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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Myths Regarding Missions 1 The myth of the vanishing missionary

There is a great deal of confused thinking these days with regard to various aspects of Christian missions. Church members continue to support missions, mostly with their money, sometimes with their prayers; but they seldom read literature dealing with missionary strategy and policy. Most of them know little or nothing about the progress of the past or the nature and extent of the problems that remain. Much of their information comes through the annual missionary conference, and that is usually more inspirational than informational. Hence the myths persist. In this section we can deal only with the more obvious myths.

Many people believe that the missionary era is over and that the missionary belongs to a species soon to become extinct. The reasoning goes something like this: When the modem missionary movement got under way 250 years ago, it coincided with the thrust of Western imperialism into Asia, Africa, and Oceania.

During the heyday of imperialism Christian missions worked in cooperation with the colonial governments, implementing and supplementing their programs of educational and social reform. World War II marked the end of the colonial period; and except for a few pockets of colonialism here and there the system is forever dead. The gunboats have been recalled and the white sahibs have all gone home. The Christian missionaries should do the same. This reasoning is common.

Every time there is a riot or a revolution with anti-Western overtones, someone is sure to demand the withdrawal of the missionaries. Even without riot and revolution there are those who insist that the missionaries represent the last vestiges of Western imperialism, and as such should be recalled. To clinch the matter they ask: “If the national governments can function without the colonial administrators, why can’t the national churches get along without the missionaries?” To all such people the missionaries at best are superfluous; at worst, they are downright dangerous. In either case, they should have the' good sense to come home; or they should be recalled.

Our reply is twofold.

First, the missionary’s identification with imperialism was one of the unfortunate accidents of history. They did not plan it that way and were happy when the unholy alliance was terminated. If, as the critics say, it was a mistake for them to go in with the colonialists, surely it would have been a mistake to come out with them. Two wrongs don’t make a right. To have come out with the colonialists would have confirmed what the nationalists and the Communists have been saying all along.

Second, the missionary task has not been completed. There is still an enormous amount of work to be done. To call it quits now would be to jeopardize all that has been accomplished up to this point. To compare the national government with the national church is grossly unfair to the latter. The former is in control of the entire country and has the support of all the people.

Moreover, it has access to sufficient funds to implement its programs regardless of the cost. By contrast the national church in some countries represents only 1 or 2 percent of the population. To maintain its existing work strains the budget to the limit. In all such places the missionary will be needed and wanted for years to come. In many parts of the non-Christian world church membership is barely keeping up with the population growth; in other parts it is falling behind. There are twice as many non-Christians in India today as there were when William Carey arrived in 1793. By no stretch of the imagination is the missionary a vanishing species.

J. Herbert Kane, The Making of a Missionary

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