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In recent years, there has been a trend for some missions supporters and churches in the West to move away from sending their own missionaries in favor of supporting “native missionaries.” The logic goes something like this: “Why pay $60,000/year or more to support a family of American missionaries who will struggle to learn language and culture when you can support a native missionary who knows the language and culture already for $50/month?” At first glance this seems like a great idea. And in some places it might be. But there are other factors at play when deciding to support a missionary from your home country or someone more “local.”
The historical, cultural, religious, and economic situation varies greatly from country to county and not all non-Western nations can be lumped together when evaluating whether foreign missionaries are still need. In this post, I want to look at several questions that can help us evaluate whether missionaries are really needed (or wanted) in a given location. I will use Thailand as a case study since it is the context that I am most familiar with.
One of the various projects that I am involved in is the Thai Missions Digital Library. The library is located at www.thaimissions.info and includes a ton of books, theses, dissertation, articles, blogs, maps, and weblinks about doing missions in Thailand. Everything on the site is on PDF and free for download.
If you haven't checked out the Thai Missions Library yet, watch this short video showing you how to use it and what's there. If you have any questions, Erwin Kint and I are in charge of collecting and cataloging articles and social media, and Dwight Martin at Biblionics in Chiang Mai handles the technical website end of things.
If you don't see a video above, click here to watch it on YouTube
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Today I asked the students in my world missions class if their home churches send out missionaries. They looked at each other, then looked at me and said, “Uh, no.” Granted, my class was only 13 students but from what I have observed in Thai churches, sending out cross-cultural missionaries is on nobody’s priority list. Thankfully, there are some Thai missionaries. Unfortunately, I can count all of them on one hand. Why is this? Why is it that a country that has received thousands of missionaries over the years hardly sends out any of its own?
reviewed by Jackson Wu
David Garrison, Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World. Midlothian, VA: Wigtake, 2004.
David Garrison’s Church Planting Movements examines many of the common features and practices that have led hundreds of thousands of people across the world to profess a faith in Jesus. In the book, he characterizes a CPM (“Church Planting Movements”), as “. . . a rapid multiplication of indigenous church planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment” (21). More than a mere study, the book’s triumphal tone conveys the intention to promote the idea that right vision and methodology make this God-sized work not only possible but perhaps even probable since, it is implied, CPMs are “God’s ideal” (297).
Positively, Garrison recounts a number of characteristics that have shaped CPMs across diverse cultures outside the Western world. Although resembling one another, he helpfully distinguishes CPM thinking from the Church Growth Movement (24–25). Accordingly, readers can better sort out what is empirically and theoretically descriptive of CPMs versus other kinds of methodologies. One strength of the book is that it offers a range of anecdotes from around the globe that represent the type of strategies and responses people have had where mass movements have taken place. Therefore, missiologists can assess the patterns that emerge since CPMs essentially act as large sample cases.
It is often said that missionaries destroy native cultures. In light of that claim, I find it very significant that Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi takes a positive view of missionaries in her country. In fact, she spends quite a bit of time in the following video singing the praises of Adoniram JudsonIn sum, she says that American missionaries (especially Judson) did a lot of good for Burma in terms of education, medicine and preserving Burmese culture. Judson wrote the first Burmese-English dictionary, and the first college in Burma was named Judson College. The difference between Baptist and Catholic schools in Burma is that American Baptists sought to preserve Burmese culture in their schools. Students wore Burmese dress, retained their Burmese names, and the schools preserved Burmese manners so that their graduates were considered proper, well educated, and aware of Burmese manners of courtesy. In addition to education, missionaries helped Burma in the area of medicine, in particular she mentions a Seventh Day Adventist Hospital as the best and most well-known after Burma gained independence.
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When Adoniram and Ann Judson set sail for India in 1812, they had no idea of the hardship that lay ahead of them. After being denied access to India, they sailed to Burma. On the way there, their first child was born on the ship. He was stillborn and buried at sea. Their second child, Roger, was born in Burma. He died before his second birthday. Their third child, Maria, was born while Adoniram was being held in a Burmese death prison under suspicion of being a British spy. After he was released to interpret between the British and the Burmese, his wife Ann died, and two months later baby Maria followed her to the grave. Adoniram poured himself into his translation work to drown the pain, but eventually fled to the jungle to live as a recluse, contemplating death. But he did not go over the brink. God returned him to useful service in Bible translation and itinerant evangelism, keeping him faithful to the end. What kept Adoniram and Ann going in the midst of such hardship and repeated devastating loss? Why did they not go crazy under the pressure and grief like Dorothy Carey did?
Contest is now over. The two winners have been notified via email. Thank you to everyone who participated!
I love getting good resources into the hands of people who can use them so I am running a missions books giveaway for three quality missions books. I will select two winners from everyone who enters and each person will receive a set of these three books.“Help, My Halo is Slipping” by Larry DinkinsExtremely readable little book (about 100 pages) about Larry Dinkins and his family’s life as new missionaries in Thailand in the 1980s. Things in Thailand have changed somewhat in the thirty years since this was written, but it still gives a very good picture of life on the mission field, especially in Thailand. (Larry has written a number of guest posts on my blog, which you can see here)
guest post by Johan LinderWhen I applied to become a missionary to unreached people groups, I never thought that I would be doing that work in my home town. My wife and I worked in Thailand for 14 years among Thai Buddhist people, both in a country town and in the capital city of Bangkok. We learned the language, lived among the people and adapted to many aspects of Thai culture. When we needed to return 4 years ago I expected that our time of reaching out to the Thai had come to an end. That was until I discovered that in my home city there are over 30,000 Thai people, and I saw that there was great potential to reach out to them. So when I returned home I teamed up with other Christians who were keen on reaching out to the Thai expats in Sydney. We taught English classes, went on outings together, organized parties and get-togethers. It was not long before some of the Thai responded to Christ and gave their lives to him. At this point we decided to start a Thai Christian Fellowship on Monday evenings to disciple and encourage these new believers, as well as other Thai people who were already followers of Jesus. It has been a privilege and a joy to continue on from the ministry we had over many years in Thailand.
reviewed by Karl DahlfredAre worship and mission doomed to be in never-ending competition for the time and resources of the church? Must we choose between looking inward and looking outward? In “Worship and Mission After Christendom”, Alan and Eleanor Kreider give a resounding “NO”, pointing readers to a third way of looking at the relationship between worship and mission in light of the demise of Christendom in the West.
Raised on the mission field in Asia, Alan and Eleanor Kreider served as Mennonite missionary teachers in England for thirty years before returning to the United States, where they continue their work teaching, speaking and writing about issues of worship, church history, and peace making. In “Worship and Mission After Christendom”, the Kreiders bring together the results of their studies in these areas, together with personal experience to present an alternative vision of the relationship between worship and mission.
As people move around the globe like never before, there are unprecedented opportunities to share the Gospel. Many new immigrants to the West are from Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and other non-Christian backgrounds. Some of them speak English well. Some don’t. How will they hear the Gospel?One solution is diaspora ministry. The term “diaspora” is used by many missionaries to refer to people from traditional missionary-receiving nations who now live in traditional missionary-sending nations. So that means reaching out to Thai people in Sydney, and Chinese in Munich. Missionaries working in diaspora ministries are often those who had been “out there” on the mission field, working with XYZ people group, but have had to return to their home country. They still have a burden to see XYZ people know Christ, so they do diaspora ministry to reach out to XYZ people living in their home country. But, as you might imagine, the problem is that there are not enough diaspora workers to go around.
John Piper, Filling up the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, John Paton, and Adoniram Judson (The Swans Are Not Silent). Wheaton, Ill., Crossway Books, 2009, pp.128.
It usually takes me forever to finish a book. Not because I don’t like reading. But because I am a slow reader. So I was shocked when I picked up “Filling up the Afflictions of Christ” and finished it in less than three days. I couldn’t put it down. And this after I had been warned by another missionary that it was a scary book.
Many missionary reports from the field are positive, and filled with joy for what God is doing and hope for what He might do. But a longing of the missionary heart that rarely appears in letters home is the desperate yearning for more co-workers to join them on the field. Of course, missionaries mention the need for more workers, but they often do not fully express the sense of isolation that occurs when one is on their own in the work for years at a time.This yearning was narrated quite well in a letter from a friend who recently returned from an short-term exploratory trip to a Muslim majority country. He is planning to return there long-term and was visiting various missionaries to find out where he might fit best. I am grateful that he has granted permission for me to reproduce the following excerpt:
I recently read a rather provocatively titled blog post, "Dear Missionary, Please Stop Sending Prayer Letters. Sincerely, The 21st Century”. The article was a bit over the top but does raise a valid question that many missionaries and their supporters have been wondering in recent years: In the age of email and social media, should missionaries start sending their prayer letters by email only? Isn't it a waste of paper and money to send out old fashioned hard copy prayer letters? Well, maybe. But maybe not.
Every once in a while, I get an email from a supporter asking me to stop sending them the hard copy of their prayer letter because they already get it through email. I am happy to oblige and inform our mission organization to take such-and-such supporter off the list. I don't want to send people stuff they don't want. However, as I see it, different people want things different ways.
In response to my post “Should Missionaries Use Facebook and Twitter?”, some missionaries in creative access nations (CANs) have pointed out that I neglected to include one major negative of using social media: Security. They have told me, in so many words, “Nice post, but that’s all irrelevant for us because we can’t use it.”For those working in creative access (i.e. communist, totalitarian, or Muslim) countries, it is imperative that their missionary identity be downplayed or hidden from the general public to ensure their continued ability to do their ministry. If identifying information about them and their ministry was publicly available online, then they would run a high risk of being either kicked out of the country, blacklisted by the people they are trying to reach, or even killed. You can see why a Facebook fan page with a big picture of their face would be a negative.
One of the things that I love about being on home assignment is the questions that people ask. When we are thousands of miles away on the mission field, there are some questions that people wonder about but wouldn’t email us or call us to ask. But when you see people face to face, questions come up that would otherwise remain unspoken.We were recently asked, in so many words, “Is it really cost effective to send American missionaries? It would seem to be better stewardship of God’s money to support many native workers for the same amount that it costs to send you.” The woman who asked was very concerned that she didn’t hurt us as she knows that our missionary call is very close to our heart. But it was a nagging question that she had been thinking about and she wants to be a good steward of the resources that God has given to her.
I thought I was prepared for most of the questions that would come at us as we returned to the U.S. We had been planning to start a year of home assignment in the U.S. in December but because of my father’s death we hurriedly moved it up to the beginning of October. I knew that there would be questions about how long we’d be in the area, where we are staying, and when we’d be going back.But there was one question that totally blindsided me. Some people have asked, “Are you going back to Thailand?” Are we going back to Thailand?! In my mind, the answer was obvious. “Of course we are going back to Thailand!” Why would anyone think that we are not going back?
Why is there so much bad preaching in evangelical churches? Is the Bible really so hard to understand? Do the majority of preachers intentionally and knowingly play fast and loose with the Holy Scriptures to promote their own agendas? The answer to both of those questions would seem to be “NO”. In this post, I would like to suggest the most probable sources of unbiblical preaching, and then some solutions to address the problem.SOURCE 1: Human Tendency to Self-RelianceThere is a tendency in our fallen human nature to find a standard of moral goodness that we can meet. We want to feel like our own personal success and happiness is in our control. This tendency comes out in people’s demands for “practical” sermons. “Give us something we can do”, say the people. “My sermon needs to be practical”, says the preacher. And moralism rears it’s ugly head. Listeners eat up sermons on “Five Ways to be a Better Parent” or “Three Ways to Have More Joy”, so preachers keep giving it to them. It is a vicious cycle because listeners become accustomed to such a diet of moralistic preaching and preachers feel like they need to keep giving it to them. Listeners develop a distaste for anything that doesn’t readily give them something to DO, and protest that the few Biblical sermons that they do hear are too “doctrinal” or “academic”. Hearing about what Christ has already DONE for us is not enough. In our fallen human nature, grace and the deep things of God are difficult to understand. “Do better” is easy to understand and plays into our desire to control our lives.
Because the need for people to hear the Gospel on the mission field is so urgent, it is sometimes claimed that doing a lot of Biblical studies or earning a degree in Bible is not necessary to be a long-term missionary. “People just need the basic Gospel, and you don’t need a degree for that”, it has been said. There is a lot of truth to that statement. However, once someone becomes a Christian, you need to disciple them. And you’ll need to help new believers form themselves into a church community. And to do that, a missionary is going to need to know a LOT more than just a basic Gospel outline.
For the past two weeks, we had a short-term team with us from America and I have had both the pleasure of working with them, and also the responsibility of translating for them most of the time. Though my Thai ability is not superb, it is usually sufficient to get the job done. However, I know that pronunciation is not my strong suit and part way through this past Sunday’s sermon, I was hoping against hope that I was getting a certain word right. I wasn’t.As my friend Luke preached in English, I did the best that I could to translate what he said into Thai. All was well until he took us to Zechariah 10:3, “My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the LORD Almighty will care for his flock, the house of Judah, and make them proud like a horse in battle.” From that point on in the sermon, Luke used the word “warhorse” quite frequently.