Among missiologists there is great debate concerning the role of the missionary vs the native evangelist. Is there a role for the foreign missionary and if so, what is it?

This is a question of how does the role of missiology work out practically. There are whole ministries, normally not Pentecostal, that believe that the use of the foreign missionary is not scriptural, cultural or practical.

The question is not the use of indigenous leadership but it is the the partnership with the foreign leadership on the ground living and dwelling among the people. The larger becomes at what point can a national church complete the Great Commission without the leadership of the missionary?

As American Christians, we tend to think that missionaries are everywhere, but the fact is there are still alot of places that never had their first chance to ever hear about the gospel.[1]Foreward from The Missions Addiction, David Shibley (Ron Luce)

The truth is that most nations, including the United States has unreached people that we just do not see and they need the witness, no matter the nationality as well. It is believed that up to 4.5% of the US population has never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.[2]https://joshuaproject.net/countries/US That number grows to over 95% in India.

The missionary team talking the Pentecostal message to the villages in Fiji.

Is the missionary biblical?

The first question that must be answered is theological. Did the bible only have people from their own ethnos or ethnic group? While this seems like a crazy question, it is of the upmost importance.

The book of Acts is full of Jewish missionaries taking the gospel to people of their languages, culture, and religious beliefs. They were foreign missionaries as quickly as received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. That is the context of “this is that.” (Acts 2:16)

One of my heroes of the faith, Philip, was one of the first missionaries to take the gospel to the unreached people that were not Jewish. After the death of Stephen, he saw an awakening happen among the Samarians. After seeking Samaria hit with the fire of God, he went to lead an African to Jesus as well.[3]Acts 8

All of the letters from Paul that we have today were written to the believers that were not of Jewish nationality. He was talking to people that were of a different language, culture and religious upbringing than himself.

To be clear, the New Testament is the story of the missionary. Without the mission work of a group of people that got set on fire in the Upper Room (Add Paul later), there would not be much of the New Testament.

It is worth saying the only Hebrews and James were written to the people of the same ethnic background. We would not even have the gospels as we know them today without the cause of Christ taking to strange people that spoke funny languages, did odd cultural things and believed in “unknown gods.”[4]Acts 17:16-34

Is it cultural?

One of the reason that some group believe that foreign missionaries not the proper way to reach the lost is due to culture. This is a multi-faceted point of debate. It is not as simple as some make it out to be.

The first question is about understanding the culture. While many spend years in seminary and training to understand a culture, there is another challenge. Someone in one part of China will understand Yue and not Putonghua. Just being Chinese will not make them culturally connected.[5]language is the primary divider. the Philippines, for example, have 167 different languages. In many cases, a foreigner can understand the culture and languages better than some nationals.

The second issue is about Xenophobia. In some nations, being an outsider can create a better issue. They are very distrusting of foreigners, especially those who are white in race. The other side of this discussion is in many nations, being a white foreigner gives you opportunities that a nation would not have. It is about which nations we are talking about if being a foreigner is an asset or a liability.

I believe the real question is not about culture but people who think Colonialism when they see a foreign missionary. This concern is much more present in the sending country than those whom receive the missionary. In most cases, the work is under the leadership of the nationals as quick as possible.[6]Quest for Souls supports national apostolic leadership.

For example, the leadership of the Assemblies of God USA in Springfield has no power over the Assemblies of God Nigeria besides giving them missionaries for the cause of the gospel proclamation.[7]Every nation is represented at the Assemblies of God World Fellowship

Is the foreign missionary practical?

Now, let’s address the real question. People who press for the indigenous evangelist do so for practical purposes, namely financially and legally. Let’s unpack these, shall we?

The question normally is the foreign missionary cost way too much to get to the field and a national evangelist can do the work of the harvest for much less. There is multiple concerns with this line of reasoning. The first one is God is not limited in provision. Secondly, biblically every servant was supported by their tribe. If we used this reasoning, a Japanese missionary to Japan should be funded by Japanese believers.

The truth is that when a native missionary is funded by foreign resources, corruption comes very quickly. One mission group is believed to be have enriched leaders and some national leaders through the donations of Americans.[8]Gospel for Asia is an example

In my mind, the debate of finances, is a non-issue.

The more serious concern about the missionary is legally. They could be removed from the mission field by immigration laws. This has happened in China, Afghanistan and Fiji. The missionary is always at the mercy of the government that might not be interested in their people becoming believers in Jesus.

This is more recent issue but one that does cause some thinking it through, especially in the 10/40 window. You can also add to the crisis of COVID19 where borders just closed down for months at a time.

I believe in the foreign missionary. 

 

References

References
1 Foreward from The Missions Addiction, David Shibley
2 https://joshuaproject.net/countries/US
3 Acts 8
4 Acts 17:16-34
5 language is the primary divider. the Philippines, for example, have 167 different languages.
6 Quest for Souls supports national apostolic leadership.
7 Every nation is represented at the Assemblies of God World Fellowship
8 Gospel for Asia is an example