We are not here to take, but to give. I don’t want to own their land, make money off of their natural resources, or make them look or act like me. I don’t want to control them, I don’t even want to lead them. I want to help them, to give them access to God’s Word, and the ability to read. I want them to see that eating too many mangoes does not cause malaria, but sleeping under a mosquito net helps. And I am doing my best to work myself out of a job. I want to see Kwakum men and women leading their own people in all of these things.
The death of John Allen Chau in India has brought out an onslaught of internet hatred. While some of this hatred has been aimed at the methodology of this particular missionary, much of it has been against Christian missionaries in general. And as much as I would like to imagine that these comments represent only those who are not believers, I fear that such thinking has also invaded the church. So, I thought I would address some of the accusations…
1. Missionaries are not wanted.
In the surprisingly not so distant past, Europeans still had control over Cameroon (where we live). Colonists came in, took control of the land and actually considered these portions of Africa to be a part of their own country. The colonists often used brute force and murder to enforce their rule, which could hardly be opposed by people who had never seen guns before. I recorded a story of a group of the Kwakum people who call themselves the Til. They recount how the Germans forced them to live along the newly constructed road by killing more than half of their population (you can read the story HERE). Other Kwakum people have shown us trees upon which their grandfathers were hung when they refused to obey the colonial powers. There is a lingering anger and distrust of the Germans and the French in particular which has at times tainted the way people have seen Stacey and me.
However, you might be surprised to hear that the Kwakum begged us to come. They sang and danced, listing the many reasons they thought we should work among them. During this first trip to Cameroon we visited with 8 people groups. One group built a house specifically for Bible translators. Others offered us food and other gifts in a bid to convince us to come to them. Their reasons for wanting us here were mixed: some believed that a translation project would preserve their language, others hoped that having white people among their villages would bring economic prosperity. However, there were also Christians among these tribes, who had come to love Jesus and his Word, but had very little access to either. Such individuals begged us to come because we are are all part of God’s family and they want more of Christ.
This does not mean that everyone wants us here. I had an encounter with one man who threateningly remarked that he knew why we were here and he did not want us to bring in a foreign religion. I had to leave a meeting in one village rather abruptly because the people there made it clear that they were not happy about our presence. Certainly the nationals who killed John Allen Chau did not want him there. As Christians, should we just walk away? If so, how many people need to oppose us before we go? Should we only go to places where 100% of the people want us there? Do 100% of the people in the neighborhood of your church want you there? Which leads to another accusation…
2. Missionaries should not go where they are not wanted.
This is the next logical step in the argument: If missionaries are not wanted in a place, clearly they should not go there, right? While thinking about this argument a verse about Jesus came to mind:
“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:11-13
This passage tells us that Jesus came to minister to a people who did not receive him. And they were his own people! This same Jesus said to his disciples: “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). And, if history accurately records the events, nearly all of the disciples died seeking to honor Christ’s command to follow him. Can we really say that missionaries ought only to go where they are wanted? Is that how the disciples interpreted the Great Commission?