Who will go to the unreached? Are they young, female and black?

As former missionary Tamie Davis considers the big picture of missionary work, she is excited by the demographic characteristics* of World Christianity, which show that it is by and large young, black and female.

“Does it really matter what the makeup of World Christianity is?” she asks.

“I think it does because ‘young, black and female’ might not be who we most readily think of when we think of World Christianity, but that’s precisely the point! These are not the powerful people in society, or those who are lauded or respected, or whom we think of as leaders, including leaders of World Christianity.

“But God is a God who often turns up in surprising ways or works at the margin, who is working in the unlikely places, with those the world considers foolish, weak or lowly. If we know the character of God, I suspect it will not come as a surprise to us to find him especially at work among the young, black and female.”

Australia should see itself not only as a sending nation for missionaries but also as a receiving nation.

Davis, who spent 10 years partnering with the Tanzania Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES) with her husband Arthur, is now Mobilisation Lead at the Church Missionary Society South Australia/Northern Territory (CMSSANT).

In her upcoming keynote speech at the CMS Top End Global conference in Darwin on 23 March, she will talk not only about World Christianity but what she calls the World Not-Christianity.

“The World Not-Christianity part of the equation is the 3.2 billion people in the world who have no access to ever hearing about Jesus. There are 5.5 billion people in the world who are not Christians, and 3.2 billion of them haven’t had the opportunity even to hear. That’s mind-blowing,” she says.

“And how can they hear if no one reaches out to them? When we think about this unreached world, we’re trying to think about who missionaries are and who reaches this unreached world … Obviously, God uses all kinds of people in his mission. No one’s saying that if you’re not young, black and female, God can’t use you. Part of what I’ll be trying to do is to show us how the missionaries in God’s world are people from all kinds of different backgrounds … Part of what we want to do with CMS is recognise that we’re part of a global mission movement that includes all kinds of different people, including those who are young, black and female. And we actually might not quite be the centre of this; we might be joining in with something that is a much bigger movement, in which the Holy Spirit has gone ahead of us.”

“We want to help people to think about how to be co-workers with others who are involved in God’s world.” – Tamie Davis

Davis said Australia should see itself not only as a sending nation for missionaries but also as a receiving nation.

She pointed out that while Tanzania received her and Arthur as missionaries, “they have now, in their estimation, sent us back to Australia as missionaries to Australia.

“But also, Tanzanians are sent out from Tanzania to other parts of the world … And in today’s world, where the vast majority of world Christianity is young, black, and female, we might actually want to think about ourselves as receiving locations as well. And, as this reverse migration happens from the majority world back to the West again, there’s a sense of the Holy Spirit sending them and moving with them.”

Arthur and Tamie Davis with Callum, 8, left, and Elliot, 11.

Davis said that CMS was always keen to promote mission education and to help people see themselves as part of a much bigger world.

“In part, that’s because the more you see yourself as part of a much bigger world, the more you want to be involved in that much bigger world. And hopefully, also you are involved in it in good ways rather than in destructive ways. We all know that mission history is certainly mixed.

“There have been great examples of missionaries who have gone into God’s world and have brought hope and healing and all kinds of things, but others have been very destructive. And sometimes those things have coexisted. Sometimes the things that brought hope and healing have actually come at the cost of others. A great example of that is missionary wives. Husbands have done great things, but there has been collateral damage along the way.

“So, we want to help people to think about being involved in God’s world in good ways. And we want to help people to think about how to be co-workers with others who are involved in God’s world, rather than just seeing it.”

“A young Aboriginal woman – that’s not who we think of when we think of a missionary, right?”

Davis said she had only recently discovered that Aboriginal advocate Lowitja O’Donoghue, who died aged 91 on 4 February, had been a Baptist missionary to India, as well as all her other achievements.

“A young Aboriginal woman – that’s not who we think of when we think of a missionary, right? I was so surprised when I heard that part of her story before. We’ve got to keep telling those stories, got to keep hearing those stories so that we can actually see ourselves as part of that. And also think about the people we’ve previously not thought about as missionaries who God is using so that we can help, mobilise and support them as well.”

*67 per cent of Christians live in the majority world. 25 per cent are in Africa – this is the largest demographic piece of the pie, which explains the ‘black’ characteristics of World Christianity, but in some ways, that’s a stand-in for ‘non-white’.

40 per cent of Africans (i.e. the biggest part of World Christianity) are under the age of 15. Only 3 per cent are over the age of 65. 

Worldwide, women outnumber men in Christianity in every country in the world except Qatar (because 75 per cent of Qatar’s population is male.)

Statistics quoted from Women in World Christianity by Gina Zurlo.