Episode 12: Conversations with a Missionary – Missions – Great Commission or Colonization?

Description of Missions – Great Commission or Colonization:

TSR discusses modern sentiment toward Christian missions and interviews two former missionaries. Come join The Socially Remote!

Summary of Missions – Great Commission or Colonization:

In this episode, TSR (finally) comes to the topic of missions! We begin by dispelling the modern sentiment that missions work is primarily colonial or imperial in nature and then move into an interview with two former missionaries. What we discover is that we must all be intentional about developing relationships and discovering the mission field to which God has called us.


The Podcast:

Introduction to Missions – Great Commission or Colonization?

On episodes 6 (Discipleship) and 7 (Doctrine in Community), we discussed Discipleship. As part of that discussion, we talked about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and taking the Gospel to all nations. So, on this episode, we will discuss missions with David and his wife April, who served on the mission field. However, before we get into that interview, we want to address some modern perceptions on missions and whether it is primarily a vehicle for colonization or the acting out of the Great Commission.


Sneak Peek of Missions – Great Commission or Colonization?

Is Missions Colonization or Great Commission

One of the biggest misconceptions of modern Christianity is that it is primarily a white, Western (predominantly male) religion. But that has never been Christianity. And if you look at the actual demographics, it is not male dominated or predominately white. Rather it is derived from the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has always been a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural belief system united in the saving power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus to argue that missions is a vehicle for colonization rather than obedience to the Great Commission is simply a myopic viewpoint borne of a few problematic cases.

Reality on the Diversity of the Mission Field

If these concepts are new to you, there are a few resources we might suggest. First, Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin talks a lot about the demographics of Christianity. She says this:

Contrary to popular conceptions, The Christian movement was multicultural and multiethnic from the outset.  Jesus scandalized his fellow Jews by tearing through racial and cultural boundaries.  For instance, his famous parable of the good samaritan was shocking to its hearers because it cast a samaritan-a member of a hated ethno-religious group-as a moral example.

Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity

Indeed Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20 and 3:28 and as we discussed in episode 10 (Critical Theory and the Christian), these identity markers are subordinate to our identities in Christ. And Christianity often takes the brunt of these attacks. However, Christianity fits into a larger, more global narrative that often does not get the same amount of attention as the predominately white, male-dominated version we so often hear about.

Even in the west, too often this misinformation is being perpetuated. In a 2018 opinion piece for Bloomberg, Stephen Carter, an African American Law Professor at Yale wrote:

Overall, people of color are more likely than whites to be Christians — and pretty devout Christians at that. Some 83 percent of all black Americans are absolutely certain that God exists. No other group comes close to this figure. Black Christians are far more likely than white Christians (84 percent to 64 percent) to describe religion as very important in their lives. Of all ethnic groups, black Christians are the most likely to attend services, pray frequently and read the Bible regularly.

Stephen Carter, “The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A’s Christianity

Matt’s Stats

We mentioned everything above, because this episode is an interview with two white Americans who have gone to the mission field. It should not simply be dismissed as some sort of western imperialism or colonialism.

We would encourage listeners to look up the statistics surrounding missions. Far from being a predominately western (South Korea is the second largest sending country for missions, and, globally, the epicenter of Christianity has shifted to the global south – places like Africa and South America), male-dominated (there are far more single women involved in missions work than any other demographic) enterprise, the call to missions is rooted in the middle-eastern Messiah encouraging His followers to go and make disciples. Missions, is not, therefore, a vehicle for colonization; but, rather an act of obedience to the Great Commission of our Lord.

And the global church is also starting to shape some of the conversations for the west. In recent news, this reality has helped shape the Methodist denomination, as the American contingency cannot raise the votes to defeat the African delegation over a moral issue.

It’s an exciting time for Christianity to be sure (and we’ honestly welcome more missionaries to the US).


For the Counselors

David

Either we’re all missionaries or none of is. Coming at it from this angle, we did see some American traditions brought into the missional context. At times there may have been some over-emphasis on those things (like wearing a tie when you’re preaching). But, on the flip side, there is so much effort being put into making sure that missionaries are culturally sensitive.

There’s no doubt that we all bring our backgrounds to our attempts to evangelize. There’s no getting around that. And we did hear some of those sorts of accusations while we were on the field. However, we have to recognize what is central to the Gospel and what is simply cultural preference when approaching new people groups.

Matt

Matt feels very strongly about missions. He and Molly support missionaries and he believes that missions is at the heart of Christianity. Christianity is evangelistic at it’s core. So he’s really excited to talk to David and April about their experience. It’s eternal, kingdom work and it’s important to showcase those who are doing it.

Steven

Steven’s conflicted. Missions was very formative in his life. But, he’s also never felt a call to go far away. He’s more of a Jerusalem sort of guy. He sees a lot of needs where he is and he’s not sure he’s ready to move “to the ends of the earth.” Despite that, some of his most formative experiences have been on short-term mission trips. And he is excited when he hears what God is doing in the global church, as they begin leading forward. He’s also looking forward to the discussion!


Deep Dive on Missions – Great Commission or Colonization

Background

April

April grew up in a Christian home. She went on her first mission trip to Savannah, GA in the 8th grade. She felt called to full-time Christian ministry at a camp in 9th grade. And she met David at North Greenville University. David’s mom was April’s mentor. As they started dating, they discussed missions very early on and discovered that the Lord was moving them both in the same direction.

David

Missions was a part of David’s early life. His family spent a year in Costa Rica and two years in Ecuador. But his memory of those times was that they were disruptive. It was not until his undergrad that he began feeling called to share the gospel and help provide resources to places that didn’t have them.

Together

They got married just out of college and then David pursued his M.Div. at Southeastern through a program that would allow them to launch into the International Mission Board (IMB) right out of seminary.

That plan was delayed due to the birth of their daughter. But, after praying and seeking counsel, they discovered that there was a couple in their church who was going to the Czech Republic as missionaries. So they joined with them to do church planting in February of 2015.

On the Field

They ended up in Olomouc, Czech Republic. An international city of about 100,000 with great public transportation. Despite the Czech Republic being where the Reformation got its start with John Hus (who was very influential on Martin Luther). It now has the highest concentration of professed atheists in the world.

This was a difficult and overwhelming transition after living in the south and being surrounded by Christians for their whole life. The Czech Republic is a very dark place. Culturally, they’re also skeptical of foreigners.

Missions, at its core is doing life in a different place (we’re all missionaries). It is accomplished through building relationships. So the McWhite’s had to be intentional about seeking out relationships. In that regard, it’s not that different than life here.

What is the Difference between Life Here

The first major difference is the Christian community. Since they were so far from our family, the church became that in their lives.

The second major difference was that it was easier to build relationships with lost people, because of the focus and lack of distraction. That is why they were there. They were praying that God would bring those relationships into their lives. But here in America it is often easy to become distracted by all the good things. And everyone is distracted. It does not seem that people here have time for building relationships.

A third major difference was the mental shift that happened when walking off the airplane. It wasn’t their “job” anymore. Additionally, there’s a huge shift in belief systems between the two places. In Czech, there’s no felt need for God and the lostness was more in-your-face. Yet here and even to some degree in Ireland, God is still very much a part of the cultural ethos.

Receptive or Antagonistic

Matt shared a story about a conversation he had with an international colleague. The conversation started antagonistically, but became more cordial. So, he asked whether this was David and April’s experience overseas.

What they found was that individuals in both countries hadn’t really heard anything like this before. If anything, it was more novelty (i.e. we didn’t know people still believed that). So, at times there seemed to be a lot interest.

In How to Reach the West Again, Tim Keller writes:

Past evangelistic strategies assumed that nearly everyone held this shared set of beliefs about a sacred order–that there was a God, an afterlife, a standard of moral truth, and a sense of sin. We might call these the “religious dots” that evangelists could assume in their hearers. Evangelism was simply connecting the dots that listeners already possessed in order to prove the truth of the gospel. Today’s culture believes the thing we need salvation from is the idea that we salvation.

Tim Keller, How to Reach the West Again

That is also a major difference between being here in the southeast and on the mission field. There are so many people here who know the lingo but who’s lives don’t reflect the fruit of someone who is growing in Christ. People don’t understand their need. The dots may be there but they already think they’re connected.


Parting Shots

David

David just wanted to reiterate that there is nothing “special” about a missionary. We are all called to make disciples and share our faith.

That’s not to downplay the preparation, skill, and calling that are often necessary for going on the field. There is a lot of prep that needs to be done to go overseas. But the idea that you somehow need to be uniquely gifted to go overseas and live out your faith is something that we don’t need to put near the emphasis on that we do in the church.

April

We’re all called to go. We’re not called to pray and see if we’re one of the select few. The command is to “go.” So the question is, “Where is your ‘go’? Is your ‘go’ next door? Is your ‘go’ a few states over? Or is your ‘go’ across the world?” The question is not “Should I go or should I not?” but, rather, “Where should I go?”

It’s also easy to say, “I don’t have the skills, ability, training , or fill-in-the-blank to ‘go’,” but none of us can do this apart from Christ. The Holy Spirit will equip you for what He has called you to do. We should pray and seek the Lord for what He has called for us to do.


Conclusion

What a great episode! We’ll continue this conversation next episode.

If you enjoyed it, please (please) share this on the socials.

Don’t forget to rate and review us on whatever platform you listen. If you have questions, reach out to us at our email address. Or, if you think we’ve reached the wrong conclusion and missions really is a vehicle for colonization rather than a fulfillment of the Great Commission, we’d love to talk to you. Please reach out.

Until next time, we are The Socially Remote!


Links and Stuff

The Podcast

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About The Socially Remote

Does it ever seem like the longer you adult, the less social you become? The responsibilities of being a spouse, a parent, and an employee often leave us with little time for meaningful interaction outside our home and office. As a result, many of us aren’t even remotely social. We try to fill the void with outlets like Facebook and Twitter, but we soon discover social media isn’t as social as it sounds. And the effort we put into soliciting likes and comments doesn’t produce stronger relationships with other people like we’d hoped.

This podcast is an attempt by a pastor, a lawyer, and a generalist to combat the growing culture of social isolation by making time for meaningful conversations about life, theology, and the church. We want to create space in our lives to engage in regular discussion and debate with those around us, and we hope this podcast will encourage you to do the same.

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For the Lawyers

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Deep Dive segment introduction from “Dive” by Steven Curtis Chapman on the Speechless album. Used with permission courtesy of the Stable Collective.

About the Author
Steven Halbert is a husband, father, son, and brother. He has held various roles in children and family service organizations and currently works as a product manager for an industrial manufacturer. He enjoys teaching adult Sunday school, which is where the idea for his book - The Relational God - materialized. He has an associate degree in Bible and a master's degree in English; and he blogs about business, relationships, and the church at stevenhalbert.com

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