Monday, January 26

What is our missionary role in the cities of Latin America?

What if, for some reason, we suddenly had to pull out of all the major cities in the Americas? No more missionaries in Bogotá, San José, Lima, Asunción, Sao Paolo, BA...would it really make any difference? Would we really be missed? So why are we still in the cities? Why are most of our missionary personnel still in places like Caracas, Santiago, Mexico City, Quito, Guatemala City?

I have a few thoughts about the roles we missionaries play in the cities of Latin America where the Gospel has already taken root. If we use the analogy of the missionary task to that of a field being planted, the farmer first plows the ground, plants the seed, waters the seed, pulls the weeds, and eventually harvests his crop.

Those missionaries who came before us did an excellent job in plowing the hard ground, planting the Gospel seed, and watering the seed through a host of ministries, institutions and programs.

But I would argue that those initial three phases now belong primarily to the national church and are no longer our tasks as missionaries.

In many parts of Latin America the work is mature. The national church is effectively carrying out these roles as effectively--or better in many cases--than we foreign missionaries were able to do.

So, what then is the missionary task that justifies our presence in the major cities of Latin America?

I propose that our missionary role and presence in the cities is validated by the extent of our engagement in the later phases of "weeding" and in many places "bringing in the harvest."

How do I define "weeding?" Weeds are what compete with the sowed grain and negatively impact bringing in a bumper crop. After two decades in Guayaquil I can name those weeds that are most hurting us: discouragement, distractions, divisions (the 3 D's of the Devil.) The missionary task, as I understand it is to be a prophetic voice "weeding out" the 3 D's of the Devil. There are probably other "weeds" out there, but these three seem universal in harvest fields. Our role is to help identify in the churches, ministries, institutions, and conventions, the weeds which are choking out the harvest which God wants to bring in.

Nobody likes to pull weeds. But what happens to a crop if nobody hoes weeds? All the hard previous labor will fall short of its potential. The thieving weeds will ruin a harvest! How weed pulling is played out will surely vary from city to city and region to region, but it must be addressed.

The other final phase is to bring home the harvest.

I see in this missionary phase the task as primarily an administrative, logistical role of coordinating, training, mobilizing, motivating, and inspiring people. We can't possibly bring home the harvest by ourselves. To finish the task, the Lord of the Harvest is going to have to touch many hearts. Our part is to be an instrument that He uses as a mouthpiece, a voice, the go-between to get people from point-A to point-B where the harvest is taking place.

We are the ones who need to thoroughly understand concepts like partnering, networking, mobilizing, how people communicate today, and understanding today's generations and cultural values to harness that energy to bring in the harvest the Lord has been preparing for decades in the cities of Latin America.

So, what do you think? Should we still be giving our missionary time to plowing, planting, watering, as well as to weeding and harvesting? Would you add/subtract anything to the above? Again, I am speaking more in the context of the missionary task, not as what we the Church should be engaged in. Till Christ returns, the church should be out there making disciples of the nations. But where do we engage our priorities as missionaries? That is the question.

7 comments:

Tim Patterson said...

Guy,

I have followed this conversation over at cp forum.

I know that it would be a biased opinion... but I think the churches in Latin America have been around long enough to contribute to this conversation. Have you asked leaders from there what they think your role should be? If so, have any given good biblically based answers? If so, what did they say?

I see various roles among different missionary types in the New Testament apart from the initial apostolic ground breaking/planting role... all according to what the churches needed at the time to equip them to reach their own. We should never lose sight of the fact that we are outsiders and should eventually move on, while the insiders are used by God to reproduce and multiply... this includes them doing the cultivating, weeding and harvesting ... in my view.

Not to say that there is no need whatsoever for outsiders... just needs to be a reduced role among pop segments that have viable churches. Where there are still pockets that have little or no foundation... that is where outsiders should contribute.

Tim Patterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GuyMuse said...

Tim,

Good observation. At this point, it seems what we are most appreciated for is our role in training/teaching, and to the extent that we are able to help mobilize, this too is appreciated. Where there is a disconnect, is when we don't respond to their wishes that we help them find money from N. America to do the things they are wanting to do.

Tim Patterson said...

Guy,

Do the churches have higher level leaders like yourself that can take on the role of teaching/training/mobilizing? If this is your role, next step before leaving would be to raise up leaders to take your role.

I know that you know that finances should not be a factor. Once we leave they will be forced to depend on God for the resources needed to carry out the Great Commission, and it should not matter to us how they do that... that is between them and God.

GuyMuse said...

Tim,

next step before leaving would be to raise up leaders to take your role. There are leaders doing this already, but the nationals do not give them as much respect as they do the missionaries. If you announce an event where a national is teaching, few will come. But if a missionary is teaching, many more will show up because it promises to be a better presentation, etc. This is not to say there aren't good national teachers, leaders, but there is an idiosyncrasy in the culture to not respect as much one's own people as those from the outside. This is something we continue to struggle with.

Tim Patterson said...

Guy,

Yes, that is true all over. Once we leave they are forced to find ways and means to make do... won't happen until outsiders pull-out... problem in Latin America - there are a multitude of outsiders living there that unwittingly maintain dependency on their special skills.

It is more complex than this (or maybe we make it more complex)... sending churches and agencies must determine with the vocational missionaries under Holy Spirit guidance when it is right time to change roles or pull out. To pull out does not necessarily mean going back to your home country... could mean moving to a different field or people group within current country, or moving to another part of the globe.

GuyMuse said...

Tim,

Thanks for your insightful comments on the subject. The whole MAWL (model, assist, watch, leave) model has always intrigued me, but admit the hardest to implement is the last stage. We can always find good and right reasons to stay on. In our own case we "reinvent" ourselves and leave what we were doing in hands of others (case in point, see my latest post.) But as long as we are physically present, we will always have a certain role to play.