I've been reading through Missions in the Third Millenium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century by Stan Guthrie, so I figured I'd blog about some of my thoughts on his work. Chapter 2 is entitled "Supporting National Workers". Here's a quote from that chapter:
Seeking the help of "nationals" is a growing trend in our world. Facing a shortage of employees with high-tech skills, Silicon Valley exectutives have for some time been lobbying for a loosening of restrictions on their ability to hire foreign professionals. Sometimes businesses, rather than recruiting internationally, simply move their operations to countries where the cost of labor is cheaper....Missionaries are apparently no more immune to globalization's disorienting new economic ground rules than factory workers competing with "cheaper" workers in Mexico. Both missionaries and blue-collar employees are being forced to justify their existence. Not all are succeeding.
This is an incredibly poor comparison. Here's why: First of all, this comparison, if considered as an exact comparison, is coming from the mentality that 'these missionary positions are our jobs. They belong to the Westerners or the North Americans. They have always been our jobs and so you have no right to take them away.' Who on earth has the right to claim that service to the Lord can belong only to a certain group of people? Do you understand the ridiculous childish entitlement attitude?
Second, it shouldn't be about "seeking the help of the 'nationals'" because they are cheaper. It's not simply a money issue either. Missions work should involve the commissioning and sending of whoever is the right person for the job, whether they are local or foreign. In most cases, if there are passionate native believers desiring to be a missionary to their people, then they should be the first ones to consider for the task. They know the language and culture. It is the Biblical thing to do. Paul trained Timothy to train others. Plus, it only costs around $2,000 a year or so to support a native missionary. And yes, money is a valid point of discussion. If the souls of many are on the line, I would rather send out 40 native missionaries than 1 American missionary family. We need to be responsible with God's money and not be ridiculous about selfish desires and live in a world of missionary nostalgia about the glory days of William Carey or Hudson Taylor. If you truly have a desire to reach the world for Jesus, you will be willing to accept any position that maximizes your fruit.
I think foreign missionaries do have to justify their existence, but it shouldn't be done from a starting point of 'this is why I am needed on the mission field'. It should be from a starting point of 'these people need to be reached, so looking at the whole church, both local and worldwide, how can these people be reached'. If I am a part of the plan (in addition to prayer) or not is simply an after thought. We can't let our selfish desires get in the way of God's plan. We have to be humble enough to fit into whatever role we are needed; whatever role in which we are most valuable to God's plan. Honestly, for most Westerners (and Koreans too), that role is probably going to be on the side of training, facilitating, supporting, advocating, and raising funds. If you have a desire to be like the great missionaries of old, reaching out to distant tribes, you might have been born in the wrong generation. I'm sorry.