By Louis Krog, creator of African
Theology Website: http://www.theologyinafrica.
It is unfortunately no great secret that western mission(ary) exploits in, mainly, the third world has had a less than perfect history. In fact, the very fabric of the liberation theology movement was (and is) defined by the sometimes horrendous actions of many вЂњcolonialвЂќ missionaries who failed to contextualise their messages of hope and salvation appropriately.
The resulting resentment was captured
by Itumeleng Mosala in his iconic summary of the situation: вЂњWhen the white man
came to our country he had the Bible and we had the land. The white man said to
us вЂLet us prayвЂ™. After we opened our eyes, the white man had the land and we
had the BibleвЂќ (Mofokeng 1988:34). Such was the gravity of the situation
that the Rev. John Gatu, the then General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church
of East Africa, suggested that the solution to the problem of western
missionaries "вЂ¦can only be solved if missionaries can be withdrawn in order to
allow a period of not less than five years for each side to rethink and
formulate what is going to be the future relationship" (Kato:1974).
Although the issues concerned are far more complex and broad, I would like to briefly explore whether the concept of vulnerable mission can provide a workable solution to avoid similar mistakes in the future.
The Alliance for Vulnerable Mission
defines vulnerable mission as вЂњusing the language of the people being reached,
and not using foreign funds to support oneвЂ™s key project or
ministryвЂќ3. Within this definition the two elements made
reference to could, if implemented adequately, provide an answer to the future
concerns of liberation and black theology.
If missionaries were more willing to
communicate within their local context, instead of promoting western political
agenda, much of the resentment felt today would not be an issue. This might seem
like an obvious observation to make, but, it does illustrate the potential
contribution vulnerable missions can make to avoid similar
Primarily, the problem(s) that existed between western missionaries and local communities was a social one. Western missionaries were often seen to be of higher social class due to factors such as skin colour, knowledge and material possessions. But, the idea of western missionaries ministering in a native language can be very effective in breaking down similar social barriers. By making themselves intentionally vulnerable, western missionaries could be more effective in understanding the needs of their local communities and therefore, be able to be more effective in their ministry methodology.
Another aspect liberation theologians are concerned about is the autonomy of the local church. The primary problem with western financed (mission) projects is that, the parties providing the finance would very often dictate outcomes and methods. This in itself is not a problem per sГ©, but when these demands are made without giving adequate consideration for local contexts, the results are potentially damaging.
I recently heard a story of pastors in Malawi who refused to attend a local conference unless they were financially compensated for every day. The reason for their request became clear when one Malawian pastor explained that just a week before, an American pastor paid local pastors to attend his conference to ensure a glowing report back home. Of course, this is not about pointing fingers but about the potential dangers of foreign funding.
Sadly, the economic situation of many
third world nations lends itself perfectly to western financed projects.
This has created a dependency culture amongst many churches and Christians in
these nations. The ultimate aim should be the long term
self-sustainability of local churches and projects. Such an approach would
again breakdown the perceived barriers that can exist between western
missionaries and local communities.
This has been a very brief discussion
on the potential contribution(s) vulnerable missions can make towards creating a
better understanding between western missionaries and local communities thereby
going some way in liberating modern liberation theology. The full effect
of such a claim will of course only be measurable in time as missionaries take
up the challenge of becoming vulnerable to their local communities.