Americans Go Home?

“So, do indigenous believers have it all sewn up and don’t need foreign Christian help?” That’s what was running through my mind as I listened to a Christian leader in India last Saturday.

We were in the Hindu belt of North India where religious, political and community leaders don’t take too kindly to conversion. Though the constitution guarantees religious freedom, when it comes down to the details, life is messy. “Just remember,” my colleague told me, “when the local police show up to inquire about Christian meetings in Hindu villages, they understand what the law says, but there’s something in their hearts that says “I’m a Hindu and this person has just converted to become a Christian”.”

In spite of opposition and occasional persecution, the Church is growing in some areas of the Hindu belt. And, I guess, it was my friend’s nonchalant description of numerous new fellowships, evangelists, training courses and so forth that prompted me to ask what role a foreign Christian really does have today in such situations.

The days of colonial missionary work are long gone. Back in 1910, two-thirds of all Christians lived in Europe, but that’s shrunk to a quarter in 2010. Whereas in Africa in 1910, a mere 2% of all Christians found there home there, but a hundred years’ later nearly one quarter of all Christians in the world live there. With the rise of the Global South church, I wonder what a godly response should be.

Well, I asked my Indian colleague what he thought outsiders should be doing. “There are five areas”, he answered, “Prayer, materials, training, finance, and infrastructure.” Clearly, he knew in his own mind how outsiders fit in. Foreigners can serve supportive roles while indigenous believers do front line mission and ministry. Simple?

His response certainly makes sense, particularly if there are indigenous believers in a particular area of the Hindu belt, or other belts, too. But what if there aren’t any? Should foreign Christians then enter as front-line missionaries? Should they serve as catalysts until indigenous believers emerge? Stay tuned for next week…

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