Discover more from Global Witness, Globally Reimagined.
Can Black Missionaries Serve in a White World?
And There Is No Such Thing As "Reverse Mission"
Welcome to my newsletter, “Global Witness, Globally Reimagined,” where I dream here about mission in a postcolonial world. Every week, I share one thought that has spoken to me in the week, two resources I trust will be helpful to you, and three exciting quotes about mission. I pray one of these will energise you in the coming week.
1. Thought I Can’t Shake Off
There is a myth about the phenomenon called “reverse mission” that I find perplexing.1 We talk about “reverse mission” with great enthusiasm while we know that, to a great extent, Africans are planting and growing African churches in the West and that their churches are shaped by the migration of Africans to the West, with many of them being quite tribal in nature. Babatunde Adedibu calls their churches migrant sanctuaries. While their presence strengthens Christianity and their overnight prayers keep a lot of evil at bay in many Western cities—and all this is greatly appreciated—very few of them are able to minister cross-culturally, not even among fellow Africans of other nationalities apart from their own. Naturally, they use the language of mission; “God has sent us here. We are God’s missionaries in the West today.” Yet, there is very little cross-cultural mission happening. Of course, this does not diminish the significance of their presence. Instead, it highlights the need to rethink mission (and the labels that we attach to it), to reimagine mission training and the resources we use for this, and to prioritise intercultural mutuality and unity in our mission theology and praxis. It also calls us to realise the dynamics of race in mission—can Africans really evangelise Europeans? Part of the challenge facing migrant congregations is the reality that Westerners do not know what to do with them. Walter Hollenweger was right when he said, “British Christians prayed for revival. When it came they did not recognise it because it was black.”2 This is just as true today as it was when it was published more than 30 years ago. The racial undertones are a lot clearer today than they were in 1992 though. As we explore what mission will look like in the 21st century, we must, I believe, wrestle with the question of how world Christians will help re-evangelise Europe. How may Western mission agencies and churches enable non-Western Christians to be evangelists in the West? Is this even possible?
2. Resources I am Enjoying
This podcast comes from the good people at Talking Theology at Cranmer Hall in Durham, England. Philip Plyming had a chance to chat with the Bishop of Willesden, Right Reverend Lusa Nsenga-Ngoy. A Belgian of Congolese descent, Bishop Lusa has served in mission in England for a long time. He was previously Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Mission and Ministry Enabler in the Diocese of Leicester in addition to being a member of the Church of England’s Anti-Racism Taskforce. In this podcast, he discusses some of the implications of the murder of George Floyd on how we understand life and the church. He wonders how his death confronts us with the reality of racism and this racism impacts the way we live and participate in the lives of our churches. In Philip’s words, they explore these questions; “How does theology tell stories that recognise the intrinsic value of each human story? What is the concept of Afro-futurism and how might it help us think theologically about God's future? And how can we walk within a hope which is characterised by Black flourishing and not struggle?”
In this podcast, Alex Kocman and Scott Dunford begin their reflection by examining a popular statement that America is the third largest mission field. Thus, they consider the phenomenon of the Majority World nations sending missionaries to America and the rest of the world in this post-Christendom age. These “reverse missionaries” are reshaping the face of Christianity and the practice of mission in the US and the globe. However, as Kocman and Dunford advised, these missionaries must also learn from their recipients’ earlier missionary movement to avoid repeating their mistakes.
3. Quotes I am Pondering
The mission movement for people of color looks different as they endure systemic racism, war, immigration and generational poverty. The expectation that we will somehow use the same old approach and give it a face lift while hiding the legacy of injustice around missions is unrealistic. — Mekdes Haddis
European missionaries succeeded in taking their understanding of the Gospel of Jesus to the Africans in Africa. The challenge of the 21st Century is, can Africans become successful in taking the Gospel of Jesus to Europeans in Europe who have become hardened and indeed darkened to the Gospel of Jesus? — Joe Aldred
Part of the current trend in global mission is that [the] former mission fields have developed their Christianities to the extent that they now see Europe as a mission field. — Israel O. Olofinjana
Thank you, I pray you have a missionally fruitful week.
“Reverse mission” is a controversial term used to describe the missionary work of Africans in the West. I actually believe that it should be forever banished from our vocabulary. It does not represent the realities of the mission of God in the context of world Christianity. God’s mission is a multiethnic endeavour that can happen from anywhere to anywhere. There is nothing reverse about the fact that African Christians are seeking to engage in mission in Europe or in North America. Mission is mission, no matter where those doing the work originate. God calls all the nations to partake of God’s mission in the world.
This statement was published in 1992 in his foreword to Roswith Gerloff, A Plea for British Black Theologies: The Black Church Movement in Britain in Its Transatlantic Cultural and Theological Interaction with Special References to the Pentecostal Oneness (Apostolic) and Sabbatarian Movements, Studien zur Interkulturellen Geschichte des Christentums, (Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 1992), ix.