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.