Why We Need Both Foreign & National Missionaries

One of the key principles of “Revolution in World Missions,” written by the founder of Gospel for Asia, is to assert the value of national missionaries. In many ways, I agree. Money, as it always is in this world, is brought up as an issue since the cost for national missionaries can be much less than a foreign missionary. A foreign missionary should go to their mission field with the intention of multiplying disciples and eventually replacing themselves with Christians of that nation. Haven’t we all heard a story where a foreign (usually western) missionary moves overseas, holds a superiority in their own minds of their ability, and refuses to give responsibility or leadership to the people they are serving? Not only this, but the sons and daughters of a country connect naturally with their culture in a way that is rare for foreigners. They are born with ties to the nation that a foreigner might develop, but probably after a lifetime of service and cultural adjustment. In fact, when One Mission Society (OMS or, as it was known at its beginning, Oriental Mission Society.) was founded in 1901, it was founded with the belief that the “sons and daughters” of a nation will have the greatest effect in their country. As several people have pointed out, national missionaries are also invaluable when foreigners are evacuated or refused entry to a country. “Revolution in World Missions” does not speak ill of foreign missionaries, but it implies enough to make me a little angry, and it ignores some important points.

The Great Commission is not a nice idea, it’s a serious word from Jesus Christ, giving the Church (that’s big “C”) their assignment.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Foreign missionaries – whether that’s an American in Botswana or a Russian in America or a Colombian in Italy – are following this commission. All nations are to be made disciples. If Jesus had said, “Support national missionaries but for Heaven’s sake, just stop butting in to other countries. You don’t even get their culture and besides, it’s way cheaper.” then, some things would be different.

Jesus also said all nations are to be made disciples, meaning that everyone does not need to leave their country to be following this commission. Australians leading church planting in Australia, Cambodians ministering to their neighbors, and Germans preaching the Gospel in Germany are all obedient. It is, of course, wrong and downright ignorant to enter a country assuming your culture or methods are superior to that nation’s. But what I couldn’t help but think as I read “Revolution in World Missions” is that it is equally wrong and ignorant to remain in a country, turning up your nose at foreign missionaries, and assume that your culture and methods are superior.

My caravan home in rainy July.

My caravan home in rainy July.

I consider my missionary service to have started when I was accepted to OMS, because that was when I began speaking at churches and meetings to share about human trafficking prevention and evangelism. By that date, May 2011, I have only been a missionary for little more than two years. But I’ve discovered that “Let no one despise your youth,” (I Timothy 4:12) includes me. The young are not to despise their youth either. Forgive me if I sound presumptuous, but do not judge me by my lack of age or comparative experience. While there are many points I’d like to share on this subject, I’m narrowing it down to two. Here are two things I’ve learned in my two years of service with OMS .

#1 – We need each other.
The members of the Church need each other’s fellowship, comfort, encouragement, opinions, and experience. The world needs the Irish Church, the Macedonian Church, the American Church, the Egyptian Church, the Thai Church… Every Christian’s culture has something worthwhile to offer. When a foreign missionary approaches their overseas work with this attitude, they will not consider themselves to be solo servants. Instead, they are serving with the Christians of that nation. The conflicts that will almost certainly appear are not due to inferiority or superiority, but to the natural learning and growing that happens when multiple people (and multiple cultures) get together for a common goal. Accomplishments will not be thanks to the foreigners, but thanks to the Holy Spirit leading the body of believers.

#2 – Foreigners are vulnerable.
Based on anecdotes from other missionaries and friends working overseas and based on my own experiences, leaving your home country makes you vulnerable. No matter how much you study beforehand (Which I recommend if you’re a research lover like me.) you will never know all the driving rules or social behaviour. Even if you’re living alone, at more than one point you will have to be open to asking questions. You will have to make new friends or acquaintances, and you’ll try new food and cleaning products. As a Christian, you will only be able to successfully do this by relying on God more than usual. Missionaries will have to be led by Him. This vulnerability will be one of the best ways you can grow – as a person, and as a follower of Jesus Christ. I’m not recommending you dismiss every familiar and home-like thing, but it’s true that vulnerability is a factor in making good missionaries…because vulnerability means you have to listen more closely to His voice.

“ ‘…to whom I nowsend you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’ ”
Acts 26:17-18

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One thought on “Why We Need Both Foreign & National Missionaries

  1. I appreciate your writing here. We all must remain open-minded to others in all places. We are of one Creator. And most of all: we must do all things through Christ together!

    Thanks for this well written reminder. It sure poked at me.

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