The word 'Missions' in Christian context often evokes images of people leaving their homeland for many years to come. Connotations of darkest Africa or remote Indian villages come to mind. The missionary family living in poverty, seldom receiving communication from home, often wearing inappropriate clothing, and suffering from dreadful diseases, like Malaria or Tuberculosis.
It is true, some missionaries are still away for some years at a time, and many, but by far not all, have very little money for their daily needs.
However, with the development of new mission strategies most Christians going out to bring the gospel to other nations are either supported by their church or friends and family. Although this may sometimes be an unreliable income, most supporters honor their pledge. Also, in many countries Christians are sought as teachers, nurses, engineers and therefore can work as tentmakers to earn a living, as the apostle Paul did. He had learned tent making as a trade and used it for his support in foreign countries.
Some Christians, we call them frontier missionaries, are indeed called by the Lord to remote regions, where the gospel has not been heard before. However, not necessarily to the deserts of Africa or the jungles of India or South America. Some frontier missionaries can be found in large modern cities.
Today's mission strategies, although definitely concerned with bringing the gospel to all nations, are aiming to hand church leadership over to the new Christians as soon as possible. People are much more likely to listen to someone from their own tribe or village, who speaks their own language, than to a stranger and therefore the gospel is accepted with less resistance.
Mission agencies like Wycliffe or the Bible Society work hard to translate at least the New Testament into the local language or dialect. In this way missionaries sent from Western nations become catalysts for the gospel but they do not remain as keepers.
Generally there are three steps involved: First, introducing the gospel to those, who have not heard it before. Second, teaching it in greater depth to potential leaders. Third, acting as advisor until the new leaders can effectively manage their own church community. After that, the Western missionaries are ready to move on to another area. But in today's world, it is possible to easily stay in touch with the new church should they need further guidance. The native church leaders then can bring the gospel to neighboring areas and plant churches there. Many, like for instance the Koreans, sent their own missionaries far afield, even to Japan and China. I know of Pacific Islanders having a successful mission field among American Indians because they are of a similar skin color.
With regard to cultural differences, it is no longer acceptable to impose Western culture on non-Western people groups. The men are not required to wear suit and tie, nor the women to cover their arms in church. Many women nurse their babies during church service. They are encouraged to compose their own songs and use music instruments from their own culture, such as didgeridoos or wooden drums. Of course, new Christians are expected to live according to God's commands in the Scriptures and must do away with witchcraft and other customs that would offend the Lord. Once they are aware of the blessings that follow, they do not want to go back to pagan customs. In some countries, many new-born baby girls have been saved from certain death because their parents learned that girls are equally valuable to God as boys.
Many communities now have at least a communal television set if not internet access. This can be a double-sided sword. On the one hand, this helps communication with other Christians and keeping in touch with worldwide events. It also assists in finding teaching and preaching resources. On the other hand, much Western Christian jargon and worship rituals are introduced and copied without the native people fully understanding those expressions and meanings. It also stifles local creativity. People become recipients rather than participants.
Another aspect of modern missionary work is short-term missions. Some years ago this was still frowned upon by more traditionally oriented church members as a waste of money or even an interruption of the work of 'real' missionaries. Today, short-term missions is an accepted part of most communities for bringing the gospel to the nations or to encourage pastors and missionaries that are short staffed. It also has the advantage that people of all ages can participate, young children as well as retired men and women.
They pay for their own expenses and yet have the opportunity to be part of a mission organization. Often they are the ones just sowing a seed in the hearts of non-Christians to be harvested later by other missionaries.
I myself have been on short-term missions several times to Asia and Africa with Youth with a Mission (YWAM), an international, interdenominational mission organization. Despite its name, older people are very much welcome in YWAM. I had the privilege to work with handicapped orphans in Thailand, young Christian leaders in Bangladesh, business people in Bali, and juvenile delinquents and school children in Africa. Here are some names of other organizations out of a list of hundreds: Operation Mobilization, Mercy Ships and Wycliffe Bible Translators. One of the best resources to find an organization is the internet.
However, not everybody is called to go out into the mission field. In fact many more are needed at home to pray as intercessors, help with finances, organise support and communicate with those in the field.
The Lord has called all of us to witness for Him but we also know that we are one body with different functions in the Christian church. It is important to work together in the role He has given us. Then His blessings will come, at home and abroad.
Elisabeth Puruto lives on the East Coast of Australia. She is a born-again Christian of mature age and has taken part in a number of part time mission outreaches. At age 67 she obtained her PhD in Linguistics and is currently studying for a Master in Divinity.
Copyright E. Puruto 2013.