than 1% of the American missionary force to the world? #fb
— Tiffany Robbins (@TiffRobb) October 11, 2010
While our passion to get the gospel message within reach of all peoples is to be commended, we’ve made a critical mistake. We’ve setup systems and structures to recruit and mobilize primarily only from the Caucasian community in the United States. Think about it, when you see a missions magazine or promotional materials from an agency, what ethnicity are the missionaries in the pictures? Rarely are they non-White. Look at the websites of various organizations, what ethnicity are their presidents or board of directors? (Of course God desires to use Caucasians in ministry, don’t misunderstand. I’m simply pointing out that there are few ethnic minorities involved in missions domestically or internationally. Far too few.)
I can count all the American Hispanic missionaries serving on the field for more than a decade on just two hands. — a presenter at a recent COMHINA conference
What does this say about us as a North Atlantic missions movement, that in order to participate globally in the Great Commission you have to be part of the ethnic majority? What does this say to the people we travel overseas to reach? If the medium is the message, what are we communicating?
How much more powerful would our message be if all types of people were involved in sharing it? Imagine Hispanic teams, Asian-American teams, and African-American teams serving all around the globe bringing light to a dark world. Imagine multiethnic teams ministering in a world that is increasingly globalized. This is the gospel. (These types of teams do occur now, but far too rarely.) This is a paradigm we need to think of when we look back at the history of missions.
Achieving this vision will take enormous amounts of hard work. For 200 years we’ve put systems in place that send mainly majority culture missionaries to the world. These systems need to be adapted. We’ve got to rethink everything from the ground up. Some things we’ll keep, others will have to be reinvented.
We’ll have to take an honest look at our application processes, our support raising strategies, our recruitment tactics. How we do team care and conflict resolution will need to change. These have all been built to mobilize majority culture missionaries, but for the most part they’ve missed everyone else. Ethnic minorities have rarely been platformed and empowered in American missions. We’ve left out those people closest to us as we’ve tried to care for others around the world. If we’re truly serious about a including a new mission model of FROM, how we care for our nearest neighbor becomes just as important as getting the gospel to our farthest neighbor (quote from @destinokristy by Orlando Costas).
Mission FROM Everyone TO Everywhere: Creating a New Era Together
We don’t have to replace the old model of “Missions TO”. It has served us well as we think about how to get the gospel to everyone. But we do need to add to it. Mission must now be thought of in terms of both TO and FROM. This is what theologian Samuel Escobar has called, “The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone“.
We’ve begun to understand this concept at a global level. Koreans are active around the world. The Chinese church has a vision to take the gospel back to Jerusalem. While we’ve comprehended the idea that every nation has a role to play in missions, we’ve missed helping every ethnic group in America take part. Reaching every people group is not enough. We must send every ethnos.
I want to be a part of a new era of American missions. One that empowers all people to be a part of the Great Commission. One that develops systems and structures that serve everyone: men and women, members of the majority and minority culture, young and old. An era that lives out the truth of the gospel: the coming of Jesus Christ is good news for all peoples, from all peoples.
This vision motivates me to be a part of sending waves of Latino missionaries all over the world. I want to see them lead the way in some of the most difficult places on earth. The gospel hasn’t come to complete fruition until this happens.
Will you join with me in creating this new era of American missions? It is going to be hard work. For 200 years it hasn’t been done. But that’s exactly the place that I want to be. There’s the tension of excitement and disappointment, joy and frustration, future hope and current reality when ministering on the cutting edge. But most of all there is faith, because without it the good news won’t go forward. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
photo courtesy: walkingsf