Science in Christian Perspective



American Events and International Missions
Donald P. Rickards
Department of Missions
Fort Wayne Bible College
Fort Wayne, Indiana 46807

From: JASA 30 (March 1978): 47-48.

Most of us have grown up in the confidence that American personnel and American giving are what have maintained the world outreach of the Church of Christ. Many Christians in the United States have never recognized the relationship between events shaping our lives in the States and the increase or decrease of missions overseas. In this communication we brainstorm the question of what lies ahead for missions in the light of Stateside phenomena. The order in which we treat these "effects" is not one of priority or urgency.

1. The Work-Ethic Breakdown: In three years, the Ford Motor Company will implement the four-day, 32-hour work week. Within ten years, this work week will be nationwide. There will be repercussions in several directions. Some of the liberated workers will use the time gained for recreation or pleasure. Others will use it for working a second job. The net result from either response will be increased materialism, with the emphasis on the things money can buy. It is doubtful that missions will receive a slice of the additional income of a second job; those who use their time for more pleasure will probably not give as much as before the shorter workweek was initiated. With the increase of pleasure-seeking, not only will there be less money going for missions, there will be fewer Christians who respond to a call for workers.

2. Women's Liberation: As the roles of male and female become interchangeable in the States, there will be an increasing demand that women be given leadership roles in missions overseas. Field superintendencies, regional administrative posts, national and international councilsthese will all be up for grabs. It is surprising that the present trend has been so slow in making itself felt on the mission fields of the world. After all, the number of women has been far greater than the number of men in general. A shift will certainly be coming. It is possible that one effect of this will be seen where men have hesitated to go to the field where they would of necessity be made leaders. These same men might very comfortably work under a woman's leadership. We may look for more female recruits as a result of this emphasis also.

3. The Rising Divorce Rate: More people are getting married now than were doing so 20 years ago, and they are marrying on the average one year later than they were 25 years ago. Nevertheless, more people get divorced in the United States than anywhere else in the world. The effect of this in missions is seen in the increasing number of divorced persons applying to missions as candidates. Missions are not yet at the place where they are prepared to handle this phenomenon. Must such persons be second-class Christians as far as their service for Christ is concerned? While Boards are not going to be publicising it, nor should they, they will be sending a growing number of divorcees to serve overseas. In addition to the mission board psychologist or psychiatrist, there doubtless will be a marriage counselor added to most staffs. Such a person has long been overdue on most fields.

4. The Working Wife and/or Mother: In the past decade, the national labor force of women has increased 42% while that of men grew 17%. The population grew 19%. This added pressure for women to become career-minded will keep some women from volunteering for overseas service. The options a young woman now has offering equal opportunity and equal pay will become an enticing attraction to many. For the furloughing family, there will be increased pressure upon the wife to add to the income by joining the secretarial force or substituting in public school teaching.

5. Polls and Religious Surveys: When the results of a recent Gallup Poll were announced, the Christian community was bewildered. We thought we were few in number and suddenly we were told that some 50 million Americans professed to have been born again! The reaction to this revelation may be positive or negative: there is vastly greater potential for missionary recruitment than we had suspected, on the one hand, but on the other why outreach to Americans missionarily if so many are already saved? Perhaps, too, there are many more overseas who know the Lord than we previously thought! Stateside, there will be less evangelism and more political activism; overseas, we shall probably get less recruits.

6. Abortion: Abortion is now the primary cause of death in infants! We will never know, of course, how many of the one million aborted infants of the past year, would have become missionary recruits. As this figure increases each year, the effect will soon be experienced in missions from the smaller work force in the country who are supporting missions financially. There will be a larger number of older people to be supported by a smaller number of people, and this will siphon off missionary giving also. The number of persons available to serve as missionaries will be smaller.

7. The Pill: The most natural by-product of the pill is the increased pleasure a couple may have in each other without fear of pregnancy. Thus, such a couple tends to become self-seeking and self-serving. We are not decrying the pill; it has been long overdue. The result, however, will be smaller missionary families and it is a fact that such families have in the past fed a great number of their children into missions.

8. The Occult and World Religions Invasion: Christians in the United States are increasingly aware that those of non-Christian faiths are all about them today; one does not have to go to the foreign fields to meet them. There is validity to the challenge that Christians should reach these people here on our doorstep. However, the emphasis of a few groups that this outreach is the only valid one today is entirely too one-sided! The net result of this invasion will be that a greater number of personnel will be deployed to work among such groups in the States who would otherwise have gone overseas.

9. Long Continued Inflation: This effect is wiping out the missionary dollar in some areas of the world. Americans have been slow to realize that the inflation crunch at home has its counterpart, sometimes in greater effect, in every part of the world. While church giving as a whole increased 8% in 1975, the actual result was a decrease of 1.2%, due to the inflated dollar. As this pressure increases worldwide, a smaller missionary force, more highly trained and strategically placed, will result. The general missionary will be replaced by technically equipped people able to reproduce themselves in the nationals.

10. Rising Nationalism and Revolution: Wycliffe Bible Translators, Operation Mobilization, and others are being expelled from some of their fields. Some Muslim countries are closing their doors slowly. In some countries where the church is strongly established, the pressure is on turning things over to that national church. These must be considered normal developments in our time and history. When revolution of a communist nature occurs, the entire missionary force is eased out in short order as we see now taking place in Angola and Mozambique. It has been the rule that expelled missionaries do not generally go to other fields but rather return to their homeland.

11. The Peiro-Revolution: Ever larger numbers of American ex-patriates are working in the petroleum producing nations of the world. Because of the petrol-dollar, the non-professional missionary will be making his weight felt in foreign countries. Churches for such workers will be established but they are usually closed to the nationals. There should be an earnest effort to train such people to evangelize and to sacrifice in order to reach these target peoples for Christ. As the Third World nations are reduced to begging for oil imports, they will more readily admit Muslim missionaries and more readily expel Christian missionaries where their national interest becomes involved.

12. Age-Segregation: As parents and relatives live longer, more missionaries are going to he kept at home to care for them. Although most of these aged will be in nursing and rest homes, the costs of maintaining them there will increase greatly, bringing tremendous pressure upon the missionary worker, particularly the single one. It is possible, of course, with the further development of the welfare state, that such persons will be provided for through national insurance of some kind.

13. The Population Explosion: Now that we understand there is no longer the fear on the part of the experts that the planes cannot support greater masses of people, we can anticipate that young couples will return to having more children. But that will not be for another 20 years. The immediate future of the family indicates a smaller one, with individuals marrying later and sharing in decisions. Overseas, the enormous population increases will dictate the deployment of radio and satellite TV outreach. Newspaper evangelism as practiced by AMG International will be enlarged still further. Training programs for nationals will be expanded; Theological Education by Extension will thrive in a variety of forms and in combination with formal educational plans.

14. The Smaller Family. Most missionaries come from a family larger than two children. Such children reach out less selfishly to others and yield more easily their rights to the Lord when it is a matter of Christian service. Smaller families will experience greater difficulties in responding in this generous fashion. In society at large, the notion of the family is so unpopular these days that a decision to have children, formerly a routine event in a young married couple's life, now requires an act of courage.

In summary, out of these American events will come a smaller work force in missionary enterprise but one which is more highly developed in intrapersonal skills and technical knowhow. More American Christians will become witnesses at home to foreign students and other overseas visitors to their shores. They will contribute in a more informed way and become more conscious of the value of their investment in the ministries involved. The wellequipped missionary, with the ability to reproduce himself in others, will become the standard in most societies. These are not events to be regretted but rather to be adjusted to. They are reflections of what shape or shapes God is bringing missions to.