Rethinking missions

Holy Bible and a world map in the background. World missions concept. Copy space.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “mission”? Going to exotic places, climbing mountains and crossing treacherous rivers, walking through the jungles and experiencing exotic aromas in distant lands, or going to a continent where elephants and giraffe roam the roads?

We grew up with the mission stories of David Livingstone, William Carey and Sadhu Sundar Singh: their adventurous lives of crossing oceans, discovering new lands or climbing snow-covered treacherous mountains. It is true that these missionary veterans did sacrifice their lives and we need to admire them for their pioneering spirit, and learn from them.

However, in reality, the context of missions has radically changed in the past decade. In 2007, the world population became more urban than rural. More people than ever are living in cities today. By the year 2050, two-thirds of the world population will be living in cities. Ray Bakke put it this way: “Mission is no longer about crossing the oceans, jungles and deserts, but about crossing the streets of the world’s cities.” Now the people who most need outreach are part of a global diaspora on our doorstep.

The world is very much globalised and we still retain the sentimental notion of missions being about going to tribal areas or reaching out to poor people. But where do we truly need to send our missionaries? Are we too caught up in the idea that “real missions” are about going to rural or tribal areas? Poor and marginalised people need the gospel, certainly, but what about someone wearing a tie and jacket, living in the developed world?

The Bible tells us in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” (NASB) “Nations” simply means people, and this means we need to reach out to educated people and prosperous nations. Education and literacy doesn’t change people’s inner beings – the gospel does. As D. L. Moody said, “If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and, in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track.”

I believe it is time for us to change the idea of missions. Yes, it is true that someone in remote parts of a developing country can survive on $100 a month. But such amounts will not suffice in countries like France or Japan. Only one per cent of Japan is Christian, and it is not an easy place to send the gospel to. Sending a missionary to Japan is expensive, and church planting in Japanese can take years. Less than two per cent of French citizens identify as evangelical, which means that there are more evangelicals in India than in France. Are we ready to send missionaries to France and Japan?

Should we allow missions to be dictated by cost, rather than by need for the Gospel? It might be high time for us to look beyond traditional missions.

Picture by IngridHS/

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Dr Ashok Kumar –is Director of the Hethne Net ministry under Operation Mobilisation East Asia & Pacific, and a member of Bedok Methodist Church. Hethne Net is a global strategic network which shares the best experiences and ways to reach the Hethne community in India and around the world.