The Rising Sun of Non-Western Missionaries

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For the non-Western church, the sun is rising in the world of missions. More and more countries outside the West are sending more and more missionaries to other nations.

The Global church’s composition is increasingly from the South and East. This isn’t a new phenomenon. “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity” by Philip Jenkins was written in 2002. Now seventeen years of globalization and technological advancements later, the Christian center of power is very nearly tipped in a different direction. By the year 2025, 50% of the world’s Christians will be living in South America, Africa, and Eastern Asia. This has a profound effect on the future of missiology.

For many American Christians, the word “missionary” refers to people from the US sent to places throughout the world to evangelize and disciple others about Jesus. The sun is setting on this multi-generational wave of cross-cultural workers.

The Western church is in atrophy. In the United States, the statistics of the raising Christian generation are increasingly bleak. Barna states 50% of Christian Millennials believe evangelism is wrong. He also states only 4% of eighteen-year-olds have a biblical world view (that the Bible is essentially true and carries relevant authority for life). In “The Great Opportunity”, the Pinetops Foundation predicts the church will lose one million high school graduates a year for the next thirty years. Short Term Missions as a movement is down 50% in the last five years. If the sun is rising on non-Western missions, dusk is at hand for the West after one hundred plus years of leading the globe in sending missionaries.

Harvey C. Kwinyani, an African missionary to several Western countries, published “Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West” in 2014. In this book, he sets forth the history and future of the effect of Africans in the West.

As a valuable asset for Africans ministering in the West, Kwinyani cites the cultural construct of Ubuntu. This is the traditional African view of the existential proposition  “I am because we are” as opposed to the Western/Greek “I think therefore I am.” Ubuntu lends itself to breaking down barriers of culture, race, and creed to build relationships of love and acceptance. Thus love becomes the vehicle of the future for sharing the Gospel. This approach contrasts the past colonial emphasis on doctrine and “the correct behavior.”  In my view, Ubuntu is exactly what a depressed, anxious, hurt, cynical and secular generation in the West needs to experience.

As a hindrance to Africans ministering in the West, Kwinyani recognizes areas where the Western (particularly American) church is not ready to receive instruction from Africans. Sadly, a measure of the arrogance permeating colonialism still exists in much of our conscious efforts and sub-conscious responses to a perceived need. This arrogance is apparent in much of our attitude toward missiology in 2019. Kwinyani states, “The problem on our hands is the relationship between power, race, and the Missio Dei.” The white American church still has the money (power) and the internal attitude (race-related) that “we” are needed to help (guide and drive) the mission.

As a practitioner in the world of Missions and Africa, I live the realities of cross-cultural relationships, relational issues of power/distance, and consistent frustrations vis-a-vi planning and vision for the future. Because of these realities, I take a hopeful but sober approach to the proposition of seeing Africans mobilized.

If the future missionary endeavor resides in non-Western Christianity, the missiological strategy is to mobilize this new army to re-evangelize the West. It won’t be easy. Does the Western church have a role in God’s plan for mobilizing this growing army across the globe? What are the most helpful approaches?

I’m ready to take action. What advice do you have for me?

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Great perspective here, and one that I have been thinking through a lot lately.
    As Christianity has become less “western”, it’s interesting that cultural “forms” of Christianity are still being propagated by an increasing minority. As Christianity develops a new global center, I wonder what it will take for western churches and missionaries to hold more loosely the culture they attribute to the expressions of their Christianity.

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  2. Lovely article Scott. You are raising very important issues that many are grappling with in the Mission World. There is a lot of shift as evidenced by all the statistics you are giving above. But what are the implications of this to the church in the West? It would be of great help if the church in the West could still be a blessing to the growing Missions force in Africa and still not want control. As James Forllins put it “we all have abundance and lack”. Africa has an abundance of personnel but lack the necessary resources to see the task completed. On the other hand the West has abundance of resources but the numbers coming to Missions have dropped. If we can all share our “abundances” with each other we will be able to make an even greater impact especially among UPGs.
    There is still a huge need for Experienced Missionaries from the West to Mentor and encourage Africans as they start playing a more bigger role in the Missio Dei. There is also still a need for many Missionaries to be supported financially and that is a role many in the role can play. As the Sun rises for Non Western Missionaries many more from the Western are also still needed. The task is still huge after all.

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    1. Thanks for your comments Tshepang. I will write more about what you are talking about – serving versus leading as well as the nature of a true partnership. I would love to hear more from you – if you would like to share more perspectives to share and post as a guest writer on the blog. Also, please share this with others in your network so we can indeed learn from each other’s abundance and address each others lack.

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      1. Thanks Scott. You are really raising very important issues and really looking forward to the upcoming blogs. I would be happy to share in the future. Blessings

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