Thoughts on Reverse Missions


I have been doing a bit of thought on ‘Reverse Missions”— this is missionaries who depart from New Sending Countries (countries that traditionally received missionaries), and serve in Old Sending countries 9countries that traditionally sent missionaries). These reflections are pretty off-the-cuff. I will hopefully be able to fill out these ideas later.

#1. Reverse Missions is perfectly valid. Early on after I arrived in the Philippines, Christians I knew thought it humorous the idea of Filipinos departing from the Philippines to go to places like the United States or South Korea to do missions. Some would accept the idea, but see it only in terms of Diaspora Missions— doing ministry work with Filipinos living in those countries. But unless you are one who sees missions as only applying to pioneering work among people who have not had the gospel presented in a manner that they can realistically respond to, reverse missions is just as valid as any other type of missions.

#2. Reverse Missions is rapidly becoming an anachronistic term. Perhpas it is already anachronistic. More Protestant missionaries (I am not sure about Catholic or Orthodox missions) come from New Sending Countries than Old Sending Countries. For decades, missions has been from all places to all places. Why should a Ghanian missionary serving in England be seen as “reverse” missions. Does it need an adjective of any sort? Arguably, it is missions.

#3. Reverse Missions still requires theological contextualization. The argument could be made that since Christianity is well-established in the recipient country, it is already well-contextualized in that country. It is possible, but culture is transient. It is not only possible that the faith has fallen out of relevance and resonance with the culture, it may be likely. We talk about some countries and cultures as being post-Christian. What that commonly means that the broader culture has changed, while the Christian culture either hasn’t changed, or has changed adjusted to be well-contextualized with a certain sub-culture that is diverging from the broader culture. In some cases, it may take an outsider from both the broad culture and the insular sub-culture to help the church.

#4. Reverse Missions perhaps is even more at risk of “sheep stealing” over “real missions” than regular missions. Sheep stealing is pulling people from existing churches and trying to get them to join one’s own church. This can happen in many places (this happens A LOT here in the Philippines), but perhaps even more common when a large part of the population are part of a post-Christian culture, while still holding, at least nominally, to a Christian denomination. It is tempting to assume the problem is the church they are part of. Is that true? Perhaps, but it can also be rather self-serving for a missionary to assume what is good for him/herself (growing the missionary’s ministry) is also what is best for the people being served.

#5. Reverse Missions makes it even harder to define what missions is (and is not). I feel that missions is best defined in relation to one’s own church. But I understand that culture or types of ministry seems to make more sense to others. Rather than trying to answer this question, I will just note that this challenge exists.

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