The Southern Africa region has a rich history of Christian missions. In 1880 the church in South Africa was said to have made greater progress than in any other area of the African Continent. This phenomenal growth was said to have resulted in the emergence of a large number of African clergy (Hildebrandt 1990). Over the years the context has changed and sadly too, the Great Commission had become a free elective ministry to majority of African churches in the region. This scenario had further been compounded by the overwhelming issues of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, poverty, unemployment and the dilemma of transitioning from apartheid, colonial imperialism and a paternalistic missionary sending and supporting approach.
Despite these challenges, God is at work! A new momentum of missionary awareness and involvement started building during the last decade of the 20th century. This was climaxed when Africa hosted the Global Consultation on World Evangelization (GCOWE`97) for the first time in Pretoria. The impact of the Consultation has resulted in increased awareness, interest, investment and involvement in missions. Other significant outcomes include the formation of new partnerships, networks and hubs to reach the unreached. There are also new national, denominational and organizational missions initiatives. Missionaries are no longer presumed to be white, but have a beautiful diversity in color! Creating a new mission horizon.
There is no short cut to creating a new and enduring mission horizon for the church in Southern Africa. There must be effective and sustained mobilization, training, sending and supporting of African missionaries. To achieve this goal, we need to challenge the church leaders with the changing phases of the 21st century missions and the impact of its emerging global forces like economic depression, political changes, poverty and unemployment and many other social issues.
There is no doubt that a clear presentation of the challenges we face will prompt engagement in mission by the Church in the region. In practice, the mobilization process, training, sending and supporting that will work today in Africa must be creative, contextual, innovative and inspiring.
The mobilization process must also have firm hold on the present day realities, changes and paradigms. One impetus of mission mobilization is the fact that some politically stable and economically viable countries in Southern Africa, currently suffer the influx of refugees and immigrants, an advantage to mission enterprise. Consequently missions cannot be defined by geographical boundaries any longer, but rather in terms of mission-market. This is because mission field has come to the backyard. It has invariably provided a mission involvement opportunity for economically poor churches in Africa. We therefore need to create a simple new mission horizon for the Church in Southern Africa that can inspire involvement from where they are to the ends of the world and mobilization is the only solution. The Church must be taught to do away with the traditional mission lenses that see the mission field as only overseas.
Mobilization is said to refer to any process by which God`s people are awakened and kept moving and growing until they find their place in strategic involvement in the task of completing world evangelization (Winter and Tullis 1997).
For a long time missions mobilization has been treated as a straightjacket rather than a flexible process. Africa has also suffered as a testing ground for training materials that have been developed outside its culture. There is therefore an urgent need for mission mobilisers who are neither pastors, missionaries or mission practitioners with first hand experience, to be properly trained in the art of mobilization. This is because there are underlying factors and inter-connected elements that influence a local church`s ability to become involved in mission. These include effective communication skills of the mission mobilizer, congregational realities, congregational receptivity, denominational tradition, profile of the mobilizer, characteristics of church adult learners and local church critical mission resources of money, people and prayer (Osameyan 2006). All these coupled with the prevailing ecological frame of the different local churches, call for an in-depth understanding in designing an appropriate mission mobilization approach for the Church.
For any mobilization process to be effective in Africa, the following stages must also not be ignored: Exploratory, relationship building with the Church and its leadership, assessment of congregational needs to know the right approach and the appropriate follow-up strategy. Spiritual warfare in mission mobilization is another aspect that has been ignored, but very important if we are to see the Church in Africa involved. Jesus illustrates this when he said: Can a man enter a strong man’s house and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? And then he will spoil his house. (Matt 12:29)The primary target of our mission mobilization should first be the pastors and church leaders.
This is because they hold the keys to the entrance of their local churches. Good exposure of pastors and church leaders to the challenge of the unfinished task often results in significant deployment of missionaries and resources to specific target people groups by their denominations and local churches. Another factor that must be addressed to see the Church in Southern Africa taking its rightful place in world evangelization is the issue of local church on one side and the old/emerging agency relationship on the other hand.
TRAINING AND SENDING
The issue of cross-cultural training for missionaries cannot be overemphasized. Jesus trained the twelve. Paul who himself was set apart, to be prepared for ministry spent time to train his converts and expected his disciples to do the same. (Acts 20:26-31; 2 Tim. 2:2)
Apart from cross-cultural training, there is also a growing need for adequate theological education for African missionaries. This is because experience has shown that they often find themselves playing different roles on the field, which they are sometimes ill-prepared for (e.g. pastoral and teaching doctrines).
Local church and agency relations: a call for synergy and collaboration
A historic tension existed between the church leaders and mission agency leaders. This tension must be replaced with a synergistic collaboration in order for the remaining un-evangelized people groups in the Southern African region and beyond, to be reached with the Gospel. There is also a great need for the established foreign mission agencies working within the region to join hands with the emerging ones, as there are areas of common interest and for cross-fertilization of ideas. Duplication and competition would also be eliminated since they target the same ministry market.
The following are a few models of missionary training among some emerging missions:
Jointly sponsored training school:
A typical example is the Nigeria Evangelical Mission Institute (NEMI) in Jos that was started in 1986 by six different mission organizations and churches. Although many other denominational and Mission Agency schools have been started since then, it still serves as a good model.
Church-based/apprentice type of training:
This is another model that has been used by different churches and organizations in Ghana and Nigeria. It is an on-the-Job training program for would-be missionaries and it has been found to be effective.
Interdenominational mission schools:
Few schools of missions are available within the region besides the Africa School of Mission in White River South Africa and Pro-Christo Mission School in Kabwe, Zambia. There is a great need for the establishment of more missionary training schools in Southern Africa to equip the growing number of missionary volunteers in our churches.
Sending and supporting models:
Emerging missions follow several models in their sending structure and function. The following are some typical examples that could be adopted by African churches in the region. They are less expensive when compared with the traditional models:
Today, many missionaries are sent as tent-makers. Two churches join together to send a missionary. Families contribute to send and support missionaries on the field. Sometimes local churches of the same denomination form a missionary society. A typical example is the Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS) of the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) in Jos, Nigeria. Churches in the hosting cities of refugees and immigrants are now adopting them for church planting purposes. Typical examples are the French church in Pretoria and the Ethiopian church in White River in South Africa.
Also with the increased awareness in member care, creative ideas that are contextually relevant are being developed for generating financial support for missions. The issue of lack of resources has been the major challenge and common excuse for non-involvement in mission by African churches. This issue can be resolved through effective mobilization.
Resources locked up in the Southern African Church could be released for the blessings of other nations in the world if missionary vision is ignited in the churches. There is no hard and fast rule on what a mission sending structure should be like. It may be a form of denominational or Agency-based type of sending. What is important is reaching the unreached in a sustainable approach.
FIVE GIFTS A WELL-MOBILIZED SOUTHERN AFRICAN CHURCH CAN SHARE WITH THE WORLD
Gift of Relationship: In this age of technological advancement and individualistic spirit, the African relationship and people-orientation remains a key both for soul-winning and effective mobilization of more harvest force.
African`s capacity to survive despite hardship and poverty in contrast with their Western counterparts. This has an added value for missionary work in other poor countries of the world.
South Africa, as a leading Country in NEPAD and as one of the economic powerhouse of Africa, is fast becoming a global trading hub in Southern hemisphere. This is an open window of opportunity for exporting African professionals and tent-makers as missionaries around the world.
The Southern African Church is endowed with many world-renowned scholars and missiologists. For example, the Southern Africa Missiological Society (SAMS), the first of its type in Africa, is making immeasurable academic and scholastic contributions to global missions.
Citizens of some Southern African countries do not need visa to enter many countries of the world. This is an added advantage for prospective missionaries from the region to the world, where doors are already closing against missionaries from Europe and the West.
We believe with proper mobilization, training, sending and supporting, the church in Southern Africa is strategically positioned to make a difference in the region. It can also become a strong harvest force, exporting missionaries to other parts of the world.
Time is also overdue to form a mission mobilization network in the region, to wake-up the sleeping giant and mobilize the God-given resources and potential locked up in the Church.
The Euro-centric approach to mission sending and supporting has to be reviewed well, for an afro-centric approach of mission sending and supporting. Africans are the best missionaries to reach other Africans for Christ. It makes mission less expensive, and saves time with the elimination of cultural adaptation and language learning. Also in different parts of the world where doors are closed against our brothers from the West, African missionaries will be welcomed. We believe Africa`s time in world evangelization is now. We are recommending a post MANISA `08 coming together of national, regional and organizational mobilization outfits for cross-pollenization of ideas and sharing of models that work. Contact us today.
Nicholas D. Osameyan
Nicholas D. Osameyan