I was at a conference recently where there was a very harsh and unkind (and I would add largely unfair) critique of western missions. The critique was made by a prominent Latin American missiologist. He characterized missions from the west as being imperialist in nature, controlling, paternalistic and colonial. He further blamed most of the worlds ills on the west and its capitalist system. The west is the creator of the world's ills and the majority world is the victim. 

It made me sad. It is true that western missions have made many mistakes. Mission leaders and missionaries are far more sensitive today than in the past as we have learned from those errors. It is also true that the church in the west has made an enormous sacrifice and contribution to the evangelization of the world in the last 200 years and continues to do so, now in partnership with missionaries from across the world.

In fact, the faith of this missiologist is the legacy of missionaries who gave up everything to go to share the gospel.  As I write this I sit overlooking Hong Kong where my own parents served as missionaries in the 1960's. Then it was a place where the Gospel was scarce and today the Gospel is well known and the church is strong because of the sacrifice of western missionaries. My parents and many others gave up much to bring the Gospel to Asia. Tens of thousands of western missionaries are making that sacrifice today globally.

Missionaries from the majority world will and do make many of the mistakes that missionaries from the west made. It is the nature of missions. It is time to stop blaming one another and to start appreciating one another in the global church and to work together. It is time to get over it (anger at the west) and get on with it (the cooperative work of the Gospel). Our own mission has moved to a philosophy of "We don't own anything, control anything or count anything as ours." We are a servant organization to the church in the United States to serve their mission vision and to the church internationally to serve their mission vision.

I find the critique from this Latin missiologist particularly hard to swallow given the social and political landscape in much of Latin America where corruption, crime and inept governments are the norm and where the church has little influence on society. I don't say this to defend the west, but to make an observation that is hard to ignore. One can certainly find much that is wrong with the west and with the church in the west and I am not here to defend it. However, one can also find much that is wrong in the majority world and the church there and I am not here to critique it. It is time to stop the blame game.

I love and cherish my colleagues in the majority and minority world who work with us to spread the Gospel. Their attitudes are so different than the one mentioned above. We are able to appreciate one another's strengths and weaknesses, cultural differences and varied circumstances as we work together. Our concern for the Gospel outweighs our many differences. In fact, we are all enriched as we value one another, learn from one another and enjoy the richness of our differing cultures.

As a mission leader who is committed to healthy mission practices I found the comments of this man sad. I am committed to a different way of doing missions and of valuing the contributions that all make.
  • Nov 14, 2012
  • Category: News
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