Training Locals in Mission Work — Demar Elam

Many wonderful leaders in the Church have made the mistake of bringing young men from other countries to the U.S. for their Bible training. The goal of this approach is to prepare the men trained in the states to return to their native country in order to teach and to evangelize. Often, however, this plan does not work. The plan may sound like a good idea, but, in the long run, it is not at all a good idea. This missionary wishes the church to know of the importance of training locals in mission work in their homeland. The term “locals” will be used in this article to refer to Christians in foreign lands who have been converted in a mission area of the world outside of the U.S.

The number one reason for training locals in their native land is because of the effects the American lifestyle has upon foreigners. Once foreigners come to the U.S., most of them are not happy once they return to their native country. This observation is especially true if they come from a third world country. For many people around the world, the U.S. is the “promised land.”  Unless an individual has spent time in some of these third world countries, he or she cannot really comprehend the vast difference between the lifestyle of those in U.S. and other countries around the world.  Often, the men trained in the U.S. that go back to their own country usually find a way to come back to the U.S. as quickly as possible. Thus, by bringing them to the U.S. to be educated, American Christians are in effect robbing the mission fields of their most talented and capable leaders. Some have coined the phrase “brain drain” to identify what American Christians have been doing to deplete the mission fields of their best leaders. Instead of the “cream of the crop” working in their home countries—where they are so desperately needed—they wind up working in the U.S. Frankly, the U.S. already has an abundance of talented, dedicated, and zealous Christians to accomplish the work at home.

In truth, many of the men who have been brought to the U.S. to be educated have had every intention of returning to their homeland to work. Undoubtedly, they are good men. However, after four years of being assimilated into the American way of life, they most often change their minds and decide not to go back home. The statistics prove this observation to be true. Admittedly, there may be some reading this article that know of a situation where the missionary family did return to their homeland.  Most likely, however, that situation would be the exception and not the rule. Even in those cases, an individual would probably discover that over time that family returned to the U.S. through the contacts they made while living in the U.S. for four years. Unfortunately, those coming from foreign lands allow themselves to become incapable of ever being happy while living in their homeland. For them, the daily comforts of living in the U.S. are unimaginable in their country. They have experienced love and hospitality from so many Christians in the U.S. They have benefitted from good medical care, police protection, excellent transportation, elders to guide them, and fellowship in American churches. They have had material blessings in abundance that they have never had in their native country.  If they do decide to go back home, they expect an American salary which would result in them living considerably above the locals in their homeland. Unfortunately, this situation often results in jealousy, friction, and strife within the mission congregations.

The way to avoid this outcome is to train locals in newly established congregations in their native land. Bringing foreigners to the U.S. to educate them in the word of God is not the answer. It is far better to develop preacher training schools, colleges, and universities in their own lands so that they can receive the education that they need without leaving their native environment. This missionary believes that the key to worldwide conquest for Christ is: New congregations, new congregations, and new congregations! God is the great door opener (Rev. 3:8; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). It is best for a missionary to go into an area like the apostle Paul, baptize individuals into Christ, establish a new congregation made up of those who have been baptized, and teach them what they need to know about the organization and worship of the church. The newly converted Christians should be the ones leading the singing, the prayers, and the Lord’s Table. Locals should be taught how to carry on without the American missionary holding their hand or doing it for them.  Locals should be taught to give financially to support their own congregational works. After all, Paul taught locals and left them to carry on without his presence. He established indigenous congregations. He left them but he did not abandon them. Instead, he and Barnabas revisited them in order to comfort, strengthen, and edify them. Paul’s methodology worked in his day and it is working around the world today. It works in third world countries as well as in the highly developed and industrialized nations of the world. Paul’s pattern of evangelism works in all cultures!

The challenge for American Christians deals with educating locals in newly established congregations in other nations.  In 2006, Philippine Theological College (PTC) was established in Salomague Sur, Bugallon, Pangasinan Philippines to specifically train young men to be preachers. In January of 2015, PTC became Asian Christian University (ACU) and began offering the Master of Divinity as well as the Doctor of Ministry degrees. Currently, ACU is seeking accreditation.  Lord-willing, it will become a fully accredited University in 2016. At the March 2015 commencement exercises, 19 faithful, dedicated, and well-trained men graduated with their degrees in Theology. These men, along with five other graduated classes, are already preaching in the Philippines. Additionally, they are prepared for the great day of evangelism that will occur when God opens the door to China. The dream, goal, and vision of ACU is to have hundreds of well-trained, educated, and effective minsters of the Gospel (Philippine missionaries) to cross the South China Sea in order to go throughout China to preach and teach Christ. Ultimately, they will establish new congregations, new congregations, and new congregations! These same missionaries are being taught Mandarin Chinese in order to properly prepare them for the time when this amazing avenue of evangelism opens. However, as has already been established, these young men would have been lost to this great opportunity if they had been sent to the U.S. for their Bible education.

Historically, churches of Christ have not done so well in planning for evangelistic opportunities and fully executing the plan. Sometimes, men are motivated, educated, trained, and prepared to do the work of Christ, but failure occurs when these same men are not activated. The locals in the Philippines that are trained in their homeland, by contrast, will be able to continue a lifestyle that will not hinder them in their service to their native land as well as to China one day.  Likewise, wise decisions must be made that will advance the cause of Christ throughout the world. Therefore, it is this missionary’s sincere belief that it is only logical and prudent to educate and train locals in their homeland.

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