Written by Anonymous Anonymous
Published: 25 January 2021 25 January 2021
In one unspecified Asian country (UAC), a Newer Sending Country (NSC1), recent indigenous mission sending activity traces its start as far back as to the beginnings of the 20th century. However, according to a review of published recent activity from this country, many mission sending difficulties remain. Numerous potential applicants for missionary service from this country have lacked competency in the language and culture of their target countries. Many lack the professional skills that they will need to establish a platform for service.2 Church leaders in the Middle East have stressed that future missionaries from this Asian country to their part of the world should first acquire some sort of professional status and have in-depth understanding of Islamic culture (Peter 2004, 7-8). However, the current state of readiness of some of these NSC missionary trainees fell well short of these ideals.
This writer’s personal observation with many … trainees was that they are mostly young people from 20 to 25 years of age with an average education of junior school to senior high school. Only a few have some college education. Most of them come from rural areas with little experience in city life, and almost none had any cross-culture experience outside of [UAC] prior their joining the program for training. Almost all lack any professional skill. Also almost all of them, though rich in church ministry experience, had virtually no experience in the secular work place (Chan 2009, 75).
He previously had recorded the following story:
A missionary has recently communicated with the writer that in Iraq he had encountered a group of [NSC] missionaries from rural [UAC]. To his surprise, these [NSC] missionaries have no knowledge about Iraq, certainly no language skill. Furthermore, these [NSC] missionaries are pig farmers, not the most welcoming profession in the Muslim world (Chan 2005, 74).
These NSC missionaries, though passionate Christians, have lacked cultural and linguistic competence. Though the church in this Asian country feels called to take the Gospel into the 10/40 Window, according to Kim-kwong Chan writing in 2009, “It will require a lot more serious missiological and spiritual groundwork before it (UAC) can become a credible and sustainable mission movement bearing impact on global Christianity” (2009, 78).
Growing Abilities of UAC Missionaries to Culturally Contextualize
I recently interviewed eleven UAC long-term missionaries exploring challenges experienced in the context of service. In these missionary conversations, I found evidence of a growing ability of these NSC missionaries to culturally contextualize, and a growing maturity of the mission sending movement from this Asian country.
Language and culture challenges NSC missionaries currently navigate are similar to challenges missionaries have faced throughout history (MI#2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,12). Interviewees possessed varying degrees of language proficiency and language learning aptitude, but generally functioned more highly in these areas than my literature review-based expectations. They were intentional in their language acquisition efforts, and their diligent study, whether in Arabic (MI#2), Khmer (MI#7), Indonesian (MI#5), or one of the minority ethnic UAC dialects (MI#3), bore fruit. The interviewed missionaries understood the nuances of local culture (e.g., worship styles, direction to face when praying), and implemented mature strategies to cross cultural boundaries (e.g., abstaining from pork) in order to build relationships (MI#3,4,6). One such challenge involved personal hygiene and the custom of UAC people to use slippers and toilet tissue when visiting the bathroom.
When we were in Indonesia, they just used the bathroom in bare feet… no slippers for the bathroom or for the kitchen, and then they wore nothing on their feet when they went back to the bedroom…I feel you should wear slippers to the bathroom. They don’t, so their feet are dirty. And no tissue is used in the bathroom, just hands and water. Oh, my! At the time I just could not accept this at all…so dirty, and then, using those same hands to eat! I couldn’t accept it at all- very painful. Really, I felt towards that culture and tradition…Sigh! My feet, later I looked at my feet… extremely dirty, you know? But everything was like this. Everything was like that, so I couldn’t be the exception. I could not draw attention to my culture nor could I make a point of showing how dignified I was or the kind of education I received. I couldn’t say those things. All you could do was adjust yourself, to change to be like them. (MI#5)
The interviewed missionaries endeavored to walk among and become like the people they served, eating and working with them, learning their special terminology, and becoming insiders in local language and culture in order to more effectively win a hearing for the Gospel message.
Intercultural studies were a strong component of the missionary training programs that some of the interviewees experienced. One missionary expounded,
When we eat, we do not want to just eat one course at a time. There must be a balance. We don’t just want to focus on the Bible and prayer only. We need to study the language and the culture. (MI#9)
Two missionaries studied at a special school tailored to the needs of UAC minority peoples (MI#4,12). Because the students represented so many different minority ethnicities, learners were able to gain first-hand practical experience with intercultural issues even while listening to didactic content. Formal teaching covered a wide variety of areas including how to preach to Muslims (MI#4), how to dress Malaysian style (MI#5), and how to eat unfamiliar food (MI#5). Passages from the Koran were read (MI#4). Literature on culture shock was examined (MI#8,9). One missionary training program placed missionary candidates among Buddhist people for six weeks (MI#6), later strategically relocating them in a predominantly Muslim area where they could again experience the discomfort of new surroundings. Candidates were required to make and visit friends, exchange phone numbers, etc. The instructors understood that intense culture shock experienced during training can help to avert more serious culture shock after a missionary goes abroad to begin long-term service (MI#6).
One NSC missionary stated that she used to think that just a passion for the Lord and prayerful proclamation of the Gospel were enough. Now she feels that knowledge needs to go hand in hand with a love for God (MI#5). She cited as an example Matteo Ricci and the way his science opened the Ming dynasty court to the Gospel. Jesus understood the problems of the fishermen. He answered questions posed by well-educated Pharisees. Without knowledge, it is possible to boldly preach the wrong thing. After completing theological studies in Singapore, she felt she understood why sustainability for missionary service from UAC was difficult to achieve. The UAC church needs to develop not only an indigenous UAC theology, but also an UAC slant on missiology that will sustainably carry these NSC missionaries into the world (MI#5).
In summary, among the interviewed missionaries, there is evidence of a more thorough training, greater language ability, and greater cultural sensitivity than what has been noted historically. These changes bode well for the UAC mission sending movement and hold out the potential of a possible more robust contribution by the UAC church to the cause of global Gospel advance. This kind of forward progress is encouraging as a prototype for what is happening and what can happen in other NSC as the global church moves toward a polycentric mission sending model (“Everywhere to Everywhere”).
 NSC (Newer Sending countries) is a term borrowed from the ReMAP study (World Evangelical Fellowship Missions Commission 1997). Newer sending countries, according to ReMAP, include: South Korea, Nigeria, Ghana, Brazil, Costa Rica, India, the Philippines, and Singapore. In this discussion, I use the term to designate those countries with relatively less experience in missionary sending, and do not limit the term only to these eight countries.
 Missionary candidate selection is a crucial factor in long term success on the mission field. Chan states, “The potential impact of the [NSC missionaries] on the Islamic world, at least in the immediate future, will be severely restricted by the limited availability of qualified candidates, rather than by the sheer quantity of missionaries sent” (2009, 75).
Chan, Kim-Kwong. 2005. "Missiological Implications of Chinese Christianity in a Globalized Context." Quest: 55-74.
Chan, Kim-kwong. 2009. Mission Movement of the Christian Community in Mainland China: The Back to Jerusalem Movement (Draft).
Elkins, P., Lewis, J., and Van Meter, J. 2003. Three Part Missionary Tracking Guide. WEA: Missions Commission.
Peter, Brother. 2004. Interview from the Land of the Pharaohs. Back To Jerusalem Bulletin, December, 7-8.
World Evangelical Fellowship Missions Commission. 1997. Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition. Edited by William D. Taylor, Globalization of Missions Series. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.