May 1, 2009

Leaving on a jet plane

Deaconesses Rosie Gilbert, Elsy de Machado and Luz Maria
Luz Maria left this week for Buenos Aires, Argentina, to attend the First Lutheran Deaconess Gathering in Latin America and the Caribbean. April 30 to May 4, 2009. The event will be hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina with support from Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod World Relief and Human Care, as well as LCMS World Missions. Pastor Matthew Harrison, executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care, will be the keynote speaker. The event also is expected to draw people from Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Guatemala, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

Elsy Valladares de Machado of Caracas will be Luz Maria's traveling companion. Together Luz Maria and Elsy are national coordinators of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela's deaconess program.

Clearly I did not marry just any Venezuelan. It is said the new model for overseas missions is for North Americans to work in partnership with national church leaders, a concept that we have taken to an extreme.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to be said for it. Over the last 50 years, the world has seen phenomenal growth in the number of Christians living in "the Global South" (Africa, Asia and Latin America) or "Majority World" and the emergence of national churches there.

Map of the First, Second and Third worlds duri...Image via Wikipedia

The term "Majority World" has come to be used as a replacement for "Third World" or "developing world", and it has a double meaning. First, the majority of the world's human population now lives in Africa, Asia or Latin America. Second, so does the majority (75 percent) of the world's Christians.

According to Pennsylvania State University professor Philip Jenkins, author of an influential Atlantic magazine article, "The Next Christendom" (which he later developed into a bestselling book):

“Christians are facing a shrinking population in the liberal West and a growing majority of the traditional Rest (of the world). During the past half-century the critical centers of the Christian world have moved decisively to Africa, to Latin America, and to Asia. The balance will never shift back.

Yet Christians in the United States still have the financial resources, educational institutions and, above all, the religious liberty, to train and send cross-cultural missionaries that many national churches do not. There are not that many places in the world where there is a happy combination of all three of these things.

Becoming a cross-cultural missionary means not only receiving a sound theological education, but also learning to live day-to-day in an environment where the language and customs are very different. But even with the amount of preparation involved, once a trained cross-cultural career missionary is in place,
it often is more economical to support such a person than to rely on short-term volunteer missionaries.

Dr. Douglas Rutt, a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and a former missionary to Latin America, wrote in a 2008 paper "Global Mission Partnerships: Missiological Reflections After 10 Years Of Experience", that U.S. mission agencies should not simply fund projects for national churches but also provide the career missionaries who can train national church leaders in all aspects of the missionary endeavor.

According to Dr. Rutt, "What we have seen in our circles is that there is precious little preparation of a
missiological nature for those missionaries coming from the majority world. While typically they have a thorough theological education at a residential seminary, most have had almost no orientation in cross-cultural ministry, linguistics, mission strategy, mission history, and theology of missions...Too often we have made assumptions about the readiness of a family to live and work in another part of the world that have proved to be false because we assume the cultures are similar. For example, if you send a Brazilian family to work in a place like Panama, you may assume that, since they are Brazilian from Latin America, they will have to cross very little cultural and linguistic distance to minister effectively in Panama, another Latin American country. Our experience has been that in this kind of situation those Brazilians who go to a place like Panama run into the same kinds of misunderstandings in their new home, make the same kinds of inaccurate judgments about the new culture, go through the same culture shock, experience the same loneliness and isolation, often have similar linguistic challenges, and go through the same kinds of
trials and tribulations that are a part of becoming enculturated in a new society, just like any of our missionaries from the U.S."

Nevertheless, from 1988 to 2008, the number of "career missionaries" sent out by U.S. mission agencies declined by 45 percent. Ralph D. Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Missions, said in a 2007 speech to the Asian Society of Missiology in Bangkok. that nearly two million short-term volunteers leave the United States each year compared to 35,000 long-term missionaries. It costs at least five time more overall to send a short-term volunteer than a long-term missionary – financial support that Winter suggested would be better invested in a long-term missionary. (In 2005, Time magazine included Winter in a special feature section on "America's 25 Most Influential Evangelicals")

Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with short-term mission trips. These trips may yield long-term results if:
  • Volunteers are moved to consider preparing for a career in the mission field themselves;
  • Or, return home with a renewed zeal to support long-term missionaries.
However, it is a question of balance. Craig Greenfield wrote in the February 2009 issue of Lausanne World Pulse: "...the mission pendulum has swung heavily toward resourcing local people...supplemented by short-term missionaries who focus on transferring their skills without learning the language and culture. But we must strive to find balance by remembering the rich biblical tradition of prophetic outsiders...Throughout biblical and recent history, God has used outsiders to bring about his purposes in foreign nations".

Greenfield is the international coordinator of Servants to Asia's Urban Poor. For six years he and his wife, Nay, lived among the urban poor in the slums of Cambodia.

In regard to "empowering" national church leaders, Greenfield writes "The concept of empowering people is central to good mission work. But it takes wisdom to discern the difference between empowerment and
disengagement. Just as a good manager of people will know just how much to delegate and how much support to provide, so a foreign missionary needs to learn how to empower rather than overpower. However, not showing up at all is not empowerment; it is apathy".

In addition, according to Greenfield, "It is a beautiful and exciting thing to see African, Asian, and Latino missionaries spreading out across the globe, and there is much more that can be done to assist and support them. But when Jesus told us to go into all the world and make disciples, he wasn't letting any nation off the hook as though their contribution was not worthy or useful. We must come alongside our brothers and sisters from around the world and joyfully do our part in the Great Commission".

Luz Maria and I have this objective in our mission project: To use the strengths of our different backgounds to provide the Christian instruction sorely needed in this country, both at basic and advanced levels, and particularly for the region where we live. We thank God for the opportunity to serve and that we may continue the good work that has begun here in La Caramuca.

Spanish Portals of Prayer once more in print

Spanish translations of Portals of Prayer were at one time popular as devotional literature in Venezuela. Actually, they still are. But only used copies have been available since 2003, when Concordia Publishing
stopped printing Portales de Oracion. Since 2007, someone at El Salvador Lutheran Church has been faithfully transcribing the used copies in which the dates correspond to the current year and e-mailing to everyone on the Lutheran Church of Venezuela mailing list. The drawbacks to this include the time required for transcription and the costs of printing and making multiple copies of the e-mails every month.

Now there is another alternative as CPH has resumed publishing Portales de Oracion. Even better news is that this time the daily devotions will be composed in Spanish rather than translated from English as was the practice in the past. Individual subscriptions will cost $10. Presumably there would be the cost and logistics of shipping Portales de Oracion to Venezuela, but it has been done before.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

1 comment:

Asturiano said...

Great reflection, David. I too am concerned with the idea that we can simply pay others to do our mission work for us. Have you seen my piece: "Hiring National Missionaries: A Good Idea?"

You can get it at my website: