Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Is the Era of US Cross Cultural International Missions Over?

On June 6, 1944, the US and her Allies landed at Normandy, France. That invasion, known as Operation Overlord was a combined effort of over 155,000 troops, representing more than ten different countries. Within days, the Allied forces, while suffering thousands of casualties had established several beachheads across France. 

D-Day as it soon came to be known, as important as it was as events unfolded, was even more important when you consider what came to be as a result of those deadly days of fighting. There is wide agreement among historians that the events at Normandy set the stage for the eventual victory of the US forces in the European theater.

While there was still much fighting to come, the die had been cast in Normandy and and it was just a matter of time before official victory would be declared.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those events the last few weeks. I wonder if General Eisenhower knew as he was overseeing the invasion if that invasion would turn out to be the lynchpin upon which victory turned?

I’ve also been wondering a lot lately if we are in another of those moments. A moment, as Ken Blue explains it in an essay included in the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement Reader, of the “already and not yet.”

I’ve asked myself repeatedly the last few weeks the following questions…

  • Is the era of US Cross Cultural International Missions over? 
  • Has the era of US church’s and denominational involvement in worldwide Christian evangelism effectively ended? 
  • Has the country that sent out people like Adoniram Judson, Jim Elliot and William Cameron Townsend decided that it is no longer interested, or able to stay engaged missionally around the globe?
  • Are we in Blue’s period of between? That time where we will still see missionaries leaving our shores but in reality, much like the German forces fighting for their homeland after D-Day it will be for naught?

Sadly, I think the answer to the above questions are not just yes, but a resounding yes, yes, yes and yes! 

But it’s not just me. 

I reached out to a number of colleagues across the spectrum who have years of experience as missionaries, pastors and leaders of mission organizations to get their opinions. And there are not many of them bullish on the ability of the church to effectively mobilize people to be part of calling people into a relationship with Jesus. A few even posited that this closing of an era may be a good thing.

While some will argue that we were never the great missionary force we believed ourselves to be, numbers don’t lie. Long term numbers for commissioned missionary and their families stayed constant at around 35,000 for years. Pre-pandemic levels of short-term participants went as high as 300,000 participants annually with budgets stretching to over three billion dollars.

During the pandemic restrictions of the last two years, short-term missions have all but dried up. Many long term missionaries are still on extended home leave, unable to get the needed approvals to serve the countries where they believe God has called them. Others have seen their financial support dry up and as a result have been forced to seek out other work to feed their families.

I do not believe we will ever again see massive numbers of young people piling into vans to head south for their Annual Mission Trip. The call in US churches to “take up your cross” and go to the “ends of the earth” will not be answered as it once was if it is even given. 

US airports will see fewer groups of people traveling in packs with like colored shirts and fewer couples with all of their earthly belongings in a few suitcases heading off to far flung locations for the cause of Jesus.

How did we get here?

It’s a mix of reasons, some within our control, others perhaps not.

Next up I’ll explore some of those reasons and try to point us in a forward direction.