Changes in Global Mission

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Postcard from London

Paul Tester, Church Mission Society’s new mission development manager for Latin America, plans to encourage the growth of mission in the Latin America region, and he will be based in Lima, Peru. His appointment is the latest episode in a process that CMS launched more than two decades ago.

Opponents of the transatlantic slave trade founded CMS in 1799. In the years before its bicentenary, CMS announced a program of Decentralization, Internationalization, and Regionalization. Its aim was to assist new churches of the Global South to become fully missional in their own right.

The process recognized that two centuries after the foundation of CMS, mission had changed radically. In 1799 Christianity was a predominately Northern Hemisphere faith, but 200 years later it had become a global faith.

The missionary movement of the late 18th century resulted in a vibrant form of Christianity taking root in the Global South, growing at 3,000 conversions per day. In contrast, Christianity in the Global North had entered a phase of recession.

The late David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, claimed the 3,000 a day statistic; he also claimed that the number of missionaries from the Global South had surpassed those of the North. Churches in Brazil, China, India, South Korea, became major sources of missionaries. Africa, too, launched several fledgling missionary movements.

A useful case study of the change in mission can be seen in the way medical mission developed. It took some time for Western agencies to admit that medicine had a place in the missionary movement. But medicine and healthcare opened many doors, not least in mission to women by women. The Anglican churches of Burundi and Rwanda grew largely out of medical missions.

Once it was the Western missionary doctor who undertook medical missions. Today, more often than not, Westerners are simply part of a medical team. But there are many avenues for medical mission beyond the traditional mission hospital.

Moreover, there are incalculable numbers of doctors and nurses from Africa, Asia, and elsewhere spread all over the world. Their motivation: a missionary calling. Often these health professionals are to be found in places that are closed to Westerners.

The movement of health professionals is not always dependent on financial support from mission boards, but a grounding in theology and the principles of cross-cultural mission is vital.

Mission was once a movement of “the West to the rest,” but it now moves from everywhere to everywhere.

Taking this change into account, in the early decades of this century CMS began to reshape its work in Africa and Asia, providing seed money to sponsor mission movements based on these continents under local leadership. Both CMS Africa and Asia are entering a second generation of local leadership.

In December, CMS in Asia named as its new leader the Rev. Chan Nam Chen, a former superintendent minister in Sabah for the Assemblies of God.

A search is underway for a successor to the Rev. Dennis Tongoi, who has led CMS Africa from its inception.

There are three possible future trends:

  • Expect Asia to become the leading agent for global expansion of the Church. China will be a key player.
  • Expect the churches of the West to continue in recession as new churches spring up elsewhere. This fits a long-standing pattern in Christian history, first in evidence when Antioch took over missionary leadership of the Church from Jerusalem.
  • Expect persecution and migration to be major factors stimulating evangelism. This has been in evidence since the first-century Church in Jerusalem was scattered after the death of Stephen. There are many examples of this trend down the centuries and in our times.

John Martin


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