Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 5, Number 2



The following "plea" was endorsed by a group of approximately 50 missionaries with African, Asian, European, and Latin American experience.


For years we have been warned by missionaries in Asia about making "rice Christians". We are told how hundreds and thousands, sometimes entire villages are baptized by well-meaning teachers who unintentionally leave the impression that being baptized is an avenue through which the person gains access to physical rewards: school fees, financial support, free clothing, etc. When the missionary is gone, so is their "Christianity". They join the next religious group that comes along handing out "rice" to new converts.

In spite of urgent pleas by missionaries with years of experience, the same mistakes are being repeated with alarming frequency in Eastern Europe. Well-meaning workers from America without an understanding of European culture, without experience in missions, armed with good intentions and pockets full of money are unintentionally leaving the impression with many new converts that becoming a Christian is a way to gain access to physical rewards.

Short term workers teach and baptize a few dozen people and leave. Another group arrives and teaches a few more. Eventually someone decides they can bring stability to the group by hiring one or more of the promising young converts as a full- time worker. It seems to be a good solution. Who better to reach the local people than one of their own. But it is not that simple! Although the sum required to support this young convert seems almost inconsequential to the American, it is almost always considerably more than the person could make working in his own country with a Ph.D. degree. Not infrequently it is 10 to 15 times more than the highest paid professionals in his country can earn. This gives birth to a type of worker who is considered a hireling by his own people. It makes an unhealthy connection between becoming a Christian and physical rewards. It attracts charlatans of the worst sort who are frequently able to worm their way into leadership positions.

Moreover, the local group of Christians never has a chance to choose and develop their own leaders as the New Testament teaches. Leaders are imposed on them from the outside. Worse still, these preachers and full-time workers who receive their support from American churches and/or individuals are not accountable to the local group. Over and over this arrangement has proven fatal to the development and growth of a strong congregation of faithful Christians.

Just as devastating, or more so, is the practice of helping these young Christians come to America for training. Of course we feel compassion for them, we want to help, but bringing them to the United States will almost certainly stifle the work in their native country. First, it is not good stewardship. What it costs to train one such person in this country could train a score, even hundreds, in their local country. Second, statistics show that only about 10% of them will ever return to their own land. Those who do return--almost without exception--return with an American salary. They are no longer "native" workers, but American missionaries, and their effectiveness is compromised because their own people tend to look on them as opportunists. Third, these people are often not the natural leaders who would have been chosen by the local group. So we again take the initiative away from the local Christians and impose leaders upon them from outside. Years of personal experience tells us the church will never grow under such conditions. Fourth, when we bring these new converts to the United States, they learn all the problems besetting the church in America. They tend to take our problems back to the mission field. The mission congregations have plenty of problems of their own to solve without having to wrestle with ours.

The biblical pattern is for local congregations to choose their own leaders. We are, with our dollars, subverting that pattern. In doing so we are unintentionally compromising the success of the work of evangelization for decades, perhaps generations, to come.

Let us not be fooled. There are no shortcuts to establishing stable, faithful, growing congregations. We desperately need missionaries who will stay for the long haul, men and women who will learn the language and culture and build strong congregations which can select and train their own leaders and establish other congregations.

And, yes, we need short term workers, people to go for two weeks or six months. The Lord has done marvelous things through short term workers. But we beg all who volunteer for short term work--whether you have been preaching for 40 years or have never taught in your life--GET AT LEAST MINIMAL TRAINING FROM SOMEONE WHO HAS SOME EXPERIENCE IN FOREIGN MISSIONS. And as enticing as it seems and as good as it makes us feel, please do not put national workers on American salaries or whisk them off to America for training. It will hinder the work.

We do not make this plea to stifle the initiative of any person or congregation. But experienced missionaries who endorse this article have made the very mistake we now see being repeated in Eastern Europe. The task is enormous. The obstacles are many. We must spend our limited resources in the best possible way. It is to be expected that we will make mistakes; however, it is unthinkable that we should repeat the same mistake over and over!


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