Wednesday 27 July 2016
Maids and taxi drivers are the new face of the missionary movement says global missions expert and Bible translator, Eddie Arthur.
“We are used to thinking about mission as people going from Britain or Australia to Africa or from America to China,” Arthur tells Eternity.
“These days in many of those places there are a lot more Christians than there are in the original sending countries.”
“The Philippines, for example, sends workers to the Gulf. A lot of Filipinos go to the Gulf to get jobs as taxi drivers, labourers, and maids. Many of those are believers who are going not only to get a job but also to share the gospel with the people they are going to.
“Filipino churches are sending pastors out as taxi drivers, as labourers who also run churches to support these Filipino maids.
“And we are starting to hear stories coming through of Saudi families where the mothers and children are becoming believers through the influence of Filipino maids working in their houses.
“That looks nothing like the sort of mission work that I did as a translator in Africa.”
Eddie Arthur is director of Strategic Initiatives at Global Connections UK, an umbrella organisation for missions. He is a former worker with Wycliffe Bible Translators and is visiting Australia to talk to mission leaders at the Missions Interlink national conference.
He tells Eternity that the old model of mission – of rich countries sending people to poorer countries – is becoming outdated.
“The biggest change that is happening around the world at the moment is what some scholars call ‘the shift in the centre of gravity’.
“Fifty years ago the majority of Christians in the world were in Europe, North America – basically among the European diaspora.
“Whereas now the majority of Christians in the world are in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Arthur says we are getting to a tipping point in the mission movement.
“The biggest sending country in the world is still the United States. But they are followed closely by Brazil and Nigeria, and who knows how many Chinese missionaries there are?”
It’s not only the faces of missionaries that are changing. Christianity is changing too.
“Just a few weeks ago I met a pastor from Lima in Peru. He is planting churches in Manchester in the North of England.
“It is fantastic because he has got an entry into the working class suburbs of Manchester that traditional British churches can’t get into. Because the traditional British church is so middle class.
“It is exciting because it is going back to how it used to be. Christianity was always a religion of the poor. But somehow in the last 100 years it became a religion of the rich. And it is shifting back again.”
Eternity asked Arthur if Australia is pulling its weight in the world mission movement.
“The only person who can answer that is God. My impression is that Australia does more than pull its weight. You have a big country with a small population. There are as many people in London as there are in the whole of Australia. There are far more missionaries from Australia as there are from London.”
Christianity was always a religion of the poor. But somehow in the last 100 years it became a religion of the rich. And it is shifting back again.”
Arthur points out that a disproportionate number of mission leaders – the heads some of the biggest missionary societies – have been Australians.
And he says not being American is an advantage. Australians are better at drawing international groups of missionaries together.
“As the world church changes, the role of the Australian Church will also change. It may not be to send as many pioneer missionaries as before. A key thing you are doing here is the number of mission theological training colleges. Australia perhaps is not sending as many people but is equipping more, because you train people from mainland China, the Philippines and across Asia.”
Eternity asked “If you were a doctor, looking at the missionary enterprise as your patient, how would you rate her health?”
“I would rate the overall health of the missionary enterprise as very healthy because it is God at work,” Arthur responded.
“The western mission agency is declining to some extent. But if you see the whole world as being involved it balances that overall. What God is doing around the world is incredible.”