Unreached Network

Mission After White Saviourism

Mission After White Saviourism

And, yes, Westerners are still needed in mission

Welcome to my newsletter, “Global Witness, Globally Reimagined.”

I dream here about mission in a postcolonial world. Every week, I share one thought that has spoken to me, two resources I trust will be helpful to you, and three quotes about mission.

I pray one of these will energise you this week.

1. Thought I Can’t Shake Off

Following my thought last week, I received two questions which, I feel, need a response. The first was rather straightforward. If indigenous agency is the way forward for mission, is there still a need and room for white people (westerners) to engage in mission? The second was related to the first, but it was a little more complex. Can Christianity (and Christian mission) purge itself of its colonial practices, especially as a postcolonial world is impossible? The first question can come from two places. Some Westerners will feel the emergence of non-Western missionary movements signifies a mission accomplished for them and they are, therefore, no longer needed. Others are simply struggling to negotiate the challenges of the changing landscape and the postcolonial critique of both their faith and their mission strategies. Together though, they reflect the understandable conundrum going on in mission today. The rise of non-Western missionary movements ought not to be a challenge. If anything, it is something we need to celebrate. Any missiology that does not comprehend that black and brown people can serve in mission anywhere in the world is deeply problematic. Black and brown people engaged in mission before Europeans did. There is now no need for Westerners to resign. Of course, the colonial legacy of a great deal of mission history means that Westerners have to reimagine their role in mission today. Mission as white saviourism is no longer justifiable. They must enlarge their missiology to allow themselves to be led by local Christians and make space in their organisational structures to allow indigenous Christians to lead. This will be countercultural, but it points us to the future of mission. Yes, empires will always be there. The co-opting of imperial strategies by Christian mission is what we need to correct. Mission without colonialism is possible (as you will see below). If Jesus’ mission needed imperialism, he would have grown up in Rome.

2. Resources I am Enjoying

The book I read this week provides an answer to the second question. Yes, it is possible to serve in mission without conquering and colonising others. The Mennonites have done this among the Chaco Indians of Argentina and, if they can do it in Argentina, there is no reason it cannot happen elsewhere.

Mission Without Conquest is an edited volume that brings together voices of many mission thinkers and practitioners to reflect on the Mennonite mission strategy among the Argentine Chaco Indians, which, interestingly, was changed in the 1950s from “conquering” to “accompanying.” Prior to this, Mennonite missionaries thought of learning local languages as a waste of time and sought to westernise Indian peoples as quickly as possible.

Some of the contributors have worked in Mennonite mission among the Chaco Indians in Argentina for many years. For instance, the lead editor, Willis Horst, discusses his 39 years of working among the Chacos. Together, the essays argue for an alternative approach to mission that elevates partnership rather than conquest or power. Today, Mennonite missionaries cannot make any decisions that can be made by indigenous leaders. In addition, they need all their missionaries to learn indigenous languages. This respect for indigenous culture is encapsulated in Horst’s description of Christ as “the completion and perfection of traditional spirituality.” All in all, the book rehashes the argument that mission must not be about dismissing or overrunning the indigenous way of life. It is, however, about walking alongside people to help them see God more clearly for themselves, in a way that is meaningful to them. It focuses on one context, but the lessons can be applied elsewhere. You will do well to be aware of it if you are wrestling with the question of what mission after colonialism will look like.

In this podcast, Philip Plyming (of Cranmer Hall in Durham) and Israel Olofinjana reflect on the book of Philemon, especially the power relationship between Philemon and his slave, Onesimus, to discern what lessons modern theology and missions can learn from that. Olofinjana imagines what different or marginalised voices must be unmuted for us to engage in mission more faithfully. He also highlights the implications of the prison context from which Paul wrote Philemon about his returning slave. He wonders what God may be speaking to the Church from unexpected places and the possibility of comfort getting in the way of mission.

3. Quotes I am Pondering

  1. How do we come to terms with the prejudices, discrimination, and structural racism of white supremacy implicit in the structures of the church and the missiological endeavors of people who were not bad people? ― Elizabeth Conde-Frazier
  2. If we are allowed to interpret African history through the lenses of Africans, what we see and understand is that Christianity is misused and abused by Western powers. Without this history, the lack of theological education in African churches, the “inch-deep” African Christianity, lack of trained pastors, shortages of Scripture in vernacular languages in Africa, poverty, insatability, etc., cannot be understood. ― Alemayehu Mekonnen
  3. Missionaries have been seen as playing a major role in undermining the life and culture of indigenous tribes in order to make them victims of easy conquest. — Jerry Pillay

Thank you. I pray you have a missionally fruitful week.