No, we’re not going to be discussing Nicolas Cage’s upcoming movie “Left behind” based on the wildly popular book series. In
fact, we’re not going to talk about eschatology at all. Eschatology, is the study of what the Bible says is going to happen in the end times. We’re going to talk about what’s happening now in the current times.
Reciprocity, the practice of exchanging with others for mutual benefit, has been left behind by Western, and specifically North-American missionaries (short and long-term). Here are some examples from indigenous people outside of North America:
An international graduate student related the story of the American family who graciously invited him and his family over to dinner after church three weeks in succession. On the fourth week, the student and his wife wanted to reciprocate and host the American family. When the students invited them, the Americans replied, “Oh, no. You’re the ones who need it.” For the international students, who hailed from a culture in which hospitality is a priority value, the relationship was over.*
A leader from Zimbabwe told a similar story from a different context. A North American pastor came for a visit, but his luggage was lost on the journey, leaving him with only the clothes on his back. When the Zimbabwean host tried to care for the man and buy him clothes, the North American refused. He communicated the basic message that he had come to give, not receive. The relationship struggled from that point on, because the North American was unwilling to let his host care for him.
Affy Adeleye, specialist in HIV/AIDS ministry for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students ministry in Africa, writes: I appreciate the fact that North Americans are willing to come to my continent, Africa, to serve, in spite of the poor conditions as compared to where they come from. In my opinion, those planning to engage in missions work in Africa need to understand the cultural context and worldview of the locals. Some ideas that work in the Western world may not work well in our context. They need to adjust their perspectives and also learn to receive (new perspective, insight, meagre resources) from non-Westerners. Generally they are accustomed to giving resources to those from the non-Western world and find it very difficult to receive. Sometimes this is perceived as an attitude of superiority complex.
We want those from the North American church to partner with us in ways that are mutually benefitting and uplifting; that way we don’t think of them as benefactors.’
Often when missionaries are sent or received the question is “What do you bring to the table?” It would be the uttermost arrogance for a missionary, short or long-term to say or insinuate that he or she is bringing something to the table and not be willing to receive what’s put on the table before them.
Philip Jenkins predicted that “by 2050, only about one-fifth of the world’s 3.2 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic Whites,” In large part that diminishing number will be the result of reciprocity left behind.
“Being in reciprocal relationship with brothers and sisters will force us to focus first on relationships rather than the creation of global strategies.” ~ Paul Borthwick
We will need to listen to the Majority World mission leaders’ critique of our obsession with what Samuel Escobar has called “managerial missiology.” In the spirit of humility, we need to build our efforts based on biblical concepts of interdependent, give-and-receive community.
“We need to consider the economic realities of globalization and the local church. Which local churches are more likely to participate in mission ventures around the world? Is it not true that larger, richer congregations generally have more disposable income to spend beyond themselves than poorer, struggling churches? If this is so, then will the new face of American congregational involvement in the global church be primarily that of white, affluent Christians in a large, rich, suburban parish? Will mission be understood as the haves providing for the have-nots, economically speaking? What are the possibilities for mutuality and interdependence in such unequal relationships?”**
From his position as a leader in India missions, Paul Gupta expresses his conviction that for true reciprocal partnerships to work, “Every partner must bring resources to the table. If all parties do not bring resources, it is not partnership; it is ownership, and there will be controlling dynamics from the side of the owner. The Western church must begin to intentionally develop patterns where both partners state their purpose for coming together, the vision they would like to accomplish, and the strategy they would like to employ. Then, together they can determine the total resources they need to accomplish the combined objectives of the partnership, and clearly decide who is bringing what to the table.”
At the Urbana Missions Conference in 2006, Pastor Oscar Muriu of Nairobi Chapel openly invited North Americans to join the African church in reciprocal service. But he exhorted, “Don’t come thinking that you are coming to fix Africa. You cannot fix Africa.”
Some important questions for the global mission community:
Do we have friends or simply “interests”?
Do we reflect the community of faith with sincere, abiding love for each other, which is the way that the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples?
Are we any different than the business or government communities, which tend to relate to others only when the relationship advances self-serving ends?
Are we participating in short-term missions for the purposes of building reciprocal, kingdom-building relationships across cultures, or are we simply using our international opportunities as ways to foster our own growth?
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*Paul Borthwick. Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? (Kindle Locations 1352-1355). Kindle Edition.
** Ian Douglas, “Globalization and the Local Church,” in The Church in a Global Era, ed. Max Stackhouse, Tim Dearborn and Scott Paeth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), p. 207.