Our model of mission for the present day.
When William Carey and Hudson Taylor departed for Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively, that was the only way foreign mission could be done. A great mission movement arose, with many travelling ‘from the West to the rest’ to share the good news of Christ. God used many of these missionaries mightily, with Jesus being exalted among new peoples and nations.
Since then, the world has changed spiritually, spatially and politically. While sending missionaries remains a valid and biblical approach, the primary thrust of our work at AsiaLink takes place by partnering with local believers instead. We support their efforts by increasing awareness, inspiring prayer and raising financial support for the work into which God has led them. Here, we seek to explain why.
Cultural and language barriers
For an outsider undertaking cross–cultural work, the first hurdle to overcome is usually that of language. Estimates of how long it takes to effectively engage in mission in a foreign language vary, but the likelihood is several years. Added to this, language training is rarely cheap and language is not simply about words – rather, it is a fundamental way in which the cultural norms and values of a people are expressed. Even the most dedicated language student may struggle to fully grasp the cultural subtleties embedded in a particular tongue or dialect.
While some of our workers have to learn and adapt to the language and cultures of neighbouring people groups, most are reaching their own communities in their heart language. This mitigates the risk of culture shock and cuts out time spent apprehending the language and culture.
Another obstacle to cross–cultural mission is the perception of Christianity as an alien religion, a view exacerbated by the strong ties between religion and culture in many Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu countries. When Hudson Taylor began his work near Shanghai in 1855, he deliberately adopted the native Chinese clothing and the ‘queue’ hairstyle, comprising a pigtail and shaven forehead. This follows the example of Paul who became all things to all people in order to save some, and many missionaries continue this approach today.
Yet, native workers can arguably model more effectively and authentically what it means to follow Christ in their specific context and the growth of indigenous churches demonstrates that conversion does not necessitate abandoning the local culture. Our team see this first–hand when visiting churches across Asia as Christians continue to model the traditional dress of their country, or outwardly show respect for their rulers by hanging pictures in their homes.
God continues to use many Western missionaries powerfully in spreading the gospel, but He is also using Asian believers to reach their own communities. At AsiaLink, our priority is to assist the Asian church in directing and conducting ministry in their own context, in prayerful and humble submission to the will of God.
Paternalism or partnership
Another strength of supporting local workers is an increased sense of partnership and equality, with embedded missionary models sometimes at risk of being interpreted as ‘mission to’ rather than ‘mission with.’ At times, local believers have inadvertently come to see themselves as incapable of undertaking or leading the work. The danger is that in these culturally sensitive days, missionary endeavours can become (or at least appear to be) paternalism rather than partnership – a strategy which disempowers rather than empowers.
Of course, at the outset of a new missionary venture it may be that training and leadership skills are lacking in the target location. Mobilisation of outsiders may be required, and we recognise the work of many organisations in this area. Much wisdom and prayer is required when considering any individual for leadership and responsibility, but it is important to work deliberately towards a self–sustaining, locally–led ministry.
Awareness and support
2.25 billion people in Asia have never heard of Jesus, so it is vital that the Western church is both informed and inspired to pray. In addition, many Asian church families struggle to feed themselves, let alone establish programmes of training and outreach. This means that for effective partnership with Asian workers and organisations to occur, financial resources are often required from we who have so much, that ministry among and through those who have so little might be enabled to flourish. In turn we are richly blessed as we enjoy fellowship with brothers and sisters across the world and hear testimonies of God’s work among them.
At AsiaLink, we invest our time and resources in developing connections and fellowship with God’s people in Asia. We discover individuals and organisations being used by the Lord, equip them to grow in the work, support them through prayer, and provide financial assistance where necessary. All the while, we remain well placed to keep you informed of the work, inviting you to join in through your powerful prayers and gracious giving.