by Ralph Kurtenbach
“The Church,” said Carl F. H. Henry, a Christian thinker and first editor-in-chief of Christianity Today magazine, “is in position, in a way it has never been before, for a global witness. A great deal depends upon what we do with that opportunity.”
Henry’s statement to Discipleship Journal more than 30 years ago offered an early glimpse to a new horizon of missions—the involvement of Christians from the Global South. People from nations where the gospel has been presented for centuries have in turn joined the ranks of those carrying the message of Jesus Christ elsewhere in the world.
From Jerusalem when the gospel first began to spread, the epicenter of Christianity had moved steadily west and north. Mission scholars attribute the Western missionary movement to an Englishman, William Carey, whose pamphlet in the late 18th century was titled, “An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.”
Instrumental in the formation of the English Baptist Missionary Society, Carey began doing mission work now deemed as the beginning of world evangelization. Some 150 years after his groundbreaking work, the face of missions began to see more cross-cultural ministry by Africans, Asians and Latinos. The geographical center of Christianity has steadily shifted east and south since 1970.
“You sometimes wonder if the results [of mission involvement] and dividends are worth it all,” said Dr. Abe Van Der Puy in 1977 at a meeting in Ecuador when he was serving as president of the mission agency Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB Global). “Well, [Ugandan Bishop] Festo Kivengere stands as a beautiful example of what’s happening in the Third World today.”
“God has not only saved him [and] brought him into a position of leadership—wonderful exposition of the Scriptures—but now God is bringing him back to our own lands—the lands that send out the missionaries—to bless their hearts again,” Van Der Puy explained. Kivengere brought several keynote addresses during the mission agency’s annual members’ meetings in Ecuador.
Luis Palau: The Gospel Goes from South to North
Van Der Puy also referred to the Argentine evangelist Luis Palau, saying that “it was through a missionary witness that Luis Palau and his family came to a living relationship with the Lord Jesus. Now [he] is coming back to North America and to Wales, and to Europe—there to present the message of the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Having heard, understood and responded to the news of Jesus’ love, churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America are now sharing the gospel across borders and in countries of the world where access by Western missionaries can prove difficult or even dangerous. Global South churches and individuals make up the newest missionary sending force, representing a vision and effort that has been building for decades.
Phillip Jenkins, a professor of history at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in “The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South,” that 60 percent of the estimated two billion Christians in the world live in Africa, Asia, or Latin America. (An excerpt of Jenkins’ book appeared as the article “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” in the December 5, 2006 edition of Christianity Today.) By the year 2050, according to Jenkins, there are expected to be some 3 billion Christians with 75 percent of them in the Global South.
Shouldering the Missions Task with Latinos
Latinos—dedicated, committed and increasingly more equipped—have firmly placed themselves within this global spread of Christianity. In some ways, the very fact of being Hispanics gives Latinos an advantage over their counterparts from North America and Western Europe. For one, their passports may generate less negative reaction. As well, their views on societal and family relationships parallel views held by many in the Middle East.
“The day of the Western missionary is certainly not over,” wrote Ruth Tucker in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. “But the task of world evangelism is being shouldered to a greater and greater extent by Christians from Third World countries.”
Tucker’s 1983 book—published at a time when Carl Henry lauded the Global South trend in missions—devoted a chapter to non-Western missionaries (Kivengere, Palau and Rochunga Pudaite) and their work. The chapter began with the ministry of Korean believers, a maturing church that Henry noted as the fastest growing in greater Chicago.
“One of the heartening developments is that in the Third World some traditionally receiving countries are becoming missionary-sending countries,” said Henry. “They are now giving encouragement to the West at a time when the light has seemed to be lowering in the West.” Read More…