Thesis of the Book
Missions are compared to a mouse and an elephant at a party. Although the elephant is having fun, the mouse ends up crushed. Essentially, that story depicts the manner of Western missions in the Global South. Although missions may have good intentions, quite often there are disastrous results for the Global South (like the mouse). The thesis of this book is that missions is changing and must continue to change so that we may truly partner with the Global South rather than continue being unreflective about the outcome of our missions. The Global South has much to offer that we can learn from and it is important to hear their voice as we work together to live out the Kingdom in our world!
Evaluation of Sources Used
Yes, the sources helped to support the thesis. The sources implemented were from notable theologians, such as Marva J. Dawn and Lesslie Newbigin. These sources were not merely mentioned, but were often quoted to provide support for the main idea. However, that was not the strongest point for the sources used. This book put into practice what it was preaching through its pages. Authors from the Global South were also implemented into the composition of this work. C. René Padilla, for instance, was referenced quite often and to great extent. This strengthened the argument of the book on the sole basis that the authors were willing to listen to other parts of the world and their perspective. Thus, their actions spoke louder than their words: “We have much to learn from our ministry partners in the Global South.” They also implemented other sources from contexts outside the Global North.
The sources used also included “secular” sources. This provided “outside parties” that have taken note of these problematic issues that confront those engaged in cross-cultural missions. A great amount of data concerning the issues of poverty, war and genocide, environmental concerns, and other problems set the backdrop for the discussion about “partnering” with the Church across the world. This was helpful to see that being missional is a holistic endeavor that must include the indigenous peoples and leaders, if there is to be a good and lasting impact.
Development of the Main Idea
Missions have become a much more de-centralized endeavor. Previously, missionaries and missions agencies were at the center of outreach to other parts of the world. In recent years there has been a decrease in the local church’s reliance upon these missionaries as the only source of information. Due to globalization, the world has become more accessible to people geographically located in other world areas. This accessibility has not only inculcated a desire to be involved with the “borderlands” but it has also encouraged local churches to undertake missions on their own. The missionary has become more of a tour guide than previously.
Globalization is often seen as a “flattening” of the world where everything is becoming more uniform and accessible. Although there is a great degree of that, there is still a great deal of diversity and inequity in the world. The world is both “flat and spiky.” Working cross-culturally means that we must be aware of the cultural differences and issues that may be potential “spiky” areas.
Many well intentioned missionaries or groups have entered other cultures and created disastrous results because they came in as the “experts” rather than in humility, asking how they might best serve the community. The result ranges from distrust, to confusion, to anger from the indigenous population. The Northern “partner” is often left disillusioned or unaware that their endeavors were harmful… thus, the vicious cycle is repeated. Resources are sometimes wasted on useless projects that could have best served in other ways.
Partnership is not merely a good idea, but it is a theological necessity. The Church is never fully whole if it is not the universal Church. We have much to learn from our Southern partners. PLA (acronym meaning Participatory Learning and Action) helps us to remember that we are engaged in mission together. And, ultimately, the mission is not ours but God’s mission in which we are invited to participate. As such, the community determines the need and we simultaneously learn and act toward a collective solution. This empowers the local church while helping it to keep momentum through the partner’s contributions (i.e., time, resources, knowledge, people etc.). There is an overlap that should link both partners inseparably together for cooperative transformation of both communities. It is long-term discipleship together.
Ultimately, partnering together takes diligent work and listening. It is vital to understand the context and culture, to know the heartbeat of the community, and to fully understand its potential and limitations. To have an effective and sustained impact on an area, it is important that we weigh all of the necessary information before acting. This means that we should take seriously the knowledge of those that live in the culture. They are resident experts on what will likely work best. This does not mean that we can play an important role, but it does mean that we cannot walk into a place thinking that we know best. Otherwise, we may only waste time and energy.
One of the strongest points to me was the planning element. It is helpful to see that we are “intercultural” partners, rather than cross-cultural partners. This means that we engage the issue together on equal footing, working together. As such, it is important to get the local community involved and “rolling the wheel” first. Then, as this happens, there will be momentum added as the other church contributes to the overall vision.
However, the strength of this element in the book is also its weakness. In cultures, like North America, that value planning and are time-oriented, this planning may be seen as the obvious progression of steps. But, in event-oriented cultures planning like this may be a foreign concept and not easily or readily translatable to that context. As a result, the planning suggested in the book may drastically need to be altered to fit the context.
The mission is not merely about converting people or completing projects. These are minor goals compared to the overarching goal, which is to connect people as growing disciples to the living Christ. As such, we are equipping one another as partners for this all-encompassing mission! We must ask how our partnership is aiding us in discipling others. We must move beyond charity and allow our works of compassion to embody justice. Really, it is about “normalizing the Kingdom” in a broken world.
Personal Evaluation of the Book
Overall, I thought the book was insightful concerning the ways that missions has morphed and detailing the ways that it still needs to be sensitive to issues in the Global South. Missions must be a partnership that goes beyond merely “saving souls.” Rather, it is a partnership where both may be edified and built up in the faith. It is about transformation. This transformation is challenging because it calls for mutual accountability and discipleship. It is long-term partnership that engenders active listening to all parties concerned. And, it engages the issues that continue to promote oppression and the resulting resentment from the “bottom billion.” I would recommend this book, especially given that it emphasizes the theology of missions in considering how we should embody our call as a missional people. That is something with which we must continually wrestle.
- Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission by Mary T. Lederleitner (kingdomcruciformity.wordpress.com)
- Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-term Missions with Cultural Intelligence by David A. Livermore (kingdomcruciformity.wordpress.com)
- Missions and Money: Affluence as a Missionary Problem… Revisited by Jonathan Bonk (kingdomcruciformity.wordpress.com)