The Native Evangelist Missions Strategy is the belief that one of the best ways for U.S. Christians and churches to participate in global evangelism is by providing support and encouragement to the native Christians who are already present in a country.
“Native Evangelist Missions Strategy” is my phrase, but it certainly is not my idea. In the last several decades, many missions ministries have recognized that one of their best Great Commission strategies is to direct more resources to native evangelists, church leaders and churches. K.P. Yohannan of Gospel For Asia, perhaps the most vocal advocate of this thinking, uses the phrase “native missionary movement” to describe this approach to world missions.
To send a U.S. missionary to the foreign field is an enormous undertaking:
• The time expense is huge: It takes years to identify his field, raise support, learn the language, etc. Once on the field, it takes additional years to learn the culture, establish relationships, etc. Most missionaries also return home for an extended furlough once every few years, to maintain family ties and financial support.
• The dollar expense is huge: including income, benefits, transportation, and ministry expenses. The expense of a single U.S. missionary and his family on the field is usually equivalent to the full-time salaries of several native evangelists.
• The challenge is enormous: Achieving fluency in the language, mastering nuances of culture, overcoming nationalistic and racial barriers, etc. Some cross-cultural missionaries have experienced phenomenal success for the Kingdom, praise the Lord. Sadly, many well-intentioned missionaries are less successful, for reasons including inability to master the language, inability to adapt to the culture, and family members unable to accept being so far from home.
What if there was a missionary candidate who was actually born and raised in the target country? He already knows the language. He looks like, dresses like, acts like, and thinks like those he is trying to reach. He does not need to be sent; he is already there. He does not need to make periodic trips home on furlough; he is already home. No need to break through sociological barriers to form relationships; he already has a network of family members and friends with which to start. He does not have the financial needs and expectations of someone raised in the U.S.; he just needs sufficient support to live at the economic level of his fellow citizens.
That is the Native Evangelist Missions Strategy. In the 21st century, in many parts of the world, God has already raised up Christians and churches who are working to reach their fellow citizens with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our role, as their U.S. brothers and sisters, is to become their strategic partners. To provide support, which can include finances, books and materials, education and training, and leading short-term teams to provide assistance and encouragement.
The underlying philosophy of this strategy is: Nationals are doing the ministry. Native evangelists and church leaders are on the frontlines, leading the way for the gospel, and our U.S. role is to be their supporting partners. They can do it far better than we can, but we get the privilege of humbly helping them.
During the 18th-20th centuries, the Western evangelical church sent out many great missionary pioneers: David Brainerd (missionary to Native Americans in the 18th century), Adoniram Judson (first U.S.-sent foreign missionary; to Burma), David Livingstone (Africa), William Carey (India, often called the “father of the modern missionary movement”), Hudson Taylor (founded China Inland Mission, 1865), William Cameron Townsend (founded Wycliffe Bible Translators, 1942), Jim Elliot and Nate Saint (and their team, martyred in Ecuador, 1956). Those are just a few of the thousands of great missionary heroes of the faith.
Those mighty evangelists went to mission fields where the gospel had never been preached, where no churches existed to preach the Word and train disciples, where no Bibles existed in the native language. There are still mission fields like that today, and courageous missionary pioneers continue to take the gospel to such places.
However, thanks to the successful efforts of the missionaries of previous centuries, Christians and churches now exist in many parts of the world. In those places, the best strategy for furtherance of the Great Commission is to get behind them, letting the native Christians lead the way, while we provide whatever support and encouragement they ask of us.
This strategy is especially being employed to great success in India, where organizations such as Gospel For Asia and White Fields Evangelism support thousands of native evangelists. Joshua One Ministries believes the time is now for independent Christian churches to get enthusiastically behind this strategy in Mexico and Latin America, as well.
Costa Rica For Christ, through which we support Rodrigo Rojas and his team of evangelists, is Joshua One’s first strategic partnership with native evangelists. It is our plan and prayer, as the Lord provides, to establish similar relationships in coming years with native evangelists in Mexico and throughout Latin America.