Missionary activity has long been so closely associated with the United States, England, Europe, Canada, and Australia that the West was assumed to hold a virtual monopoly on foreign missions. Only a few of the most wide-awake missionary leaders knew that this really was not so. Perhaps a turning point in awareness occurred at the April 12, 1972, meeting of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association in St. Louis, when the program was built around missions from the Third World, with papers presented by Warren Webster, Philip Hogan, and myself. Others such as L. L. King and George Peters had also been doing some preliminary work on the matter.

Curiously, the meeting of 400 IFMA/EFMA (Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association, Evangelical Foreign Missions Association) executives at Green Lake, Wisconsin, in September, 1971, on mission-church relations did not include Third World missions on the agenda. The formula for study there helpfully evolved from mission-church relationships to church-mission-church (thus including the home or sending churches), but it never quite reached the church-mission-church-mission concept. Only afterwards, as the post-GL’71 symposium developed (now published by Moody Press under the title Church/Mission Tensions Today), did it become evident that not enough time and thought had been spent on how to encourage the younger church to be truly missionary-minded.

Third World leaders have been aware of this lack for some time. Chua Wee Hian, secretary of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, once stated, “Most of my missionary friends confess that they have never preached a single sermon on missions to the young churches.” James Wong of Singapore says, “In the past, the evangelization of Asia has been retarded because of the failure of Western missions to encourage Asian Christians to organize their own missions and thereby extend the faith.”

Ralph Winter’s chapter in Church/Mission Tensions Today carries the significant title “Planting Younger Missions.” Other contributors such as Ian Hay and Grady Mangham stress the need to move from national churches to national missions, and they have presented some new facts to the Christian public.

But more facts were needed. This challenge was taken up in early 1972 by a research team at the Fuller Seminary School of World Mission composed of James Wong, Peter Larson, and Edward Pentecost. In five months they unearthed some fascinating information reflecting the activity of the Spirit of God in raising up a growing missionary movement out there in the Third World. With the cooperation of World Vision’s Edward Dayton and William Needham, they have produced a pioneer research report. It was published in Singapore recently as Missions From the Third World (available from William Carey Library, 533 Hermosa St., South Pasadena, Calif. 91030).

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One of the first steps in the research process consisted of listing the names and addresses of 697 persons who might be able to provide data. The team sent letters and questionnaires to all of them, and a good 34 per cent response filled their files with new facts. They then compiled a bibliography of 164 entries, combing every available written source. They interviewed scores of missionaries and national workers and corresponded with others who had done research of one kind or another.

The definition of “Third World missions” was, of course, an essential starting point. They decided to include all the non-Western countries in their definition of Third World, using the cultural (as contrasted to political or economic) criterion. This includes affluent countries like Japan as well as Third World cultures in the United States such as the Chinese.

The team first reduced the definition of “missions” to Protestant missions, and then attempted to include basically those sending agencies that were sending missionaries cross-culturally or cross-geographically with an underlying evangelistic motive. This included missions from one culture or another within a single country, such as a South Indian to North India, and also, for example, a Japanese sent to Brazil to minister to a Japanese colony there. The team admitted that these criteria were not always easy to communicate or follow through consistently, but at least they did provide some rough guidelines.

More recently, these definitions have been further refined and labeled. The symbols M1, M2, and M3 have now come to mean:

Missions-one (M1). Missionaries sent from one culture to people of the same culture. In Acts 1:8 this would correspond to “Jerusalem and Judea,” or today to a Hong Kong Chinese sent to minister to his own people in Los Angeles.

Missions-two (M2). Missionaries sent from one culture to a slightly different culture. In Acts it would be “Samaria” and today perhaps a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian to Spanish-speaking Bolivia.

Missions-three (M3). Missionaries sent from one culture to a radically different culture. In Acts “to the uttermost parts of the earth,” and today a Nigerian to Indonesia.

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A second set of symbols, G1 and G2, mean:

Geography-one (G1). Workers sent from one part of the country to another such as from Java to Kalimantan within Indonesia.

Geography-two (G2). Workers sent from one country to another.

Thus, six possible combinations of symbols emerge—e.g., M3/G1, M3/G2. Five of them, M1/G1 being excepted, are included in the concept of Third World missions.

The report, which is admittedly incomplete, locates 209 sending agencies in the Third World. They are currently sending out 3,411 missionaries. This is a conservative estimate made by counting five missionaries for each agency that did not report the exact number, conservative because the actual average of groups that did state their numbers was 26.2 missionaries. No one knows how many agencies did not report, but there may be a substantial number of them not yet discovered. Even since the report was written, new information has been coming in, and frequent updating will be necessary.

The ten top countries, according to the number of missionaries sent, are:

The ten top agencies mentioned in the report are:

Now we know much about Third World missions that we did not imagine previously. I have selected five items of particular interest arising from the report.

1. The concept of Third World missions has a long history. Although research has not yet turned up hints that such nineteenth-century missiologists as Henry Venn and John Nevius thought in these terms, some references in the writings of Rufus Anderson (1796–1880) suggest that indigenous churches should themselves engage in foreign missions. Further study will show whether this was stressed earlier within the modern missionary movement. Perhaps some historian of missions will begin to write on unknown missionary greats with names like Joseph Merrick of Jamaica, Joeli Bulu of Tonga, or Ini Kopuria of the Melanesian Brotherhood.

Few of us have been aware that the evangelization of West Cameroon in Africa was pioneered from Jamaica in the 1830s. The Karens of Burma began missionary work in 1833, moving out to the Kachins and to Thailand. In 1907 Korean Presbyterians were sending missionaries to Cheju Island. The Bataks of Indonesia used the annual fall harvest festival as a missionary conference to raise money for missions to Malaya and to other Indonesian tribes as early as 1930. Many other examples are given in the report, and undoubtedly many still are waiting to be discovered.

2. Some U. S. missions are setting the pace. Although a good many of the sending agencies in the Third World have sprung up as a movement of the Holy Spirit apart from Western influence, some U. S. missions have been conscientious about encouraging the churches they have planted to start missionary programs. Outstanding among these are the Christian and Missionary Alliance (38 missionaries from Asia alone), the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (15 Third World missionaries), the Southern Baptists (250 Brazilian missionaries), and the Sudan Interior Mission (now 115 missionary couples from Nigeria). Unfortunately, these are exceptions. By and large, our Western missionary agencies have not yet caught the vision.

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3. Definite patterns for missionary work in Africa can be discerned. Edward Pentecost has divided the patterns of African missionary activity into four categories:

a. The traditional denominational church affiliated with the ecumenical movement. With one possible exception there was no missionary work reported among these churches.

b. The IFMA-EFMA related churches. Missionary work is patterned after the mother organization and is often carried on with substantial financial subsidy from the United States. The SIM-ECWA (Sudan Interior Mission-Evangelical Churches of West Africa) work in West Africa would be an exception to this. Ian Hay, in Church/Mission Tensions Today, states that in 1970 they were sending out ninety-seven couples on an annual budget, raised from the African churches, of only $20,682.79. Many mission administrators would like to learn this secret!

c. The separated African churches. These churches, separated from Western missions, continue many of the Western patterns and seemingly have little missionary outreach.

d. The African independent movements. Several but not all of these movements have dynamic missionary programs all their own. Patterns have been formed that do not look at all like our traditional way of doing missionary work. One of them is based on migration, for example. Pentecost says, “These migration units are often the entire family, who go to another region, set up house and farm within the new area, and simply continue their life style in another location.”

4. Japanese missions have joined together. Japan leads the list of countries of reported mission agencies with thirty-two. The Japan Overseas Missionary Association, a group similar to the IFMA, was set up in July, 1971, bringing together eleven Japanese sending agencies.

5. The West is now receiving missionaries. When missionaries come from the Third World back to the original sending countries, missions has gone the full cycle. The report has located Third World missionaries ministering in Australia, Canada, England, France, Greece, Portugal, and the United States. In November, 1971, the head of the Church of the Lord (Aladura), which started in Nigeria, attended the inauguration of their first church in New York City! Other congregations of the Church of the Lord had previously been established in England.

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Perhaps the key event of recent times in the development of Third World missions will take place in Seoul, Korea, in August, 1973. Inspired and organized by three top Asia leaders—Bishop Chandu Ray of Singapore, Akira Hatori of Japan, and David Cho of Korea—this All-Asia Missionary Conference will gather missionaries and missionary leaders from many Asian countries. The first four days will be closed-door sessions—for Asians only. During the final two days a select group of Western missiologists will be present as observers. It is clearly a sign of the times.

The phenomenon of Third World missions is now a fact of life, and a development we can thank God for. However, this thrilling fact should in no way diminish the missionary zeal of the Western world. Almost three billion people in our generation have yet to hear of Christ.

Rather than cut back, we should concentrate on increasing our Western missionary effort and at the same time pray that our brethren in the Third World will increase theirs. The task of fulfilling the Great Commission is larger, humanly speaking, than we could possibly accomplish with our combined present resources.

George M. Marsden is associate professor of history at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has the Ph.D. (Yale University) and has written “The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience.”

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