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Thoughts on US Missions & Globalization Strategies

Thoughts on US Missions & Globalization

from Wes Wick, Appointed US Missionary, Church Planting and Development, November 2014

These thoughts are an outgrowth of some healthy discussion emanating from our missionary summit meeting in St. Louis, October 2014, where we discussed the effectiveness of US Missions in our increasingly globalized nation.

Ethnocentric PERSPECTIVE

The US needs missionaries because so many foreigners have moved here.

We’ve heard this comment in response to the question, “Does the United States need missionaries?”

Hmmm. Do we send missionaries to other countries just because so many Americans have moved there? In a few cases such as military chaplaincy, yes, but certainly the bulk of our AG World Missionaries are not sent for that purpose. They go with cross-cultural purpose and perspective to both learn from and speak new life into other cultures.

As much as we like to instruct otherwise (e.g. Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria were mission fields inside national borders), most American Christians tend to think of foreign countries when talking about missions. "Real missionaries" leave the comforts of home and travel to foreign countries, often stopping off at language school on the way.

So when US Missionaries are not focused on specific ethnicities and are more interstate than international, we often become the less glamorous stepchild to World Missions. Strike one. Coupling that with the assumption that everyone in America has already been presented with the Gospel, we also sometimes confront the perception that "real missions" is only about unreached people groups who have never heard the Gospel of Christ. Strike two.

Are We Employing a FUBU Model?

         For Us and By Us

         For Us and By Us

Other countries need us, but do we need them? If we think we’ve figured out America by ourselves, is this part of the reason the American Church struggles? There is definitely more than a hint of pride and self-sufficiency imbedded in that thought, and we know that pride comes before the fall.

This issue stands out to us because it parallels a generational challenge we see in senior/second-half adult ministries. Leadership paradigms often reflect a posture that younger generations may need us, but we don’t need them. Senior adult ministries typically end up only with leaders over the age of fifty. We export influence to other age groups but are much less intentional about importing.

When Jesus scolded the disciples for shunning the children, He didn't emphasize how much the disciples had to 'pour into' the children; He emphasized how much WE needed to become like THEM.

Are we unintentionally prideful?

The eye will not say to the hand, “I have no need of you.”

The part is meant to show concern for the whole, and the whole is meant to show concern for each part. When the part thinks it's self-sufficient, the part is in trouble. (Deductions from 1 Corinthians 12)

From a macro perspective, AG World Missions reflects the American part showing concern for the whole world. But I would think one of the major issues at hand concerning globalization is that US Missions is largely built on a model of Americans trying to reach America---without a clear and intentional plan for inviting help from beyond our borders. It is not a picture of the whole world showing concern for the American part (but in reality the whole world could be adversely affected if the Church in America fades).

SHIFTING PARADIGMS WITHIN US OLDER ADULT MINISTRY

With God's help we can move some hearts and change some lives peer-to-peer.

But to really change a paradigm, we need reinforcements from outside that paradigm: younger generations, saints cheering us on from heaven, other nations, other denominations, and, of course, the Holy Spirit. In these parent/child relationships it's time we turn our hearts to each other. It is time we begin to value resources in the Body that may have been dead to us---formerly out of sight and out of mind. To be truly kingdom-minded, we can do no less.

Balance of Trade

We have missionaries lined up outside the international departure terminal. But where are the international arrivals? Why are US missionaries in the Assemblies of God showing up only at the domestic arrival and departure terminals?

Did Europe have this same imbalance of Christian missionary trade when the Church there all but died and meanwhile allowed a huge influx of Muslim influence? (I don’t know this answer, but Europe unquestionably impacted the world and then let her guard down at home.)

When God calls people from other countries to be His witnesses, the United States is certainly included in their 'uttermost parts of the world' equation. And many are finding their way here without our help. They are generally off our US Missions radar screen.

But are we missing out on a great blessing and broader perspective by not creating a clearer, more hospitable path for them to engage with US Missions and US missionaries?

Singapore and YES!

I'm not sure, but we may be the only US missionaries whose strongest supporting church is from outside the United States.

We feel God may be calling us to a next step in our relationship with Singapore.

YES! is ripe for another US missionary or missionary associate. Why not from Singapore?

They have strengths in the areas of concern we are addressing. The General Superintendent of Singapore and his church support YES! in part because we asked. But it's also because their cross-cultural perspective helps them see more clearly the needs we’re addressing. I’m convinced these needs are more obvious to Pastor Dominic than to many American church leaders. 

Asian cultures including Singapore have strengths in areas where the United States has weaknesses. Older adults in America are often 1) too retired, 2) too segregated, and 3) too non-viral or non-reproductive. The Singapore culture, by contrast, has 1) a retirement system on a much lighter scale resulting in less tendency to spiritually retire, 2) stronger intergenerational engagement within their biological and church families, and 3) deeper respect for older adults and their role as disciple-makers. 

If we look to Singapore only for financial resources, we personify the ‘hired gun’ philosophy of ministry. It’s ironically just the mindset we’re trying to help ‘multi-generational’ churches move away from. 

Older adults give money to support children and youth ministries but too often stop there. They see the need and recognize their money is going to meet needs that may not be present in their own generation. They might have parallel strengths in these areas of weakness, but they and the children/youth leaders too often limit the relationship to finances and prayer (both highly valuable!). But once these older adults begin investing their lives, and relationships are reciprocal, they experience even deeper dimensions of love and move toward becoming an intergenerational church.

YES! has international support, but we are not yet an international ministry. Right now we are the ‘hired gun’ and we’re basically figuring it out on our own. While deeply appreciative of the generous financial and prayer support from across the Pacific, we are operating largely without investment of lives and perspective from outside the US. How refreshing it would be to work side-by-side with a global partner!

Advantages

1) We have a relationship to build on.

2) They truly have cultural strengths in our areas of weakness. They would not be coming here ‘because so many Singaporeans have moved here’.

3) There is no language barrier.

4) Their country would have the financial resources for the missionary or missionary associate to itinerate in their own country before moving here.

5) Through this experience we could together learn how US Missions might become more hospitable to missionaries coming here from other countries, creating a pathway to open up the international arrival terminal for other US missionaries.

Challenges and Questions

YES! has not yet added a missionary or missionary associate, so we have not yet 'greased the skids'. Perhaps another ministry with multiple staff members might in some ways be better equipped to take this on. 

But, at the same time, we feel God has orchestrated this unique relationship with Singapore from the beginning, and it is wonderfully parallel to YES! having welcomed both intergenerational and interdenominational leadership. Why not extend these same principles to becoming more intercultural and international?

How would the Lord direct us to the best candidate(s)? Competence and character could possibly be evaluated from afar, but how about chemistry with a prospective individual or couple? Would we need to travel to Singapore to interview prospective candidates?

I could see how AG World Missions would be an invaluable resource as they have obviously worked with these issues in the opposite direction.

Would the missionary work primarily through the missionary sending agency in their own country and secondarily through US Missions? Perhaps US Missions would serve as more of a catalyst and resource to encourage these outside relationships and to help us navigate the international aspects of hosting a foreign missionary on our soil. 

How would we facilitate these arrangements and build a replicable model for others to follow? What are the visa requirements and other legal aspects of hosting a missionary from abroad to serve here?

Next Steps

  1. I have spoken with Darlene Robison, our departmental leader in US Missions, and she is very encouraging and supportive. There is excitement about seeing where this discussion goes from here. She plans to investigate more about missionaries from other countries already here in the United States, and how US Missions can do a better job connecting with them. It is likely that most of them are here to reach their own ethnic group within the United States, but are there other ministries within US Missions that would benefit from their intercultural perspective? Darlene & I have a follow-up meeting scheduled for December 10.
  2. We discussed this proposal further with the YES! Young Enough to Serve board of directors at our last two meetinsg on November 21, 2014 and March 20, 2015, and they are definitely supportive of proceeding.
  3. We have connected with Trinity Christian Centre in Singapore to learn more regarding how they go about sending missionaries around the world. Do they have missionaries currently serving in the United States? Would they be open to exploring the possibility of sending a missionary to work with YES! Young Enough to Serve in the US?
  4. Trinity Christian Centre referred this proposal to their AG Executive Council. It has been reviewed with a favorable response, and the General Secretary has requested more detail.
  5. We have since learned that Singapore has no template currently in place as this would be their first missionary sent through Singapore's executive council. Others have been sent directly from their own churches, with a wide variety of arrangements.
  6. More detail regarding the position, term, and preliminary budget were sent to Singapore on March 26, 2015. We've also expressed an openness to visiting Singapore directly, per a recommendation from the YES! board.
  7. Judy and I have also met with World Missionaries here in the United States to glean more from their perspective of crossing international borders as missionaries.
  8. If you have thoughts or questions you'd like to add to this discussion, please share them with me, weswick@yestoserve.org . And please join us in praying for God's leading every step of the way. This has the potential of being another very exciting pioneer effort to deepen our perspective, expand ministry and bless the kingdom.