- Written by Carl Gilles Carl Gilles
- Published: 15 September 2020 15 September 2020
My perspective in this article might be very different than most missionaries since my story as a missionary in GP is quite uncommon. Growing up in Haiti, I had met many missionaries and at least two things were usual to all of them: they were white and spoke a different language. This was therefore my idea of a typical missionary. So, you would understand my surprise when Dan Irvine (Haiti Mission’s director at that time) approached me, during my 3rd year working as a French Pastor in New Brunswick Canada, about returning to Haiti as a missionary. That possibility was totally out of my purview.
Having grown up in Haiti and having had the chance to spend time in the US and in Canada, I slowly became convinced that one of my country’s struggles is of a deep vacuum in the area of leadership. During my short time working as a pastor in a good size church, and watching different styles of leadership models, I had learned enough to know that I needed more training in that area. I also developed a deep desire to share what I was learning with my fellow countrymen. So, I saw the invitation to return to Haiti as my opportunity to give myself to both of these passions. I decided to continue my post-graduate studies in Christian leadership with Liberty University online. I would then use that as a base to teach some leadership notions to fellow pastors.
This became my assignment in my first term as a missionary to Haiti. I had become the first Haitian missionary doing missions in my own country. The concept was awkward even for my fellow brothers in Haiti. Needless to say, ministry was not always a party. I often thought about how true that saying once quoted by Jesus: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home” (Math. 13:57). However, in the midst of the hardship with my own fellow brothers, I saw many positives for which I consider all the hardship worth it.
First, there was instant connection between me and the “nationals”. The fact that I looked like them, spoke like them and loved their food, gave me an advantage on my “more revered white missionaries”. I am sure at times the “nationals” started to like me until they remembered my title “missionary”, then the feelings welled up again. I so understand them. At the same time, that title served me very much, in that I did not have to work my way up from the bottom of the chain to be heard. Without it, I would have had to wait until I was in my 60’s to have the influence I had in my late 30’s.
Second, difficult concepts both in leadership and in our Wesleyan Discipline finally started to make sense to them. During my first two years, I kept being startled at questions that came up about the Discipline and the doctrines of the Wesleyan church. I could not believe that 60 years after the first Wesleyan missionaries came to Haiti, so much was still obscure to my fellow pastors.
Third, we had the chance to be involved in preparing a couple to go as missionaries in Burkina Faso. Like me, they too have much in common with the people in their field: they look alike, have similarities in culture and have the French language in common. While they still have a big gap to fill to connect the two cultures, there is no doubt that the chance of a successful ministry is higher than if they had come from Italy or the US.
All this brings about the biggest lesson I learned from my experience as a missionary ministering to my own countrymen and sending missionaries from Haiti. Here it is: in my opinion the most effective missionaries are people chosen from their own field and among their own people (or from a closed neighboring country or culture), who are passionate about helping their own, who are being equipped for the missions’ task and are unleashed.
Let me start with the concept of effectiveness. In general, mission agencies put a lot of emphasis on recruiting potential missionaries among people who are educated and passionate about helping people of other nations, and who can raise their support. While there is a lot to be said positively about this approach, I am not sure it's the most efficient way to get the job done. For one, experience shows that the greater the gap between the missionaries’ culture and their assigning field, the greater the suspicions and resistance to their message. This is also true in terms of time of adjustment; the greater the cultural gap, the longer it takes to adjust to the field. What should we say about language learning, diet, financial costs, and so on?
Another advantage is the avoidance of the difficult transition found in the 4th phase of mission whereas missionaries are to transfer all keys of the "kingdom" to nationals. In choosing nationals as missionaries, that transition is no longer an issue. There are so many positives to choosing a national instead of a foreigner as a missionary that we cannot take the time here to present each of them.
All this said, this approach is not without its own challenges. For example, finding a national with no personal agendas might be a difficult task at times. Funding a national in his/her own country brings another set of problem. These are just a couple of examples among dozens more. However, say we are looking for the right person to bring a message on a specific field, and we find a potential person within that culture versus another fine person outside of that culture, which one you think might bring the greatest result? Bring up your own argument, and let's discuss.