How Many Christians Does it Take to Send a Missionary?
How many Christians does it take to send a missionary? None, of course. The Lord sends them. There is no disputing that fact. He raises up all the leaders that His church needs to “to prepare His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12,13)
A lot of what God does is mysterious, even unexplainable. This is especially true concerning the way He calls and sends missionaries. It does not seem to me that He raises them up though any standard, common or preferred channels from one generation to the next. He delivers their support, both financial and spiritual, from some of the most unexpected sources – so unexpected that that I often miss seeing them. At times His movement is brought into sharper focus, for me, through research data. Such clarity came to me recently when I was invited by Missions Resource Network to attend The State of the Gospel 2009 a Mission Exchange webinar presented by Jason Mandryk.
Among the wealth of data that Mandryk presented was a set of facts that changed the way I perceive what the Lord is doing among churches in the Majority World. You may be unfamiliar with the term ‘Majority World’, but more familiar with the terms ‘third world’, ‘developing countries’, or ‘poorer nations’. The designation Majority World refers to those same people, but highlights the reality that the majority of humankind lives in these countries.
Mandryk revealed that currently it takes far fewer Christians in the majority world to send out a missionary than it takes for Christians in richer countries to send one out. According to Mandryk’s data, it takes one thousand Canadian Christians to send out a missionary, close to double that many in the United States, and 3,500 in the UK. Among the Churches of Christ, the fellowship I belong to, it takes 2,200 USA members to send out a missionary couple or a single. In parts of the majority world the picture is quite different. It takes 222 Mongolian Christians to sent out a missionary and four hundred Singaporeans to do the same. In the much poorer African countries of Niger and Mali it takes 451 and 608 respectively. Spain is the only non-majority world country ranking in the top ten countries when it comes to membership/missionaries sent ratio. Other countries in the top ten are Lebanon, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Faeroe Islands, and Thailand. This data was collected from Protestant, Anglican, and independent churches and includes only countries where Christians have sent out fifty or more missionaries.
Why such a disparity between majority world churches and the resource flush churches of the west? There may not be any clear answer, but one can deduce some likely realities. (1) Churches do not have to be wealthy to send out missionaries. People in Nepal, Niger, and Mali rank among the poorest of poor, yet they support missionaries. (2) Very small congregations can be extremely missional in outlook and actions. Of course there are large congregations in Singapore and Thailand, but small groups of believers typical to countries like Mongolia, Niger, and Mali seem to understand that the Lord wants them to reach out across cultural barriers and plant churches. It does not take a mega church to send missionaries. (3) Young, evangelical congregations, where most of the members are first or second generation believers, have missions in their very DNA. For them, sending out missionaries is normal and doable.
In an article titled Costa Rica: Sending Missionaries to Africa the Christian World News reported that a congregation of one hundred in one of San Jose’s poorest neighborhoods uses eighty percent of its income to train and support their own members to be church planters in Africa. Read the amazing story of how these poor Christians have started a bakery and an auto repair business to support their missionaries. “With the Bible in one hand and tools in the other, future missionaries work hard to maintain their companions in Africa.” In the past eight years, this congregation has sent out 21 missionaries. Make no mistake these are true missionaries – they learn the language and culture of the Senegalese and Malians they minister among. God has blessed them.
Then there is the story of, Philippe and Ruth Sagara, who are missionaries to the Bozo people of Mali. In the early 1990s the Sagara were the first Malians sent out as cross-cultural missionaries by their brothers and sisters in the Gospel Missionary Union. God blessed their efforts and before the year 2000 had arrived, nine other couples were sent out by this Malian denomination. The fact that they are Malian has not sheltered them from the adjustment struggles common to all cross-cultural missionaries. In some cases “the temptation is not to put a priority on language learning,” and settle for using a trade language like Bambara. But, the time and effort put in mother-tongue language learning has paid great church growth dividends. Today, some of the more experienced Malian missionaries train and counsel Western missionaries who continue to arrive to labor along side them.
Some might say these case studies and data only points out the obvious – it cost less to send missionaries from the majority world than those from richer nations. That may be true, but it has very little to do with the results revealed in this data. Western Christians send western missionaries at western support levels. The majority world Christians make similar financial sacrifices to send their brothers and sisters out at majority world support levels.
It would be a misuse of this data for Christians of richer nations to justify a scaling back of the number of Western missionaries they send out and redirect their funds to sponsoring majority world missionaries who can be sent for less. What this data shows is that Majority World Christians have taken seriously the task of sending their own to the unreached. For western Christians, agencies, and churches to step in and take over what these sacrificial Christians are already doing well would be counter productive. Why take from them what God is already allowing them to do on their own? Western Christians may need to view what their Majority World brethren are doing as an example or model of what they ought to be about. In these times it seems God is using Christians in what used to be considered ‘the mission field’ to set the pace for the ‘historically Christian nations.’
I am convinced that this shift has little to do with any recent strategy adjustments. For it is evident that God is, in many cases, using those who have very little understanding of strategic matters. They simply have a healthy understanding of what He has done and is doing among them. They are grateful and prayerful. They trust in His promises and move out in faith, expecting Him to be faithful, not based upon what they do, but upon who He is.
What is ahead in this new era of missions? What else will the Western church learn from their Majority World brethren? I am not sure. What I do know is – this is an exciting time I are living in. Thank you Lord for allow me to to witness it.