I grew up in a highly-missions-focused church in Toronto, Canada. At The Peoples Church, the annual World Missions Conference was the highlight of the year. I can’t tell you how many missions stories I’ve heard and the number of languages I’ve heard John 3:16 recited in by people wearing multi-colored tunics.
But modern missions is… well… modern. Here are three ways that come to mind:
Partnerships – The organization we wrote about yesterday is a good example of this. If each devotes itself to its core competencies and subcontracts the rest, there is much efficiency to be gained. In more traditional missions, I suspect there was less sharing and cooperation, and groups were all busy re-inventing the same wheel.
Paradigm Shifting – Organizations like MegaVoice and Galcom are changing our definition of what it means to “give someone the Word of God.” Far from the printed gospels we envision, their miniature audio devices solve two huge problem of portable devices in rainy climates: rust (no moving parts) and battery life (they use solar power.) I wrote extensively about MegaVoice here.
Pragmatism – Typically, missionaries would embed themselves among the tribesmen (there was never mention of the tribeswomen) and learn the language, codify it in print, and then work on presenting the Jesus story. Computers offer the means to multitask: If indigenous speaker from group A also knows languages B and C, and is friends with a person who speaks B who also knows D and E… well you can see how this could get interesting. Wycliffe Bible Translators call this sort of work Cluster Projects.
Personnel Placement – There’s a sense in which we’re all missionaries. We live busy lives, and in the process develop relationships with extended families, neighbors, fellow students, co-workers, the woman at the library, the stock clerk at the grocery store, the weight trainer at the gym. So it is also that people with specific technical training can enter an otherwise missions-restricted country, but in so doing they take Jesus with them, and the sharing of their faith, while it may be low-key, is often strategic. However, the process carries with it certain risks.
Persecution – Even if the nation is not restricted, people serving vocationally in missions ministry often find themselves somewhat out-of-step with both the nation in which they serve and the people back home. Yes, persecution can even come from within the church family. Even if it isn’t as overt as the systemic persecution in many countries, it impacts the individual who has already given up any hope of an affirming salary or equity in the real estate market. Some days, the smallest thing can break you. For the children and teens who exist as “Third Culture Kids” life is equally bewildering. These people need our friendship and personal support.
…Missions is not a big deal in some churches, with very token, very limited budgets given to ensure that the small handful of people who got a donation last year get one this year. While the capital ‘C’ Church is becoming more aware of the plight of the poor, many times the appeal is for a project in their own city. Few Americans know what the face of world missions looks like. Missions books are among the poorest selling categories in Christian bookstores.
Still, the world of world missions — as opposed to the relief and development ‘industry’ — is an exciting environment. Learning more will stimulate your own faith in your small corner of the world, and will accelerate your prayer life.