• 15 Jul
    A Description of CIM Missionary Workers to the Tibetan Highlands Prior to 1950

    A Description of CIM Missionary Workers to the Tibetan Highlands Prior to 1950


    This research paper describes the sociodemographic characteristics of early CIM pioneers who sought to take the gospel to the Tibetan plateau prior to the withdrawal of CIM from China in 1952.

    By Zi Yu

    Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 1 (January-April 2017): 42-46


    The Tibetan Highlands, also known as the Tibetan Plateau, are located in Central Asia, encompassing “all of the Tibet Autonomous Region and much of Qinghai province and extends into western Sichuan province and southern Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang.”[1] Since the mid-nineteenth century, attempts were made to evangelize Tibetans living in the Tibetan Highlands. Leafing through the Directory of Protestant Missions in China, we find that by the early 1900s both the China Inland Mission (1897) and the Seventh-day Adventists (1919) had set up mission stations in the Sino-Tibetan border region to reach out to Tibetans in Tatsienlu (now Kangding), a major commercial center where Tibetan wool was traded for Chinese brick tea.[2] The Disciples of Christ Foreign Christian Missionary Society, in 1916, stationed six couples in Batang, a Tibetan-majority town in westernmost Sichuan close to the border of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.[3] William S. Martin also described some key individuals of missionary organizations engaged in this effort before 1950.[4] While these missionary workers made significant contributions to the economic, social, and cultural developments in the Tibetan Highlands, no detailed record or overview on their lives and work are yet available.

    Tatsienlu, situated in the west of Szechwan, 15,000 feet above sea level. The C.I.M. began work in this center in 1897, making it a base for work in Tibet. China’s Millions (Dec 1913): 187.

    Knowing who the missionaries were, where they came from, where they served, and how long they stayed there is the first step to unfold the impact of Christian missionary work in the Tibetan Highlands. Though missionaries from different agencies worked in the Tibetan Highlands, this review only focuses on members of the China Inland Mission (CIM). Established by Hudson Taylor in 1865, CIM reached out to people in rural and inland China. Detailed information on the mission and vision of the CIM is available elsewhere.[5] Between 1865 and 1949 CIM sent 2680 men and women aged eighteen or older to spread the word of God in China.

    The purpose of this paper is to describe the sociodemographic characteristics of the individuals who worked with the China Inland Mission among the Tibetans prior to the complete withdrawal of the mission from China in 1952. As this paper is an overview, a discussion of what the workers accomplished and how they carried out their mission is outside of its scope. Future research will be required to examine and report on these important aspects of their lives.


    Search Strategy

    The information for this review comes from computerized searches of the 1875 to 1952 issues of China’s Millions, the monthly magazine published by CIM. Using the Boolean operator “OR”, the keywords “Thibet”, “Thibetan”, “Tibet”, and “Tibetan” were combined in one search request. Two separate searches were performed. The first was conducted in October 2015 and covered articles published between 1875 and 1935. The second was conducted in June 2016 and covered the years from 1936 to 1952. The two searches yielded a total of 733 article pages.[6]

    The articles found were then scanned to identify individuals who met at least one of the specified criteria.[7] The scanning process yielded forty-one eligible single or married missionary units engaged in Tibetan work.[8] To ensure the identified individuals were members of CIM, their names were individually checked against the CIM Registry. One member—James Neave—was excluded from this review because his name was not found in the Registry.

    A further internet search was conducted to locate literature pertinent to individuals identified through the above-mentioned search strategies. The phrase “China Inland Mission” plus the name of each identified individual were searched and the titles and descriptive text of the first ten results of each search query were reviewed.[9] In addition, CIM publications identified during the database search were scanned for relevant information on the identified missionaries. Additional materials were suggested by my colleague Joyce Wu.

    Data Extraction

    From early in its history, CIM produced a Registry of all members that recorded sociodemographic details of each missionary, including: (1) name, (2) date of arrival in China, (3) age at arrival, (4) previous occupation, (5) marriage details (spouse’s name, date, and place), and (6) reason for cessation of membership (e.g., death, resignation, or retirement). The names of those engaged in Tibetan work and the relevant information as listed above were extracted from the Registry and supplemented by details from the List of Directors, Members of Councils, Missionaries, and Stations of the China Inland Mission, which included data on the location of mission stations, including the year when they opened.

    To analyze their age distribution at the time of arrival in China, missionaries were divided into three age groups: under 25 years old, 25 to 29 years old, and 30 years old or over. Reasons for membership cessation were classified under five categories: resignation, retirement, death, on reserve list, or withdrawal from China (i.e. up to 1952), whichever came first. Previous occupation was grouped into eight categories: religious (e.g., ministers and missionaries), professional (e.g., physicians, engineers, nurses, and teachers), clerical (e.g. clerks), service (e.g. Draper’s assistant, dressmakers, and parlour maids), labourer (e.g., farmers, miners, coopers, carpenters, and builders), and homemaker and others. Furthermore, two additional variables were considered: “years of service with CIM” (calculated based on difference between the “year of arrival” and the “year leaving membership”); and “age of marriage” (computed as “age of arrival” plus the “difference between the date of arrival in China and date of marriage”). Unless otherwise stated, all summary statistics were expressed as mean ± standard deviation (SD) or number and percentage. Microsoft Excel 2010 (Microsoft Corporation) was used to perform all calculations.


    The search identified forty-one missionaries—six single women, and thirty-five men among whom twenty seven were married. Most marriages occurred between coworkers and after their arrival in China. One member—Norman John Amos—married a second time after the death of his first wife. Thus, including the spouses, this review covered a total of sixty-nine individuals. The average age of marriage was 30.0 (SD 3.3) for men and 30.1 (SD 3.9) for women (Table 1).

    Their mean age of arrival in China was 26.4 (range 19 to 35 years). The majority of the missionaries were 25–29 years old when they arrived in China. Table 2 records the arrivals during each of the ten-year periods from 1880 to 1949. While only three workers arrived in China between 1910 and 1919, seventeen (25% of total) arrived during the period 1930–39, representing a number almost equivalent to that of the previous three decades.

    As shown in Table 1, the majority of the workers (82%) came from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Australia; with the largest number coming from the United Kingdom (39.1%). While similar rankings of sending countries were observed among women, the top three sending countries for men were the United Kingdom (42.9%), Australia (17.1%), and the United States (14.3%).

    The kinds of previous occupations held before joining CIM varied between men and women. While 28.6% of the men had previously been employed as labourers, 20% percent were involved in religious work before they joined CIM. A full 45% of the women came from professional backgrounds.

    Of the sixty-nine workers, 24 (34.8%) served with CIM for at least twenty years and 21.8% (eight men and seven women) served for thirty years or more. The most common reason reported for cessation of membership for both men and women was retirement. Ten workers died while in service, four of whom died during the first seven years of service. The causes of death for these individuals included typhoid (a.k.a. typhoid fever; two people), consumption (a.k.a. tuberculosis), and cholera. Deaths among those with twenty or more years of service were mainly attributable to cancer (two people), and heart failure/heart trouble (two people).


    From the CIM Registry and China’s Millions, we have identified sixty-nine missionaries who worked in the Tibetan Highlands before the CIM completely withdrew from China in 1952. The data showed that nearly 29% of the male workers had previously worked in fields such as farming, digging, mining, and carpentry. It may be that such backgrounds better adapted them to rustic life and the demands of living and working in the harsh and challenging environment of the Tibetan Highlands. Statements by or about missionaries who served in the area support this conclusion. In a tribute to Robert Cunningham, who was promoted to glory after thirty-five years of service, Arthur Taylor stated that Cunningham had been a leading gymnast in United Kingdom and “his magnificent physique enabled him to remain for practically the whole of his missionary career at Tatsienlu, over 8000 feet above sea level.”[10] Walter Jespersen suggested that CIM assigned him to Tatsienlu because of his farming background.[11] A preponderance of the male workers came from missionary backgrounds. This can be attributed to the fact that five single male missionaries, originally from Annie R. Taylor’s Tibetan Pioneer Mission (1894-95) and later regrouped into Polhill’s Tibetan Mission Band (1895-96), were officially affiliated with the CIM in March 1896 to continue their Tibetan work.[12]

    That only three people who joined CIM between 1910 and 1919 entered Tibetan ministry could have been influenced by a number of factors including the founding of the Pentecostal Missionary Union by Cecil Polhill in 1909 which might have drawn away some missionaries, and the outbreak of the First World War (1914–1918) which severely diminished the mission work force.[13] However, the period 1930–39 witnessed a significant increase in CIM missionaries to the Tibetan Highlands, an intake that more than doubled that of the previous decade. The higher than usual number of new recruits might be attributed to the “Forward Movement” initiated in 1920s. In 1929, D. E. Hoste, the General Director of CIM, issued a call to Europe and America for 200 new workers within a two-year period. Despite internal disorder and external aggression, two hundred and three individuals responded and were sent to China by 31 December 1931.[14] Among them, seven were later designated to work in the Tibetan Highlands.[15] The ripple effect of the movement could be felt even years later when several hundred new workers were deployed to China between 1930 to 1936.[16] It is possible that the thirteen individuals sent during the 1940s followed on this growth.

    Language learning is a prerequisite for effective missionary work. Based on available published materials, we were able to confirm that 28 (68%) of the identified individuals fulfilled the language acquisition criteria. While most of the workers were still learning the language when the articles included in this review were written, some had demonstrated their proficiency in the Tibetan language over the years. For example, it was said that Euphemia P. Reid Cunningham learned to speak the Tibetan language so fluently that she could gather Chinese and Tibetan women and children around her.[17] Demonstrating their ability in the language, George and Dorothy Bell developed course material for a twenty-five-week Tibetan-language course for new workers in 1950.[18] The book Tibetan-English Colloquial Primer: Kham Dialect, which was published by George Kraft in 1991 and has proved to be invaluable in the study of Kham Tibetan, testifies to his fluency in Tibetan.[19] While these examples indicate that some missionaries succeeded in learning Tibetan, more evidence is needed to clarify the language acquisition status of the other workers.

    Up-to-date research data on CIM work among Tibetans is very limited. This review is based on a search of the China’s Millions, the CIM Registry, and other relevant published materials. The data analysis yielded some basic characteristics of the missionaries to the Tibetan Highlands from around 1880 to 1952. However, because an in-depth study of the workers’ assignments has yet to be completed, this paper could not examine the impact of the work at mission stations on local Tibetan communities. In view of the time constraints and limited resources, this review may have left out some missionaries. Nonetheless, the current review represents a first attempt and the first step to acknowledge the contributions of individual workers to the lives of Tibetans living in the Tibetan Highlands. It is hoped that further work will turn the data into stories to highlight how each worker accomplished his or her mission. A summary of these stories would also bring out the essence of the uniqueness of this period of Tibetan missionary work. This review therefore lays the foundation for future research into understanding how these missionary workers impacted the life of the Tibetans.

    Bibliography of early mission work in Tibet

    Amundsen, Edward. In the Land of the Lamas: The Story of Trashilhamo, a Tibetan Lassie, in Which Are Described Tibetan Character, Life, Customs, and History. London: Marshall Brothers, 1910, (accessed 24 January 2017).

    Bell, John and Edith. Tell us a Story. Seattle: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.

    Broomhall, Marshall. The Chinese Empire: A General and Missionary Survey. London: Morgan & Scott, 1907, (accessed 3 February 2017)).

    Broomhall, Marshall. The Jubilee Story of the China Inland Mission. London: Morgan and Scott, 1915, (accessed 3 February 2017).

    Cable, Mildred. The Challenge of Central Asia: A Brief Survey of Tibet and its Borderlands, Mongolia, North-west Kansu, Chinese Turkistan, and Russian Central Asia. London: World Dominion, 192, (accessed 3 February 2017).

    Coates, Charles H. The Red Theology in the Far East. London: C. J. Thynne & Jarvis, 1926.

    Edgar. James Huston. The Land of Mystery, Tibet. Melbourne: CIM, 1928, (accessed 24 January 2017).

    Edgar, James Huston. The Marches of the Mantze. London: CIM, 1908, (accessed 3 February 2017).

    Hinton Linnet. Never Say Can’t. Singapore: OMF, 1987.

    Lawless, Agnes C. Under His Wings: Protected by God in China. Pasig City, Philippines: Action International, 2003.

    Learner, Frank Doggett. Rusty Hinges: A Story of Closed Doors Beginning to Open in North-East Tibet. London: CIM, 1933.

    Macintosh, Amy Bona and May Roy. May Roy: Missionary to Kashmir and the Philippines, etc. Oliphants: London, 1966.

    Marston, Annie Westland. The Great Closed Land: A Plea for Tibet. London: S.W. Partridge & Co., 1894, (accessed 6 February 2017).

    State Historical Society of North Dakota, “Johan August Johanson Papers,” (accessed 24 January 2017).

    Sørensen, Theo. Work in Tibet. Tatsienlu, Szechwan: Tibetan Religious Literature Depot, 1921, (accessed 3 February 2017).

    Bosher, J. F. “Moyes, James (1870–1950),” in Imperial Vancouver Islands: Who Was Who, 1850–1950, ed. J. F. Bosher. Bloomington: Xlibris, 2010, 511–515.

    Thompson, Phyllis. No Way Back: The Biography of Dr. Rupert Clarke. Guildford: Highland, 1992.

    Usher, John Martin. “‘For China and Tibet, and for World-wide Revival’ Cecil Henry Polhill (1860–1938) and his Significance for Early Pentecostalism.” PhD thesis, University of Birmingham, 2015, (accessed 6 February 2017).

    [1] Encyclopædia Britannica, “Plateau of Tibet,” (accessed 24 January 2017).

    [2] The China Continuation Committee, Directory of Protestant Missions in China 1921 (Shanghai: Kwang Hsuëh, n.d.) 94, 124, (accessed 24 January 2017).

    [3] Directory of Protestant Missions in China 1921, 113.

    [4] William S. Martin, “A Bibliographic Essay on American Missionaries to the Tibetan Prior to 1950,” Lungta 11 (1989): 13.

    [5] OMF, “History of OMF and the China Inland Mission (CIM),” (accessed 24 January 2017); M. Geraldine Guinness, The Story of the China Inland Mission, Vols. 1 and 2 (London: Morgan and Scott, 1893, 1900), and (accessed  26 February, 2017); James Hudson Taylor, “The Formation of the China Inland Mission,” in A Retrospect: Story of the Origin of the China Inland Mission (Toronto: CIM, 1900), 93-96.

    [6] Though James Cameron was among the first missionary workers to make itinerary trips to eastern Tibet (see the diary of his journey into eastern Tibet, published in China’s Millions (1879): 65-73, 97-104, and 109-116), he was not included  in this review because he did not meet the inclusion criteria as described in Footnote 7. Important early articles include: John R Muir, “The Opening of Batang,” China’s Millions 34 (1908): 78; Ch’ung-king Correspondent of the North China Daily News, “A Lady’s Adventures in Thibet,” China’s Millions 18 (1893): 103; Cecil Polhill-Turner, “Suffering for the Gospel,” China’s Millions 17 (1892): 163; G. M. Urech, “Kokonor Camp Fires,” China’s Millions 60 (1934): 45; A. H. Pocklington, J. H. Jeffrey, and E. E. Beatty; “The Advance of Mowkung,” China’s Millions 60 (1934): 52;  Mary Milner, “Tibetan Firstfruits,” China’s Millions 57 (1951): 22; J. H. Jeffrey, “The Claims of the Rgyalrong of Eastern Tibet,” China’s Millions 63 (1937): 232; E. E. Beatty, “Tibet: A Notable Observation,” China’s Millions 56 (1950): 125;  F. Doggett Learner, “Advance in Tibetan Work,” China’s Millions 32 (1924): 70;  R. Cunningham, “A Religious Stronghold,” China’s Millions 40 (1932): 210.

    [7] (1) they must have been designated by CIM to engage in Tibetan work; (2) they must have attempted to learn the Tibetan language; and (3) they must have been stationed in one of the designated centers for Tibetan work and reached out to Tibetans for a minimum of two years.

    Nine stations were set up in the northeastern and eastern edge of Tibetan Highlands to carry out missionary work. In Qinghai province, the first station was set up at Xining, Qinghai in 1885 (though Tibetan work did not begin until 1891), followed by Kweiteh and Payenjungko (a.k.a. Hwalung) in 1927, and Hwangyuan in 1933. Another five stations were opened in Sichuan including Sung-pan in 1892, Tatsienlu in 1897, Batang in 1908, Weikiu in 1909, and Mowkung in 1933.

    [8] See Appendix.

    [9] See Bibliography for books discovered during this process.

    [10] A.T. [Arthur Taylor], “In Memoriam: Mr. Robert Cunningham,” China’s Millions (1943): 8.

    [11] Agnes C. Lawless, Under His Wings: Protected by God in China (Pasig City, Philippines: Action International, 2003).

    [12] The five were William Soutter, Edward Amundsen, Johan A. Johansen, Theodor Sorensen, James Moyes, and James Neave. James Neave was excluded from this study because his name is not found in the CIM Registry. For this union, see “Gleanings from Mr. Cooper’s letters,” China’s Millions 21 (1896): 114; John Martin Usher, “‘For China and Tibet, and for World-Wide Revival’ Cecil Henry Polhill (1860-1938) and his significance for early Pentecostalism” (Ph.D. diss., University of Birmingham, 2015), 104. (accessed 19 February 2017).

    [13] “Short Report of the China Inland Misson,” China’s Millions (1920): 63-67.

    [14] Frank Houghton, “Appendix III,” in The Two Hundred: Why They Were Needed, How They Responded, Who They Are, Where They Are (London: CIM, 1932), 76-78.

    [15] These were Arthur Pocklington, Leroy William King, Edward Ernest Beatty, John Howard Jeffrey, Merle Young, Willimena Mirian Graham, and Velma Eunice Booth.

    [16] Joel A. Carpenter, “A Thriving Popular Movement,” in Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: OUP, 1997), 29.

    [17] R. N. D., “In Memoriam: Mrs. Robert Cunningham,” China’s Millions (1950): 33.

    [18] Mrs. George Bell, “Progress with the Tibetan Language,” China’s Millions (1950): 35.

    [19] George C. Kraft and Tsering Hu Heng, Tibetan-English Colloquial Primer: Kham Dialect (Littleton, Colorado: OMF, 1991).

  • 15 Jul
    Reflections on the Korean Missionary Movement: A Critical Review of Recent Research

    Reflections on the Korean Missionary Movement: A Critical Review of Recent Research


    This paper reflects on how recent scrutiny of the Korean Missionary Movement sheds insights on the contexts of Korean mission and the development of Korean mission agencies.

    Warren Beattie

    Reflections on the Korean Missionary Movement: A Critical Review of Recent Research

    Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 1 (January-April 2017): 35-41

    Rev. Dr. Warren R. Beattie teaches Mission Studies, Contextual Theology, and Arts with Mission at All Nations Christian College in Hertfordshire, UK. He and his wife were members of OMF International from 1991 to 2012, working in South Korea and Singapore. During their time in Korea, they were involved in mission training with a variety of groups, including GMTC, and served as associate staff at Hosanna Church, Pusan. Warren has attended and presented papers at both the “Sorak Forum” and “Bangkok Forum”—two Korean-medium groups that engage in ongoing scrutiny of the Korean Missionary Movement. His edited book Ministry Across Cultures: Sharing the Christian Faith in Asia was published in the Regnum Studies in Mission series.


    The Korean Missionary Movement (KMM) has long exerted a fascination for Christians across the world. Many are curious about its origins, its activities, and its current status. Two important recent publications offer an excellent summary of the state of research. The first book, Korean Church, God’s Mission, Global Christianity, gives an ecumenical reading of Korean Christianity, in relation to mission, from a range of perspectives—historical, ecclesiological, and missional.[1] Its strength lies in the way it looks at the KMM in relation to many aspects of Korean and Global Christianity over the last century. The second book, The Korean Missionary Movement. Dynamics and Trends, 1988–2013, has a tighter interest in Protestant mission and agencies, but ranges widely over a number of connected issues, such as structures, partnerships, and leadership.[2] Its analyses and findings are based on consistent, systematic, qualitative, and statistical research that has been carried out over a period of twenty-five years based on careful definitions rigorously applied to what constitutes a “missionary”. This paper will reflect on how this recent scrutiny of the KMM sheds insight on the contexts of Korean mission and the development of Korean mission agencies.

    1. A century of Korean mission

    The Edinburgh Conference 2010

    Korean Church, God’s Mission, Global Christianity forms part of the Regnum Edinburgh Centenary series. The flow of time from the first Edinburgh conference in 1910 until the second in 2010 provides a good frame to reflect on missions from Korea as there is a very close overlap between these dates and the history of the KMM. The year 1907 marks a significant date in Korean missions (see below) and Moon’s book looks at Korean mission until 2013.[3]

    Using the degree of representation at the two Edinburgh conferences as a measure of the changing face of Korean missions, Wonsuk Ma notes the transition from 1910, when a Korean was present as an observer and the Korean “representative” was from North America, to the 2010 conference, when three amongst the twenty-five leaders of the planning team were Korean.[4] He further notes recent Korean influence in leadership at the 2010 Tokyo conference, the Lausanne Movement, and the World Council of Churches.[5] With Edinburgh 2010 as vantage point, we can assess the significance of the KMM in the shifts that have occurred in mission and world Christianity in these hundred years. In many ways, the Korean church and missionary movement epitomize the kind of changes that have taken place on a global canvas.

    Historical phases of the Korean Missionary Movement

    Recent statistics about Korean missions since the 1980s are used by Timothy Park as a springboard for discussion about the global impact of the KMM. His point is that “the churches in the world have begun to recognize the dynamic emergence of the Korean church as a missionary church.”[6] This is incontestable, and Park, like Wonsuk Ma, is optimistic about the ongoing role of the Korean church.

    Park’s summary looks backwards to the early twentieth century as the starting-point of the KMM. He divides the history into three periods of mission: (1) “During the Japanese colonial period 1907–1957”; (2) “After the independence of Korea 1955–1991”; and (3) “Current Period—1980s to the present.”[7] The first period includes the seminal event of the Rev. Lee Ki-Poong being sent to Cheju in 1907, the mission to Siberia (Russia), and missions to Shandong (China).[8] The second period, coming after the Korean War, included important pioneers like the Rev. Samuel I. Kim whose writings are preserved in English for an international audience through the volume New Forces in Missions.[9]

    Lee Ki Poong (circled)

    Although these missionary efforts may seem, to the casual observer, of only historical curiosity, they formed an important backdrop to late twentieth century mission. Numerous lessons were learned in the two earlier periods that shaped the more recent phase of mission from the 1980s. Koreans were able to appreciate the difficulties faced by missionaries from a homogenous culture where there were no “predecessors” and where church leaders had not had the opportunity to travel internationally (and hence found it hard to imagine the cross-cultural dimensions of the missional experience) and of the potential contribution that could be made by missionaries from a majority world culture—like Korea—to global mission and evangelism.

    The decade of the 1980s

    One more historical moment needs to be emphasized at the outset. This is the decade of the 1980s.[10] The 1980s are seen to be significant for a range of factors that opened up Korea to the rest of the world—not least during the Seoul Olympics. During this decade economic, social, and political forces emerged that laid the foundation for Korea to become a more global society.[11]

    The missional focus of Korea also changed in this third period. Park identifies three key issues of the time: (1) a shift from mission to Korean immigrants to evangelization of a wider world; (2) the rise of indigenous missions (emergence of native missions); (3) the “symbiotic relationship” between churches and denominations as an important factor in the development of mission.[12]

    This decade had a very personal relevance for Ma as he became a missionary at the end of the 1970s, but there are wider reasons, on both a global and Korean canvas, as to why it needs to be viewed as an important decade in the evolution of the KMM.[13] Ma shows that, according to the Atlas of Global Christianity, the second millennium of Christianity saw Europe taking centre stage but that a shift occurred towards the beginning of the third Christian millennium when a more global expression of the church and missions was discernible. He cites statistical data to place this change around the late 1970s and early 1980s.[14]

    This notion that there is a period from the 1980s onwards that is significant for “Christianity and its mission in the new global context” is important for understanding the KMM and missionary movements in the global south at the present time.[15] In short, Ma is suggesting that the shift in global Christianity overlaps a key moment of growth and expansion in the KMM—so the KMM can be seen as exemplary in terms of both identity and scale of what has been accomplished in emerging missions since this global shift.

    2. Making sense of the Korean Missionary Movement

    The Korean Missionary Movement challenges existing paradigms of mission

    In a similar way, Kirsteen Kim shows that the significance of the KMM as a movement from the global south affects our understanding of mission on a number of fronts.[16] She realizes that the KMM needs to be assessed on its own terms with its own agenda and not simply in reaction to western issues or in terms of the frame of western mission. For Kim, mission studies as a contemporary discipline has largely been shaped by western people to make sense of their own mission movements and the KMM offers an alternative way of viewing the world.

    the existence of the Korean missionary movement challenges any perception that missionary sending is largely a thing of the past and that mission studies should, in the academy be devoted to world Christianity or intercultural theology, or in the churches focus just on local evangelism.[17]

    The KMM allows us, then, to look at missions from a different angle.[18] “Far from seeing missions as a politically incorrect legacy of a colonial past, Korean Christians embrace sending – especially cross-cultural sending as one of the highest expressions of Christian love.”[19] The KMM offers an important strand from the global south to understand the missional dimension of “Christianity as a religion.”

    In her final synthesis, Kim notes a number of important dynamics that relate to mission movements from Korea but would also be important for mission movements in Asia as a whole. These include the general shift in the postcolonial period away from Europe and the West and the intensification of the polycentric character of mission. She further highlights the influence of patterns of migration, and the push and pull of political and economic factors.[20] In terms of theological underpinnings, Kim shows that individual movements may well have different theological slants: for Korea, she highlights the role of pneumatology (across the theological spectrum) in terms of the dynamism of mission, and the connections to material prosperity (as a form of blessing) and how the politics of a divided peninsula have created different approaches to theology. She rightly underlines the uniquely Korean rendering of the motif of self-sacrifice.[21]

    The many points of overlap between Kim’s analysis and the reflections made by Wonsuk Ma in his concluding article around these contextual dimensions, suggest that the uniqueness of the Korean setting has made a real impact on Korean Christianity and the Korean missionary movement.[22]

    3. Researching the Korean Missionary Movement

    Twenty-five years of research and its fruits

    Korean Church, God’s Mission, Global Christianity sets the KMM against the backdrop of Global and Korean Christianity. In The Korean Missionary Movement: Dynamics and Trends, 1988–2013, Steve Moon helps us to see the realities of mission as experienced by the players—Korean missionaries, churches, and mission agencies—viewed over a twenty-five year period.[23]

    Steve Sang-Cheol Moon is well-placed to undertake this kind of research. In Korea, he is the Director of the Korean Research Institute of Missions (KRIM)[24] which is the research wing of the Global Missionary Fellowship (GMF) and has links to the Global Missionary Training Centre (GMTC). The fact that he and his colleague David Tae Woong Lee (the former principal of GMTC) are connected to the World Evangelical Alliance Missions Commission allows a two-way dialogue and conduit of ideas, resources, and people from Korea to a global audience and vice-versa.[25]

    In the preface, Moon offers an explanation of the contours which frame the research undertaken by KRIM, an offering that provides an excellent overview of important themes in the KMM. He presents a focus on Protestant Korean missions with a history going back to 1907 (xvi);[26] he hints at the significance of the 1980s and the Seoul Olympics in 1988—indicating factors of travel, availability of travel documents, and attitudes to foreign currency (xvii); and he further notes the rise and influence of major mission conventions from 1988 onwards (xviii). In terms of the practicalities of Korean missions, he notes a focus on “efforts to strategize and systematize” (and is aware of the influence of the West, especially North America).[27] He shows too that in practical and economic terms, the experiences and the resources of the “church growth” outlook of the 1970s acted as a major springboard for Korean missions. In terms of an ethos that would encourage mission, he suggests that the “conservative theological orientation” of churches and the attitude of sacrificial giving characterizes contemporary Korean Christianity (xx). In a nutshell, Moon offers the reader an informed grasp of the world of the KMM from 1988 to 2013.

    At the opening of this book, Moon graciously and firmly locates himself as a successor to Marlin Nelson and his research interests and outputs in the 1970s. The latter includes the 1979 directory of Korean missionaries and similar works up to 1989 (xvii).[28] The research of KRIM furthered this work with its production of biennial reports from 1990 to 2008 and since then annual reports (xviii). Part of the importance of the work of KRIM lies in this steady continuous work over the last 25–30 years. The other important feature of their research has been their definition of a missionary—that it represents a person from Korea with an established agency (not from other countries); it does not include pastors from diaspora churches; it does not include those who work with migrant churches. These specific criteria have been consistently applied for twenty-five years (xviii). In the statistical synthesis, Moon shows that there have been just over 20,000 Korean missionaries using KRIM’s categories up to 2013.[29] Following this historical and theoretical frame, he highlights a few key areas that need further scrutiny: mission member care and financial needs (practical); and leadership development and partnerships in mission (strategic).[30]

    The glocalisation of the KMM: a movement between the global and the local

    In his introductory comments, Moon helps set the scene for our examination of the KMM and offers some pointers of the need for change. As most Korean missionaries were working globally, there was a tendency to follow global and western patterns. This overseas focus resulted in Koreans being “constrained to adopt western policies for organizing their field ministries” (xxi). He concludes with reflections on how mission can be done in a more Korean way, with a distinctive plea for the need to develop a greater capacity to self-theologize.[31]

    In asking the question of how Korean can develop in respect to “self-theologizing”, Moon gives a personal response:

    My own understanding is that self-missiologizing means to do missiology with both the local and the global interdependently in view, not independently. In Korea the level of self-theologizing, a foundation for self-missiologizing is not at all satisfactory. Without a good foundation in self-theologizing and self-missiologizing a missionary movement can fall into activism, repeating the trials and errors of the past. Integration of what we have learned through experience into the accumulated missiological knowledge seems to be a core answer to this question.

    Moon is clearly interested in shaping the ethos of the KMM through KRIM’s research, and it is from this lens or starting-point that the research seeks to shed light on the past with an eye on what is to come. He is especially open to understanding the interplay of the global and local forces that shape Korean mission and building from this for a more globally aware movement in the future. In discussions on the “glocalisation of Korean missions,” he makes the following observation:

    Now as a leading force in global mission, Korean missions need formal criteria and a new mindset. The nature of missions is innately both local and global, and therefore both localization and globalization must be acknowledged.[32]

    Reviewing the barriers to glocalisation (from the limitations of “the local”) research suggests the need to move beyond the homogenous and monocultural contexts of Korea which can lead to an ethnocentric outlook. Conversely, considering the challenges of globalization (in the sense of “adapting to global standards”), research indicates that the glocalisation of mission needs to address cross-cultural understandings as well as areas like leadership, mission structures, and the Korean church itself. Missionaries themselves were acutely aware of the need to invest in people and education, not just buildings and facilities.[33]

    The capacity to move between the global and local is essential in modern missions.

    With the support of the Korean church, mission agencies must enable glocalisation by consciously and intentionally seeking to develop experts who have both knowledge and mission experience. Mission agencies and mission associations should also take the initiative in building international partnerships.[34]

    Moon rightly concludes that applied glocalisation needs more attention and research while it remains an important foundation of mission in the third millennium for the KMM.

    4. Implications for Korean mission agencies and churches

    The implications of research for Korean mission agencies and churches

    The KMM has impacted both church and mission agencies. The symbiotic relationship between Korean mission agencies and Korean churches is pursued in two central chapters in the book which look at the KMM around 2000–2003.[35] Statistically, it was a time of growth. In the period from 1989 (when KRIM’s records started) to 2013, the number of missionaries from Korea went from 1178 to 20,085; in the same period the number of agencies increased from 92 to 166; and the countries in which Korean missionaries worked increased from 72 to 171.[36] This shows the scale of the movement and the scope of the issues that have been faced in the last three decades.[37]

    Mission agencies and churches need to consider the following areas: partnership, structures, and the care of missionaries.[38] In terms of partnership, Moon notes how this plays out and how it affects leaders and leadership training.

    That Korean mission agencies and missionaries will work with mission agencies from different national backgrounds is inevitable, but knowing one’s partners and partnering organizations well before working with them is important. … Korean mission agencies who belong to international mission agencies need to remember their cultural identity as they grow as leaders in a multicultural setting. They need to seek to represent the reality of Korean churches, mission agencies and missionaries well.[39]

    At Mission Korea 1996

    Groups, mission agencies, and churches need to be aware of the context in other countries and yet need to find ways to connect locally without losing sight of their unique contribution as Koreans.

    Research seems to indicate that despite their global status, Korean mission agencies need to pay more attention to basic infrastructure both at home and abroad and to invest in this. Churches, for obvious reasons, can be more interested in giving resources to buildings and infrastructure on the mission field, but need to be challenged to invest in the KMM and to find a better equilibrium. Moon fears that Korean mission agencies are starting to “lag behind” in this respect, despite their scale and length of historical involvement.[40]

    This means that Korean churches need to find new ways to develop “moral support” (my term) for Korean missions. This includes member care, but it also means the need to find ways to be creative in terms of the infrastructure and financing of mission. In a technological age, Moon is concerned that even areas like IT need attention and investment; he suggests that Koreans may want to develop partnerships with other Asian countries like India and Singapore. He really wants the churches in Korea to recognize this need and to invest in IT.[41]

    Korean churches supporting the KMM need to do two things: firstly, “pursue a globalization of its missionary movement overcoming parochialism for the sake of world evangelization in this global age;” and, secondly, shift their focus towards “quality” not just “quantity.” These shifts will need to affect areas like member care, the support structures of mission, and “the encouragement of mission innovation” through research and partnerships.”[42] To do this, churches need to grow in the area of a “global mindset” as well. Mission stems from the beliefs of local Christians and their commitment to God’s global world.

    Although mission agencies are on the front line, the initiative and dynamics of mission belongs to local churches. The level of commitment of the Korean churches determines the degree of maturity of Korean missions. Missions is about the lifestyle of Christians and is an expression of faith shared within a community. Korean churches need to embrace globalism.[43]

    Moon critiques the phenomenon of churches (often mega-churches) that engage in direct sending, by showing that in “bypassing mission agencies” and their expertise, there is a danger of constantly failing to understand contextual realities in target countries and, worse, their actions raise the “spectre of a new mode of imperialism in missions.”[44] This is not just an issue in Korea. Certainly those of us living in Europe and other East Asian countries face similar tensions.

    The implications of research for leadership in Korean mission

    At the heart of many of the above issues, lies a challenge for leadership training. Although it is possible to emphasise Korean identity in indigenous mission agencies, they have some inherent tensions as they are often centred around a single “entrepreneurial” leader.[45]

    An alternative is offered by international mission agencies that are sensitive to local diversity:

    For their part, international mission agencies need to adapt to the new organizational soil of Korea. A uniform structure that fails to reflect the diversity of cultural contexts is no longer competitive in the ever-diversifying world. . . . Instead of working as a branch of a huge international conglomerate, international mission agencies need to consider implementing a horizontal partnership model. Decision making needs to reflect the cultural characteristics of each sending country.[46]

    Moon recognizes that “cross-cultural understanding for cross-cultural leadership” is essential and that Korean churches need to play a role in this, not just the mission agencies. He wants to draw on and develop the unique character of Korean identity without losing sight of the global context.[47] He expresses the need to “learn from being Korean and … from the accumulated global experience of missions.”

    5. Whither the Korean Missionary Movement?

    Both books at the heart of this study Korean Church, God’s Mission, Global Christianity and The Korean Missionary Movement make observations about the current status of the KMM as we move into the twenty-first century.

    Towards a plateau

    Just before 2013 (the end of his stated period of research), Moon suggests that there has been a kind of “plateau” effect in the KMM—he uses the word “stagnation”, though in a simply descriptive sense.[48] This leads Moon to consider measured expectations for the future in terms of growth. Noting what could be called a proportional relationship between church revival and mission activity, he highlights the need for greater realism and even wonders whether “extravagant emphasis on numbers has had the negative effect of inhibiting growth” and suggests instead the  need “to set and promote realistic goals of missionary recruitment in light of the current level of church growth.”[49]

    Given that the KMM is experiencing a time of slowing down, in the spirit of “reculer pour mieux sauter,”[50] he ponders what lessons can be observed from the existing phenomenon of Korean mission. As he frames the idea of improvement, he cites six areas for “growth” in a qualitative sense:

    1. leadership development
    2. infrastructure development
    3. strategy for field ministries
    4. crisis management
    5. care of missionary families
    6. preparation for missionary retirement

    We have seen that these themes have formed an important part of the dialogue around Korean mission in relation to the glocalisation of Korean missions and the development of a more innovative and creative approach. Moon is equally interested in the wider dimensions of member care for Asian cultures, extended to include children, the family, and stages of the “mission life-cycle.” Finally, he notes the place of research in going beyond blinkered thinking and “problem-solving” to a more nuanced approach, recognizing that this period of slowing down can be accompanied by “a corresponding maturation in reflection on mission” that can enhance the future quality of the KMM.[51]

    Into the third millennium

    In terms of understanding where the KMM is heading in the changing global context, Wonsuk Ma correctly recognizes that in the third Christian millennium the world continues to change rapidly. In this new “post” world—Ma suggests post-Christendom, post-colonialism, and post-modernism as markers—we could now add “post-truth”. According to the BBC, we are indeed in a new phase of human experience that has been ushered in from the 1980s.[52] In this new world order, Ma suggests that the shift to the global south will mean that Christianity will be experienced by the majority of Christians as a religion of the poor. However, the impact of the church in the “west” or the “north” will continue to be felt because of its economic resources and intellectual heritage.[53]

    Ma does not shrink from explaining why the Korean church and missionary movement has looked to the “west” (or “global north”).

    The West was seen as  ‘Christian’, civilised, rich, benevolent, and willing to help, while persecutions came from either among our own (including the Joseon dynasty and Communist North) or a close neighbour (that is Japan). Korean Christianity consequently, looks extremely western, in its theology, orientation and behaviour.[54]

    Like Moon, Ma notes the links between the growth and maturity of the KMM in the late 1970s and 1980s onwards and the nation’s status on the global stage.[55] He is also conscious that the slowing down of the church in Korea and its composition will impact mission in the near future. On the other hand, Ma realizes that the phenomenon of the Korean church from the 1980s onward, as exemplified by megachurch models and approaches to Christian life, have had a real impact especially elsewhere in Asia and in Africa.[56] This has been seen in the way in which Korean churches have played a key role in encouraging churches in neighbouring countries.

    Ma concludes that the growth of Korean Christianity, the resulting mission movement, and the theological climate (with its unique blend of responses to economic and spiritual hardships) have ushered in a new era, but he notes the important interplay between these factors and this era of global Christianity.

    What is significant for the Korean church is the birth of an intentional, substantial and sustained missionary movement. . . . Its growth and missionary development almost exactly coincides with the decisive shift of the shift of global Christianity.[57]

    For Ma, the KMM predates (slightly) the rise of Asian Christianity and so Korea was able to exercise influence in a number of Asian spheres and in “leading other nations, especially from the global south, in evangelism, church growth, and mission. Its location in Asia has been therefore critical, for the continent has the highest population in the world but the lowest evangelisation rate.”[58]

    The review of the mission movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a re-assessment of issues such as the way in which the transmission of the Christian faith was bound up with flows from Europe and North America to other parts of the world and the role of power in that experience.[59]

    Power, incarnation, and powerlessness: concluding theological reflections

    Addressing the relevance of mission from Korea to global debates on mission in the third millennium (since the 1980s), Ma reflects on how mission was seen in the second Christian millennium to be “a task only churches/ nations with power can perform” and that this took place in a certain direction which reflected “the perceived unidirectional nature of mission” that was essentially “from the West to the ‘Rest’.” This is a false vision of mission. “This notion of mission that requires power is foreign to the life and teachings of Jesus and also to mission practices found in early records (Acts).” Rather “the kenotic life is the core of incarnation and is also the basis of Christian discipleship.”[60]

    Moon made a strikingly similar observation on mission itself, contrasting mission from the emerging nations to mission from the powerful global north:

    The soft power of Christian love, in contrast, is unconditional, altruistic, non-numerical and immeasurable—but it transforms the world fundamentally. Only compassion for specific people motivates mission. Korean missionaries, especially mission leaders, need to check their actual worldviews and, as needed, change them to harness missional soft power.

    Moon continues, with a very striking quote (noted by Bill Taylor in his Foreword) which sums up a view of mission as mediated through missionaries in mission agencies, which seems to me to show a similar perception about the true nature of mission from the fruits of sustained research.[61]

    Short termism, obsession with visible results and exporting prosperity myths are a few expressions of secular worldviews. Only the practice of incarnational mission can bring about changes at a deep level. There is a growing awareness of incarnational humility among mission communities and practitioners from Korea.

    So, the KMM can offer an alternative vision; it can be the exemplar of a new paradigm from the global south. “Thus, a radical reappraisal of mission is called for. . . . The mission leadership of the Korean church includes a pivotal role to facilitate the global church, both of the South and the North, to run his process.”[62] Ma is mindful, however, that mission in the third millennium needs to be an interplay between the newer missionary movements of the global south, in conjunction with those of the global north.[63]

    As the world church comes to a common table . . . the South . . . can bring its underrating [sic] of mission from their reading of the scripture and engagements with its contexts. The North can bring its long history of mission and its critical reflection of it.[64]

    Such a move away from power is one that Ma sees the Korean church uniquely equipped to address and it can help to offer a different vision of mission in the third millennium.

    We began our reflections with the century between 1910 and 2010, bounded by the two Edinburgh conferences. A recent book Polycentric Missiology reviews the four major conferences that took place in that centenary year of 2010 (including the one in Edinburgh itself) and one in Latin America in 2012.[65] Its thesis is that these conferences show a shift of mission over a century from the single centre of “the West to the rest” to a more polycentric character “from everyone to everywhere.” Korean missions epitomize this shift. The two recent publications on the KMM show they are researching and reflecting on how the KMM needs to grow and develop in this new global era.

    As Moon clarifies, the experience of facing the challenges of global mission will be the inspiration for change, both for the KMM and the Korean church:

    By addressing these developmental issues well, the Korean missionary movement will signal that it is overcoming the inevitable weaknesses and limitations of an emerging missionary movement. To complement or offset one’s vulnerability through learning and conscious effort is a Christian attitude. It also displays a global mindset. The Korean church is becoming global through global missions.[66]

    [1] Wonsuk Ma and Kyo Seong Ahn, eds., Korean Church, God’s Mission, Global Christianity, Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series (Oxford: Regnum, 2015).

    [2] Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement. Dynamics and Trends, 1988–2013 (Pasadena, CA: William Carey, 2016.)

    [3] Moon also focuses on a recent twenty-five year period, but he looks back to 1907 as well. See page 277.

    [4] Wonsuk Ma, “Introduction” in Korean Church, God’s Mission, Global Christianity, edited by Ma and Ahn, (Oxford: Regnum, 2015), 1.

    [5] Ma, “Introduction,” 2.

    [6] Timothy Park, “The Missionary Movement of the Korean Church,” in Korean Church, God’s Mission, Global Christianity, Ma and Ahn, eds. (Oxford: Regnum, 2015), 18.

    [7] Park gives overlapping dates without a full explanation of his rationale for this.

    [8] Park’s PhD thesis offers a richly textured discussion of the main streams of the early mission ventures. See Timothy Kiho Park, “A Two-Thirds World Mission on the Move: The Missionary Movement of the Presbyterian Church in Korea.” Unpublished PhD Thesis. Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Mission, 1991.

    [9] David Cho, New Forces in Missions: The Official Report of the Asian Missions Association (Seoul: East-West Centre for Missions Research and Development, 1976), 123–124. Video footage exists (recently rediscovered) of Samuel Kim and Chan Choi’s ordination service. This is titled, “This Great Calling—Korea, 1955.” This was drawn to my attention by Dr. Son Chang Nam, the former Korean National Director of OMF International.

    [10] Ma shows the global significance of the shift of centre of gravity of Christianity in this decade.  Moon’s book also stresses the importance of the 1980s (especially 1988 which was the date of the Seoul Olympics).

    [11] Moon suggests that these included “ease of travel, availability of passports, more access to foreign money.” Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, xvii.

    [12] Park, “The Missionary Movement,” 26.

    [13] My own master’s research showed that the number of Koreans in OMF International did not exceed the number of Japanese members until 1988 (reflecting a wider pattern proving true in a specific setting). See Warren R. Beattie, “OMF International: an Assessment of the Impact of Internationalisation and Interactions with the Korean Missionary Movement from 1964–1998,” Unpublished Master’s Thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1998.

    [14] The exact dates he uses “from 923 until 1981” are taken from a chart in the Atlas of Global Christianity, 51. Wonsuk Ma, “Global Leadership,” in Korean Church, God’s Mission, Global Christianity, Ma and Ahn, eds. (Oxford: Regnum, 2015), 365.

    [15] Ma, “Global Leadership,” 365.

    [16] Kirsteen Kim, “The Significance for Mission Studies,” in Korean Church, God’s Mission, Global Christianity, Ma and Ahn, eds. (Oxford: Regnum, 2015), 48–56. She includes the statistical evidence that relates the number of Korean missionaries to global standards, but reads this in a measured way without over-emphasizing its significance.

    [17] Kim, “The Significance”, 49–50.

    [18] This is in contrast to the kind of mission described by Moonjang Lee in which “globalisation of the image of western Christianity poses a problem for non-western Christianity.” Quoted by Todd Johnson. See Korean Church, 57.

    [19] Kim, “The Significance,” 51–52.

    [20] Kim, “The Significance,” 52–54.

    [21] Kim, “The Significance,”54–56.

    [22] Ma, “Global Mission Leadership,” 364–377.

    [23] In this article, my focus will be on Part 1 of the book which is an overview of the “progress” of the KMM.

    [24] KRIM’s stated aim is “to produce educational resources” for interested parties including mission agencies. Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, xii.

    [25] GMF is itself an umbrella organisation with a number of different “branches.” Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, xii.

    [26] See above on Rev. Lee Ki-Poong.

    [27] For an important contextual discussion of why Koreans might look to the West see Wonsuk Ma’s comments about the aftermath of the Korean War. Ma, “Global Leadership,” 370–371.

    [28] For further examples of the relevance of Nelson’s work see the author’s MSc thesis, “OMF International,” 44–65 and Marvin L. Nelson, The How and Why of Third World Mission: An Asian Case Study (South Pasadena, CA: William Carey, 1976); Marvin L. Nelson, ed., Readings in Third World Missions: A Collection of Essential Documents (Pasadena, CA: William Carey, 1976).

    [29] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 11–13.

    [30] The categorizations in brackets are by the author. Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 11–13.

    [31] An interest in self-theologizing is echoed by Moon and David Lee elsewhere. See, for example, Steve Moon and David Lee, “Globalization, World Evangelization and Global Missiology,” in One World or Many, Richard Tiplady, ed. (Pasadena: William Carey, 2003), 264 (and the surrounding discussion).

    [32] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 50 and 144–151.

    [33] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 146–148.

    [34] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 150–151.

    [35] Chapter 4 was published for Korean readers; Chapter 5 was published in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research. They thus provide two views of the same broad material that were originally intended for slightly different audiences.

    [36] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 7. The number of agencies was growing more slowly than the number of individuals as “missionaries prefer to join large, well-established mission agencies.” See also page 46.

    [37] Moon and others are well aware of the “slowing down” or “stagnation” of the Korean church. See below.

    [38] Moon’s phrases are (1) “sending structures: from imitation to innovation”; (2) “field strategy: from competition to cooperation”; (3) “member care: from non-interference to systematic care.” Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 54–59 and 64–69.

    [39] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 55.

    [40] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 57.

    [41] The rationale for this is that IT relates to “specialized member service… greater church-missions cooperation, interagency cooperation and partnership, and field-home communication and coordination.” It is not an optional extra. Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 53–54, 71–72 and 76.

    [42] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 56–59 and 74.

    [43] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 56–57.

    [44] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 54–56.

    [45] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 58–59.

    [46] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 52.

    [47] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 59.

    [48] The statistical review indicates that 75% of Korean missionaries are under fifty years of age and that around half of them have served for less than eight years. Around 75% of the total are considered full-time career missionaries.

    [49] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 109.

    [50] I paraphrase this as, “To take a few steps back to be better able to jump further forward.”

    [51] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 109–110.

    [52] The episode “Nothing but the Truth” of the BBC Radio 4 programme “The New World” notes the arrival of “post-truth” in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016. “Nothing but the Truth,” BBC Radio 4, accessed 1 March 2017,

    [53] Ma, “Global Leadership,” 367–370.

    [54] Ma, “Global Leadership,” 370.

    [55] His list of indicators includes hosting the Olympic Games in 1988, joining OECD in 1996, and hosting a G20 Summit in 2010. Note, too, that South Korea became a UN donor nation in 2010. Ma, “Global Leadership,” 369.

    [56] Ma gives the example of Sarang Church, Seoul’s discipleship strategy as a model that was widely used in Korea and beyond – even the author and his wife attended a week long seminar on this for Korean churches in the South of Korea in the 1990s at Hosanna Church, Pusan. – see p. 370.

    [57] Ma, “Global Leadership,” 371.

    [58] Ma, “Global Leadership,” 370–372.

    [59] See for example Jehu Hanciles, Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration and the Transformation of the West (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2009) and Brian Stanley, The Bible and the Flag: Protestant Mission and British Imperialism in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Leicester: Apollos, 1990.)

    [60] Ma, “Global Leadership,” 370–372. There are some aspects of this discussion that need further clarification given the interest in the growing economic development of Korea, but there is an underlying awareness that emerging missions can and should model the true nature of Christian mission.

    [61] Both quotes are from Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 110. Also see the “Foreword”.

    [62] Ma, “Global Leadership,” 373–374.

    [63] See Patrick Fung’s talk delivered at Lausanne Cape Town 2010, “Partnership – Equilibrium vs Diversity in Unity,” (accessed 24 February 2017).

    [64] Ma, “Global Leadership,” 374.

    [65] Allen Yeh, Polycentric Missiology: 21st-Century Mission from Everyone to Everywhere (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016).

    [66] Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement, 59.

  • 15 Jul
    Mission and the Internet

    Mission and the Internet


    The paper looks at the impact of the internet based on statistics for Southeast Asia, China, and Japan, and focuses on the development of an internet ministry in Thailand for evangelism and Christian nurture. It presents four stepping stones that can be used to develop an effective internet ministry and how this can be reproduced elsewhere. The article also looks at the challenges that internet ministry and outreach face as well as the great opportunity that the internet provides.

    Reinout van Heiningen

    Reinout joined OMF as an associate in 2004, serving with the Mekong field. After getting married in 2006 he studied with his wife Arenda in England for two years with New Tribes Mission. In early 2009 they returned to Thailand to serve as church planters in North East Thailand. In 2015 Reinout was asked to also develop a program for Internet Evangelism. Reinout and Arenda are currently serving as Admin and Finance managers for OMF Thailand, while still being responsible for Internet Evangelism.

    Mission and the Internet

    Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 1 (January-April 2017): 23-29

    Arguably, nothing that has changed our world more in the last thirty years than the internet. The internet has turned our existence upside down. It has revolutionized communications to the extent that it is now our preferred medium of everyday communication. In almost everything we do, we use the internet.

    Just think back to the time “back in the stone age” when a phone call, letter, or knock on the door was required to communicate with someone. Then you would have to wait for a reply to your letter or leave a message on someone’s answering machine if they weren’t home when you called.

    Think back to the time when you had to go to a shop if you wanted to buy something. You had to depend on the salesman for advice; you had to visit several places to compare prices. And in the end you had to pay cash before walking out of the shop with your product.

    Think back to the time when you had to go to a library to read books to find answers to your questions. If you wanted to travel you had to buy a travel guide for the particular country you were going to visit. Those were the days of waiting for the morning paper to hit your front porch so you could get your daily dose of news and weather. It was the time when you actually had to visit or call a bank in order to check your account balance. You had to wait in a long line on Friday afternoon to get cash or deposit your paycheck. In those days you had to go to a shop to rent a video and you had to look in the newspaper for advertisements if you needed another job. Do you still remember that you had to sit physically at a table with other people to play a game?

    The internet has indeed changed our lives. The changes in social communication are of particular significance. Although analog tools still have their place in some contexts, new technologies continue to gain ground every day, transforming our communication practices and creating new possibilities—particularly among younger people. Communication barriers have largely been removed by the internet. Online, the conventional constraints of space and time disappear amid the dizzyingly wide range of communicative possibilities.

    The internet has become embedded in every aspect of our day-to-day lives, changing the way we interact with others. Out of all the myriad communication opportunities that the internet has opened up, I will highlight the emergence of social media and the way they have intricately melded with our daily lives. Social media have changed our personal spaces, altering the way we interact with our loved ones, friends, and people we have never met; they have forced us to rethink even basic daily processes like studying and shopping; they have affected the economy by nurturing the business startup culture and electronic commerce; they have even given us new ways to start broad-based political movements.

    The internet has clearly impacted all levels of education by providing unbounded possibilities for learning. Students can work interactively with one another, unrestricted by physical or time constraints. Today, you can use the internet to access libraries, encyclopedias, art galleries, news archives, and other information sources from anywhere in the world.

    The internet revolution is not just technological; it also drives changes at a personal level and throughout the structure of society. The internet makes it possible for an unlimited number of people to communicate with one another freely and easily.

    Fig. 1  The number of global internet users by year [1]

    Some statistics

    As we look into the topic of how the internet will impact the future of mission, it is important to first of all consider some statistics with regard to the access and use of the internet in the world, and specifically East Asia where most of OMF’s work is based. Figure 1 shows the worldwide growth of internet users from 2000 to 2016.[1] Figure 2 shows the number of users divided among the different regions of the world as of December 2016.[2]

    As it is impossible to examine the statistics of every country, I have picked a few to show internet penetration and behavior on the internet.

    Southeast Asia

    Based on the We Are Social latest report released in February 2017, Southeast Asia has a total population of 644.1 million people. More than half of the population (339.2 million) in the region now have access to the internet and 305.9 million are active social media users. This number is growing rapidly. Since January 2016, the number of internet users grew by 80 million (31%) and the registered active social media accounts grew by 72 million (31%)[3].

    The report by We Are Social noted that

    Mobile internet use appears to be driving much of this growth, although mobile internet penetration hasn’t quite hit the halfway point yet. The current pace of growth suggests that we’ll likely pass that milestone in the next few months though, with most new internet users in the region now mobile-first, and often mobile-only.[4]

    The report also noted that Facebook now has the greatest number of monthly active users in the region (305.9 million), with 89% of them accessing Facebook via mobile devices and 50% of them using Facebook daily. For Myanmar, the report highlighted that although barely one-quarter of the population are using social media, usage has skyrocketed. For example, Facebook recorded 14 million users since the restrictions on Facebook were lifted in the country and more than 6 million of them were new users in the previous 12 months—84% year-on-year growth!

    An article in Tech in Asia that examined the changing landscape in 2015 also highlighted the following about young Facebook users:

    Despite media click-bait suggesting that young people are leaving Facebook “in their droves,” the data suggest that Facebook remains hugely popular with Millennial audiences.

    More than 70% of the platform’s users in the region are under 30 years of age, and . . . more than 63 million users under the age of 20 used facebook in the past 30 days.[5]


    The latest figures reported by We Are Social for China are:

    • Active Internet Users: 688 million (out of a population of 1,379 million)
    • Active Social Media Users:653 million active users (penetration rate of 47%)
    • Active Mobile Social Media Users:577 million (penetration of 42%).[6]

    A report by We Are Social in 2015 noted that roughly 100,000 people in China started using the internet per day (more than one every second) over the preceding year with a growing number of mobile-only internet users, especially in rural areas.  It added that internet usage wasn’t evenly distributed—a marked difference remained between urban and rural usage rates—almost two-thirds of China’s urban population used the internet every month, while only three in ten of the rural population did so. The report also noted that:

    At 1 hour and 43 minutes per day, social media accounts for just under half of all the time that people spend online in China. The country’s social media users spend 23% longer using social media than they do watching TV each day, although it’s worth noting that much of this time overlaps, with many TV viewers engaging in ‘second-screen’ social media use at the same time.[7]


    The latest statistics indicate that LINE is still the top social platform in Japan, with national penetration surpassing half of the population in 2016; LINE reports that it has 64 million monthly active users in Japan.[8]

    According to a btrax report in 2015:

    Japan has a very high internet penetration, at 86 percent—they are the fourth largest internet population in the world after China, USA, and India. Mobile penetration is 122 percent, which means on average, people own more than one mobile device. In terms of social media use, there are almost as many account accesses via mobile (22M) as the total number of active social media accounts, which is over 90% of all social media usage. This means that the majority of people who use social media use it on mobile as well as desktop.[9]

    Figure 3, from the same report, shows the most popular social networks in Japan.

    According to a 2015 study by eMarketer, half of all social network users in Japan use Twitter, and 26 million people were expected to be on the social media network in Japan in 2015, representing 20.5 percent of the Japanese population. Twitter usage was expected to rise in Japan, with a predicted 30.1 millions users in 2018.[10]

    An article published by btrax in Jan 2016 cites reasons as to why Twitter was able to take off in Japan:

    • Anonymity: Privacy is important in Japan, and Twitter allows users to use fake names. Twitter serves as a platform for Japanese users to express emotion anonymously.
    • 140 Characters: In Japanese, you can say almost double what you can say in English with 140 characters.
    • Mobile: Twitter began to catch on in Japan as early as 2007 when it was gaining popularity in the States. Japanese feature phones at the time already had internet capability and there were various feature phone clients designed for Twitter.[11]

    An earlier btrax article reported the following on Facebook in Japan:

    Facebook has 22 million users in Japan as of January 2015. Initially, Facebook had trouble gaining traction because users had to provide their real names to register. However, in recent years, Japan began to warm to Facebook. The latest statistics show that Japan has around 25 million active Facebook users, which is almost 20% of the population.[12]


    As we noted before, the recent finding of a 2016 report is that more than half of the world’s population now uses the internet. What’s more, the growth of internet use continues to accelerate around the world, with global user numbers up by more than 80% in the past five years. It is expected that this growth will continue in the coming years.

    Internet ministry in Thailand

    In Thailand more than 38 million people still live in a sub-district without a church or single Christian. With less than 0.7% Christians the question is how the gospel will spread through the country, until the last person has had a chance to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. OMF Thailand’s mission is to glorify God by the urgent evangelization of Thailand. The question that we asked is how this can happen as soon as possible. With a slow growing church and fewer missionaries wanting to come long term we need to find ways to reach the unreached with the gospel.

    My family lives in a small rural village in the northeast. Our village can only be reached by a dirt road. The closest 7-11 shop is more than a twenty-kilometer drive. I was very surprised though that, after coming back from a short home assignment at the beginning of 2015, my phone said that I had a 4G internet connection. This is something that most people in Europe still have no access to.

    I soon found out that 40% of Thai people have internet access, mainly through mobile phones. Another interesting fact is that people spent on average four hours and six minutes per day accessing the internet from their mobile device. Out of this time they spent three hours and forty-six minutes on social media and just twenty minutes on browsing websites.

    Putting all the above together, it is clear that there’s huge potential for internet ministry in Thailand. With over 66 million people who don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior there’s a huge target audience. Internet ministry further supports all the evangelism and church planting efforts carried out by OMF Thailand, other mission agencies, and the Thai church. The reach goes beyond the borders of the country, as this ministry can be a help to Thai churches and diaspora ministry globally. has a lot of experience and resources available that can be used in setting up internet ministry in Thailand.[13] They are willing to help us set up an internet ministry in Thailand and help us to grow the ministry in the future. Partnering with will help us to lower the cost of development and also to be a blessing to other partners as internet ministry in Thailand grows and new things are developed.

    To develop an effective ministry we will follow the four stepping stones from Access, Know, Grow, and Share.

    1. ACCESS: Building bridges to people who need the gospel

    In this phase, we focus on making connections to where people are in their lives. Often this is based on the things they search for in Google. Searches reveal the felt needs of people (such as: Does anyone love me? Who cares about me and my life? Does anyone know who I am? What is the secret to a good life?), life questions (such as: What is life all about? Why am I on earth? Why is there evil in the world?), worries/doubts/fears (such as: I am lonely. I want to die. I lost my job, so now what?). By connecting to people’s felt needs and their questions or worries about life, we have opportunities to recognize their need, show interest and understanding while offering them a broader perspective with hope in finding answers. In doing so, we try to bridge between the felt need and some element of faith in God through Jesus.

    Digital strategy for ACCESS in Thailand:

    Landing pages

    Very few Thai “seekers” search on Google for words like “God” or “Jesus,” simply because they have never heard about God or Jesus. Therefore we need to connect with “seekers” through landing pages.

    A landing page is a focused stand-alone web page with a single objective and very specific call to action. A landing page is like a bridge, connecting people from different points (paths) into a main website. Landing pages have proved to be relevant connections to users and are often more mobile friendly. It is important to make sure that landing pages are kept simple, using short sentences and simple words.

    Facebook pages

    With over 32 million social media users in Thailand, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube will play an important part in connecting with our audience. One or more Facebook pages should be developed (preferably with the same name as a website). By using some money to promote this page people will start “liking” the page and interaction will start. Facebook pages that lead to the main website should be updated daily with one or more posts. These posts can be links to videos, challenging questions, links to courses, Bible verse, pictures, etc.

    The current Prakhampee page can also be used to draw attention to the website. With 85,000 likes it will be a good start to make the website known. With a similar Twitter account we hope to reach a large audience. A YouTube channel with the same name will be created to post video clips, testimonies, etc.

    2. KNOW: Presenting the gospel and inviting a response

    In this phase, we share the gospel and offer an opportunity to respond to it. We share God’s love for people and his desire to be in a relationship with them. Additionally, we help people get to know Jesus through an online course in which participants are offered content and a personal e-coach to explore who Jesus is. During this phase, we also offer people the opportunity to respond to the gospel message by saying a prayer, sending in their questions and thoughts, or signing up for an online course or other resource. In this phase, we also encourage the new believers to take further steps to GROW in their faith.

    Digital strategy for KNOW in Thailand:

    The main page of the website will focus on getting to know God and Jesus. Work on the website is close to completion ( The text of some existing tracts will be put on the website as well (if copyright allows) so that the gospel will be presented from different angles. A few other videos will need to be translated into Thai for those who look around at the website but are not ready to start a course

    3. GROW: Encouraging new Christians to strengthen their faith

    In this phase, we assist (new) Christians to deepen their relationship with God through Jesus, encouraging and equipping them to apply their faith in everyday life. We do this by offering a growing number of online courses, tools, and resources on various topics (Bible-reading, prayer, dealing with finances, principles for a healthy marriage/counseling, etc.). During this growth process, we encourage the visitors and participants to take a next step and share their faith.

    Digital strategy for GROW in Thailand:

    Most of the courses and content will focus on helping Christians grow in their faith. This can be done through courses with a coach as well as courses without coaching. offers CODEX as a platform for the courses.

    Courses with a coach that will be available include:

    • Bible courses currently available at This course has fifteen lessons and can be put into CODEX.
    • “Why Jesus?” This course is available and will be translated, including a one-minute video. The “Why Jesus?” course is all about knowing for oneself the truth about the person Jesus Christ. It introduces his birth, his wondrous miracles, and the profound teachings about the facts of his life, death, and eternity. It also helps people understand the way to life through him.
    • “Living in Christ.” This course is available in English and will be translated. The aim of this course is to help people know what it means to live as a Christian. It consists of four lessons based on verses from the Gospel of John and other books of the Bible.
    • Bible course for teenagers. We will try to work with CEF to develop an online course for teenagers to come to know God and to grow in faith.

    Courses available without an e-coach include:

    • Basic Christian Living. A series of twelve video lessons to help people grow in their Christian life. These videos are available through FFPThailand and will be available on the website.
    • Discipleship series developed by CBN. An ongoing series of ten-minute lessons on questions about God, the Bible, the Christian life, etc.
    • A Bible correspondence course developed by Voice of Peace.

    Some courses that need to be developed are:

    • A course on the marital roles of husband and wife.
    • A course on raising children as Christian parents.
    • A course on using and lending money as a Christian.
    • A course about different Thai or Buddhist ceremonies and festivals and what part Christians can or cannot play in these.
    • A course on the prosperity gospel and its dangers. is an English blog that serves to answer many questions that both believers and non-believers have. We will create a copy of this website in Thai
    (, so there is no need to develop a new website. Articles from the blog that are relevant for Thai Christians and non-Christians will be translated into Thai and published. The same articles can be posted on the evangelistic website and the website. The website also has some devotionals and videos that will be translated. The website is close to being launched as well.

    4. SHARE: Mobilizing Christians to share their faith

    In this phase, we assist and equip visitors to share their faith in God and lead others to Christ. They can share what they have experienced and learned in their relationship with him and help others step-by-step to follow Jesus. This sharing will result in opportunities for contact with other searchers who will be introduced to ACCESS to hear the gospel through the initiative of believers.

    We encourage people to share their faith and story with other people. Life stories are important, especially for Thai people who still “believe” that Christianity is a foreign religion. Resources for sharing their faith through a personal story will be provided in several ways:

    • Video testimony. FFPThailand has produced a good number of four- to five-minute testimonies from Thai people. These videos will be made available at the website.
    • Written testimonies. Several Thai people will be approached to write their testimony in a very short form. These testimonies will be published at the website.
    • Testimonies of students. E-coaches will approach people who have finished courses to write a short impression or testimony to be posted on the website.
    • Training to give testimony., a part of, has a course for people to tell their own testimony and to film it with their cellphone or tablet. The course will have to be translated into Thai. These new testimonies will be published on YouTube and shared on the Facebook page and Twitter.

    Offline Follow-up: Connecting inquirers to local churches

    In all of the phases described above, we offer ways to connect offline to a local body of Christians—a local church—that offers an Alpha-course or some other form of offline connection with believers. This is because we believe the local church is the place where people can really grow spiritually. Most of the time, this transition from online to offline connection takes place in the KNOW or GROW phase. Each of the ministry partners works to provide a quality follow-up network for searchers and (new) believers in their respective language or geographical location.

    Other ways to use the internet in reaching out in Thailand:


    Periscope is a live video streaming app for iOS and Android. Periscope users have the option to tweet out a link to their Live Stream. They can also choose whether or not to make their video public or viewable to only certain users.

    Periscope gives a new dimension to internet ministry in Thailand. When there are enough followers on Twitter, live Bible studies could be broadcasted to the followers. This brings another kind of interaction with the audience. Since Periscope is not yet widely known in Thailand it will probably take a few years before this tool can be used effectively.

    City Campaign

    In the future, city-wide campaigns could be held throughout Thailand so that local churches can cooperate together to reach their city. Websites can be made specific for each city and billboards can be rented, with participating churches contributing to the cost. These outreach efforts help the churches to unify. Ideas include outreach at different places, concerts, flashmobs, etc. The idea will need to be developed.


    In the whole process of introducing people to the gospel, an e-coach plays a vital role, helping them understand the gospel, grow in faith, and share their faith. An e-coach listens to people, comes alongside to help them find answers to their questions, helps them take (their first) steps in getting to know Jesus Christ and prays for them.

    Missions and the Internet


    While many things are currently being done in internet ministry, most of it is done in the name of a particular church. One of the big challenges in making an internet ministry effective is to enlist the cooperation of various churches and other organizations. Internet ministry that only focuses on the growth of a local church is often not effective because the internet goes beyond the local community. It should be used to build God’s Kingdom.

    Another challenge for internet outreach comes when websites and social media platforms are blocked. Where this is the case, more creativity is needed to reach people with the gospel. When developing strategies for outreach, it is good to keep a number of things in mind:

    • Good research has to be done on what may be effective ways to reach the target people in these countries. Website building, hosting, and e-coaching can be done and managed from abroad.
    • In internet ministry, a target group can be reached globally. This is particularly true when people from a particular country have migrated to another country where they can be reached in a very straightforward manner through the internet.
    • More people around the world have started using VPNs. Research done in late 2015 showed that 29% of all Chinese internet users make use of a VPN or proxy server to go online.
    • Whereas websites can be blocked, apps cannot be. Apps that explain the gospel and apps that help people share the gospel with others can play an important part in evangelization through the internet.

    In doing research and talking to people who are involved in internet evangelism it was hard to get a lot of information on the digital strategies that they use. Extended research is needed to find the right ways to reach certain places via the internet.

    Other challenges that continually impact internet ministry include:

    • Technology change: Every year new smartphones are introduced, bringing new possibilities in user experience. To exploit the functions of the devices effectively, those involved in internet ministry need to keep up to date with changes and new possibilities that these may bring.
    • Software change: Software is being continually developed. The challenge of being up to date is huge. A website or app is never a finished task!
    • Hypes and trends: New platforms and ways of communicating are introduced continually. In order to effectively reach a target audience, we need to be aware of the hypes and trends and changes in online behavior and act accordingly.


    A couple of weeks ago I received a message via a response form at one of our websites:

    “I am living in a season of addiction, disobedience, and serious sins. I’ve tried to repent and turn away but I find myself failing all the time. I know that I cannot fully surrender to God yet. Is there still hope for me? Will God still receive me and wait for me?”

    When this conversation started I tried to help the person to not only understand God’s character, but also discover what was really going on. This conversation is still continuing and there are some serious issues in this person’s life. Steps are now being taken that I pray God will use to set the man free from addiction and restore him. In the last e-mail I received the person shared that he had been struggling for a long time, but didn’t dare to share it with someone he knew. He wanted to stay anonymous and the internet gave him that opportunity. Now, a couple of weeks later, he has started to share with his church leaders and he’s also facing the consequences for his lifestyle.

    People’s lives are being changed through the internet all over the world. The team in India received this message last week. “Hello :) I am Hindu and I want to come in Christianity so how is this possible? – Gaurav

    Below are some more testimonies that I received from our partners all over the world:

    • Mr. Yee shared with us that his whole family turned to Christ through the website. Another seeker told us how she got to know our website a year ago when he visited his sister in Japan.
    • “Hello, KnowingGod-team. I’m fine, thank God. God is putting in my mind something that reduces my anxiety when we are afraid of everyone around us die and feel alone in the world. I go to church every week and pray to God every day. Thank you for caring about me. A big hug and be with God. Do not forget me.” (Mary, Brazil)
    • “Since I started the courses in this blessed site, I have learned great things. Uplifting! My contact with the Lord God has greatly improved and my relationship with Him has only made me grow a lot spiritually.” (Fabio)


    There are many reasons for mission organizations to make internet ministry a vital part of their strategy.

    • A Great Need. The masses of unsaved millions are gathering on the internet. The peoples of all nations are converging, with open hearts seeking the knowledge of truth. There are also millions of Christians traveling the cyber highway, seeking encouragement, friendship, and discipleship. There is also evil there, which the church must counter with the light of God’s truth and presence.
    • A Great Mandate. The Lord’s Great Commission to the church is to evangelize by proclaiming the gospel to the world. As it was Christ’s purpose in coming to seek and save those who were lost, so must the church seek every way possible to follow Christ’s command and bring souls to him. With the hundreds of millions of East Asians who still have no access to the gospel or still don’t know God our task is not finished.
    • A Great Opportunity. Never has there been such availability and ease with such a form of mass communication. Web pages, which can convey any message of our choosing and cost almost nothing to create, can be launched from anyone’s bedroom. Hundreds of millions of people are spending time every day on social networks. E-mail to any person on the Web is global, instant, and free. Through the internet, hundreds of millions of people we couldn’t reach before have come within reach.

    May God give us wisdom as we consider what role the internet should play for us as we work to complete the unfinished task.

    [1] Internet Live Stats, (accessed 16 February 2017). The values for 2015 and 2016 are based on estimates for 1 July 2016. An internet user is defined as an individual who can access the internet at home, via any device type and connection.

    [2] Internet World Stats, (accessed 17 February 2017).

    [3] Simon Kemp, “Digital in 2017: Southeast Asia: a study of internet, social media and mobile use throughout the region, We Are Social (15 February 2017), (accessed 9 March 2017).

    [4] Simon Kemp, “Digital in 2017: Southeast Asia: a study of internet, social media and mobile use throughout the region, We Are Social (15 February 2017), (accessed 9 March 2017).

    [5] Simon Kemp, “Digital landscape of Southeast Asia in Q4 2015,” Tech in Asia (23 November 2015), (accessed 17 February 2017).

    [6] We Are Social’s 2016 Digital Yearbook, (accessed 9 March 2017), slide 47.

    [7] Simon Kemp, “Digital, Social & Mobile in China in 2015” (18 August 2015), WeAreSocial – Special reports, (accessed 17 February 2017).

    [8] Simon kemp, “Digital in 2017: Global Overview” (25 January 2017), (accessed 9 March 2017).

    [9] Kristie Wong, “Top Japanese Social Media Networks” (27 April 2015), freshtrax, (accessed 17 February 2017).

    [10] Shea Bennett, “Twitter Japan: 26 Million Users, Rising to 30 Million by 2018” (28 January 2015), Adweek, (accessed 16 February 2017). See report on the eMarketer study, “Japan, India Boast Largest Twitter Audiences in APAC” (27 January 2015), eMarketer, (accessed 17 February 2017).

    [11] Kristie Wong, “Japan’s Social Media Landscape in 2016” (26 Jan 2016), freshtrax, (accessed 17 February 2017).

    [12] Kristie Wong, “Top Japanese Social Media Networks” (27 April 2015), freshtrax, (accessed 17 February 2017).

    [13], (accessed 18 April 2016).

  • 12 Jul
    Swimming Upstream

    Swimming Upstream


    This article discusses the possibilities of Filipinos serving in Japan and considers how similar things can be done for workers from the majority world to address challenges of serving in more affluent places. It looks at the need to rethink language learning and to widen the discussion on tent-making and other ways of sending and going.

    Andrea Roldan

    Andrea graduated from the University of the Philippines and worked as an architect prior to joining OMF as an Associate in 2005. She earned a BA(Hons) and an MA at All Nations Christian College in the UK and has been serving as International Facilitator for Serve Asia since 2010. She has also been serving as a member of the Lausanne Movement’s Younger Leaders Team, and, recently, OMF’s Global Vision Council.

    Swimming Upstream

    Mission Round Table 12:1 (January-April 2017): 30-34

    On Saturday afternoons a group of fifteen Filipino women meet in the sanctuary of a small Japanese evangelical church in the centre of Tokyo. The small fellowship planted by two Filipino missionaries has already planted another small church composed mostly of other Filipino women in another residential area in western Tokyo. One of the missionaries grew up dreaming she would one day become like the OMF missionary who served in her home church. She approached OMF in the past to talk about serving in Japan but was discouraged by the cost and time it would take before she could follow God’s call. Later, she took the route of partnering with an elderly pastor of the small and ageing Japanese church in Tokyo. She challenged a friend to go with her and together these two women set forth five years ago after being commissioned by their home churches, going in faith that God would provide what they needed.

    1    The changing face of mission

    We now live in the “Great Century of World Christianity,” writes Allan Yeh. Mission is no longer from the West to the rest but from everyone to everywhere, polycentric and polydirectional rather than unidirectional.[1] With vibrant missionary zeal and a deepening appreciation of mission as Missio Dei, majority world churches, lower income churches in high income countries, diaspora churches, and churches everywhere are being empowered to take on the task of mission because they see God leading and inviting them to be part of what he is already doing everywhere and anywhere.

    Paradigms are shifting with the result that changes are testing and stretching the structures of older mission agencies that were built, modeled, and developed based on an understanding that mission comes from the West to the rest, from higher income countries to lower income countries, from the privileged to the less privileged, and from the developed to the underdeveloped. Mission movements from majority world countries are challenging how we go and send in mission. As a Fellowship that seeks to see East Asia’s peoples reaching out to their own people and others in mission, we need to ask ourselves whether the structures and processes that we have hinder the mobilization of workers from lower income nations to serve with OMF.

    One missionary shared that it has been more than thirty years since the last Filipino couple came to serve in Japan with OMF though the Philippine Home Council has had no lack of inquiries from those who felt called to serve the Japanese. Over the last ten years, a few have joined as short-term workers but, beyond this, enquirers and applicants face a steep climb that ends mostly with a concrete wall.

    2    From low income to high income

    It’s no surprise that the biggest challenge faced by anyone from the Philippines joining OMF is finance. It’s the same challenge faced by anyone from a lower income nation who hopes to serve with OMF and many other mission organizations. With global economies slowing down, this challenge isn’t confined to lower income sending nations—traditionally higher income nations with shrinking churches and changing church culture also find it difficult to sustain support for the “overseas missionaries” they have, much less send new ones.

    As a Fellowship we have held on resolutely that God’s work done in God’s way will not lack his provision. OMF’s history as a mission contains countless testimonies solidifying our belief in this principle. As a mobilizer, I have seen how the principle admittedly served as a litmus test for those hoping to join OMF—if you are called to serve in mission, surely God will provide. If you do not meet the financial clearances and God does not provide, then perhaps you are not called to serve with OMF. Perhaps God isn’t even calling you to serve in cross-cultural missions.

    Serving in various roles in OMF and the Lausanne Movement has allowed me to see what God is doing to move his church amongst majority world peoples to further his kingdom and bring the gospel to those least reached. Watching how my father worked—mobilizing Mangyan people to reach out to other tribes in the Philippines, talking to overseas Filipino workers at airports, wading through waters in Myanmar with a Chin brother to reach a village to share Bible stories, sitting with students and young professionals from house churches in an Asian megacity—has also stretched and challenged my own values and presuppositions about how God sends people in mission. Does God’s provision come only through his moving others to give? Must our model of mission only be “out of surplus” whereby a network of supporters fund missionaries and going in mission is dependent on the “charity” of others?[2] When God’s work is done God’s way, can he not provide for our needs in other ways?

    My decision to serve in Japan was fueled by a call to pave the way for a growing number of Filipinos hoping to come and serve with OMF in the country, some of whom are young adults I have journeyed with since they were in high school. A Philippine government expenditure survey in 2015 reported that the average Filipino family income in the Philippines is estimated to be around US$500 per month.[3] In contrast, the average Japanese monthly family expenditure is five times more.[4] How then do we facilitate the sending of workers from a lower income nation to a higher income nation like Japan? If we can’t send Filipinos to serve in Japan, does this mean we stop mobilizing for the country? We hope not. But if finance is a hindrance, surely there are ways to address the challenge. Surely God will provide for his work and those he calls; we just need to discern if his provision will be in and through different or new ways.

    3    Rethinking language learning

    One of the biggest financial hurdles for Filipinos hoping to serve with OMF, and more specifically OMF Japan, is the high cost of language and culture learning. A huge chunk of first-term expenses is allocated for this. Many Filipino missionaries who came directly to Japan to serve without dedicating time for language and culture acquisition subsequently lamented their lack of proficiency. Their low language proficiency limits their work amongst Japanese people and ministry has mostly focused on the Filipino diaspora. Amongst Filipinos already serving in and planting churches in Japan, there is a resounding affirmation of the importance of language and culture acquisition and anyone hoping to serve with them is discouraged from following the same path they took—if only for the sake of the next generation within the diaspora churches who can only speak Japanese.

    To help reduce the costs as well as offer options that suit other learning styles, alternative tracks of language and culture learning need to be explored. For example, one possible route is for Filipinos to study Japanese at local language schools where learning in a classroom setting would be at least 50% cheaper than the current model of one-to-one classes. One missionary from another agency shared that studying at a local language school can be quite intense. However, hard work paid off and classes helped him, as well as the others I interviewed, to attain a proficiency level that made it possible to work in Japanese companies and serve in Japanese churches.

    When I took my language proficiency test, I talked to a number of Filipinos enrolled in a local language school. Two of them shared with me that they came to Japan by saving up around US $10,000 to cover tuition for their two-year language school and living expenses. Their goal is to gain a level of fluency that will allow them to find work and stay in Japan. Scholarships are also provided by some schools and Japanese institutions so that students do not necessarily need to foot their entire bill. Placement of Filipinos in language schools will broaden their network in the country and possibly even open doors for the gospel to be planted and shared with the growing number of language students who come from countries where the gospel is little known.

    Whether funding comes from sending churches or through a scholarship, enrollment in a local language school also serves as means to serve in Japan without a religious visa. Not only does a student visa opens doors for Filipinos to be sent in a “cheaper” way, it also makes it possible for workers from other nations to leave their country without a “missionary visa” stamped on their passports.

    One track being explored by the OMF Japan Field is for Filipino enquirers and applicants to attain a functional level of Japanese fluency prior to arriving in Japan. Language learning hence becomes part of preparation along with theological or Bible training. Learning a language prior to arriving on the field has generally been discouraged because of the possibility of picking up bad habits that will be hard to undo. However, the strategy of requiring a high level of language fluency prior to deployment is already being adopted by Philippine overseas employment agencies. My cousin, who recently started working as a nurse in Germany, studied to attain a required level of fluency in German as part of her pre-departure training. Her employment agency journeyed with her and a few of her friends for at least a year before they left, monitoring their progress. Though I am not sure if their language studies in the Philippines were covered by the agency, I think churches can be challenged to support tuition for language classes in the home country for those they want to commission and send.

    Learning Japanese in the Philippines is far cheaper than doing it in Japan. Government agencies such as the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority in the Philippines also offer up to 150 hours of free classes for basic Japanese, Mandarin, Arabic, and Spanish language and culture as a means of equipping and encouraging Filipinos to find employment overseas.[5] After reaching a specific level of fluency, whether through language schools in the Philippines or Japan, Filipinos can then take classes focused on language and culture learning specific to the ministries they will be involved in after they arrive on the field.

    In addition to a high language requirement and options to undertake language and culture learning through other routes, Filipinos will also be encouraged to come in teams as much as possible so that the cost of language classes can be split between them and shared. There exists a deep regard and respect for OMF missionaries in Japan because of their level of fluency. Finding cheaper ways to address the high cost of language learning does not necessarily mean that we water down the standards. We want Filipinos to minister effectively and with excellence. What we need to do is work out which part of training can only be done well following traditional OMF ways of language and culture learning and then allow other ways or tracks of learning to become an option for subjects that can be facilitated by others at a reduced cost.

    4    Widening discussion on tent-making and other ways of sending and going

    Once the challenge of language and culture learning costs are addressed we can further widen our discussion to tent-making and other ways of sending and going. Ian Prescott, in a discussion amongst Asian Homeside Leaders in 2016, highlighted that tent-making could be an avenue not just for creative access but also self-support. Tent-making has good biblical precedence, Prescott shared, in that Paul’s tent-making was primarily about self-support and this was also the way missionaries of the early church were funded.[6] Granted that many of those taking paid employment find it difficult to learn the local language and culture, if new workers from developing economies commit time to learning language and culture prior to taking paid-employment, we can hopefully realize the missionary potential of many majority world churches.[7]

    There are growing opportunities for tent-making. The tight labor market and shrinking work force in Japan have resulted in more jobs being offered to people from countries like the Philippines. Over the last eight years, the number of foreign workers has doubled and the message from Japan is “send us your construction workers, your care givers, your store clerks.”[8] When I first arrived in the country, most Filipinos assumed that I was here to teach English and I’ve met quite a number who have come as nurses, caregivers, IT professionals, and students.

    At a recent gathering, around two hundred Filipinos from fifteen Filipino diaspora churches in Tokyo united to pray and were encouraged to be a blessing and serve as witnesses in Japan. Most of the churches are led by Filipino wives of Japanese men and, apart from a handful of missionaries who have partnered with a Japanese church or are funded by churches they planted, most of the diaspora church leaders and pastors are tentmakers juggling ministry and work. In a neighboring prefecture of Tokyo, a group of friends teaching English put up a roving Filipino restaurant so that they could share the gospel with their students and non-believing friends. One of the leaders reported that discussions about Filipino culture and cuisine allows them to share about their faith in a non-threatening way.

    Bless Japan Mission and Prayer Summit facilitated by the Japan Council of Philippine Churches in Mar 2017

    Across East Asia, governments and institutions, including many in Japan, offer scholarships for graduate study. Doors to come as a student and OMF partner should also be opened. Student partners come with enthusiasm and fresh ideas. They can be directed to an OMF ministry or church plant or connected with a Christian student fellowship or ministry and they can develop networks and relationships. Being part of an OMF team or ministry provides them, in return, with community, encouragement, pastoral care, accountability, and perhaps even training to effectively navigate Japanese culture and language in ministry.

    Tent-making has already made it possible for believers to work in diaspora areas. The offer of academic scholarships by prefectures and universities makes it possible for Christian students from majority world countries to come.[9] There are ways to take hold of the resources and opportunities these bring to mission, especially in terms of equipping and mobilizing gospel bearers to be able to communicate and navigate the culture effectively in places untouched, or less reached, by traditional mission.

    Exploring tent-making, student partnerships, and other ways of staying and supporting ministry in countries across East Asia will mean rethinking how we mobilize, prepare, and train those coming through these “creative routes.” We can explore ways for Filipinos, for example, to come initially as Associates for language and culture learning and training, after which they can decide whether to come back as full members supported by traditional means, as self-supported tent-makers, or field partners. We must also rethink how we orientate and train those coming through creative routes before they arrive on the field so they can function, understand, and work within OMF culture whilst holding a creative identity and platform. With all the opportunities available, the real challenge is developing responsiveness and implementing structures and processes that facilitate creative sending and going. All this is possible if there is continual openness, dialogue, and trust between both sending and receiving sides across the Fellowship.

    5    Partnerships with indigenous mission movements and local churches

    Fifteen years ago, a Filipino and his wife moved their whole family from Manila to Tokyo with a vision to reach out to Japanese people. After a meeting with OMF Japan Field leaders, while we were walking back to the train station, he told me he had considered going home many times. Neither his nor his wife’s home churches supported their ministry financially but God’s goodness saw them through. He thoughtfully shared that Filipinos who can come with a mission agency would get the care, encouragement, and support that he had to manage without because he came directly to Japan without an agency.

    Coming to Japan has not only opened my eyes to other ways of sending workers from lower income to higher income nations like Japan. It has also opened my eyes to the opportunities to partner with mission movements emerging from majority world nations. Filipinos are now the third largest ethnic minority in Japan and many Filipino Christians are reaching out to their own people and others.

    At the aforementioned gathering of Filipino diaspora churches, Rev. Shinagawa, General Secretary of the Japan Evangelical Association, shared that diaspora churches are the fastest growing churches in the country. He added that congregation numbers and current rate of growth means that there may even be more believers within the diaspora churches than in Japanese churches and it is easier for the diaspora and even Japanese people to feel welcome in a diaspora church than in a traditional Japanese church.[10]

    The big challenge for diaspora churches, however, is that their second generation mostly speaks Japanese and most of the pastors and church leaders are unable to speak Japanese, let alone disciple in the language. The leader of the Japan Council of Philippine Churches shared with OMF field leaders the need for missionaries to be sent to reach the next generation in Filipino diaspora churches. They have tried planting their youth and children in Japanese churches but this failed. OMF missionaries can come to pioneer work and reach out to the Filipino diaspora’s youth and children, many of whom are half-Japanese and marginalized. They will integrate into the Japanese society and their futures will be part of Japan’s. As a result of dialogue and meetings between OMF and Filipino diaspora leaders, OMF Japan is now hoping to partner to place Filipino missionaries with these diaspora churches to reach out to their Japanese-speaking family members, youth, and children.

    By partnering with, investing in, and journeying with diaspora churches, opportunities are being opened to share our resources and journey with them as they seek to effectively reach out in mission to Japanese people and other diaspora peoples. Our hope is that opportunities will also open up for them to partner with the OMF Japan Home Council in supporting and sending Japanese missionaries and perhaps eventually sending their own missionaries overseas.[11]

    Placing Filipino OMF workers to shadow and be mentored by other Filipino cross-cultural workers outside of traditional OMF circles also exposes them to Filipino ways of living and adjusting to life in high income countries like Japan. They learn what it means to be Filipino within a Japanese context: What are our strengths and weaknesses in a Japanese context? What does it look like to minister as a Filipino cross-cultural worker and what do we bring to the table of mission and the church as a Filipino believer? How do we appropriately and effectively reach out to Japanese people as Filipinos? If there is only one model of mission, then what kind of missionaries are we hoping to develop amongst those coming from lower income nations? There is much to be learned theologically and missiologically when working in a multi-cultural and diverse context like OMF; not exposing Filipinos to other Filipino mission movements and ways of doing and being runs the risk of developing Filipino cross-cultural workers who either take on western ways of living and being or they end up being unable to function in the long term, losing their identity, and feeling they are unable to fit in because of their Filipino-ness. If we want to see a maturing East Asian church take on the task of mission then we need to permit alternative ways of being, sending, and going in mission that allow East Asians to be rooted in mission as East Asians.

    6    Great expectations

    Since mission is now from everyone to everywhere and “anywhere to anywhere,”[12] what role will OMF play? How is God calling us to be involved in coming alongside maturing East Asian churches, including the diaspora churches planted in the least reached areas? My experience in the last twelve months of living in and serving from Japan has been an exciting time of seeing with fresh eyes all that God is doing in the country and in the region. God continues to call and send people from the majority world to high income nations. They are going and they will continue to go even if it means swimming upstream and my heart is filled with great expectations for all that God will do in mission and I also have great expectations about how we will respond.

    “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not see it? I am making ways in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19

    [1] Allan Yeh, Polycentric Missiology: 21st Century Mission from Everyone to Everywhere (Downers Grove: IVP, 2016), 216.

    [2] Robert Schreiter articulates one model of mission understanding as “mission out of our surplus” where networks of supporters provide funds for missionaries and the “going” and “sending” in mission are dependent on the charity of others. “Mission from the Ground Up: Emergent Themes in Contemporary Mission,” in Mission After Christendom: Emergent Themes in Contemporary Mission, eds. Ogbu Kalu, Peter Vethanayagamony, and Edmund Chia (Louisville: Westminister John Knox, 2010), 14.

    [3] Philippines Statistics Authority, Family Income and Expenditure Survey, (accessed 24 March 2017).

    [4] Statistics Japan, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Summary of Latest Month of Family Income and Expenditure Survey January 2017, (accessed 24 March 2017).

    [5] Republic of the Philippines TESDA, TESDA Language Skills Institute, (accessed 24 March 2017).

    [6] Ian Prescott, “Unlocking the Log Jam: A New Approach to Tent-Making as Self-Support,” (Paper submitted for Asian Home Leaders Consultation, 22 May 2016), 2.

    [7] Prescott, “Unlocking the Log Jam,” 2.

    [8] Edna Curran, “Japan quietly accepting foreign workers – just don’t call it immigration,” The Japan Times News (3 November 2016), (accessed 23 March 2017).

    [9] In 2014, the Aichi Prefecture offered scholarships to students from twenty-two Asian countries covering tuition, language learning, and living expenses on the condition that they work for local companies after graduation. “Aichi revamps scholarships for Asian students,” The Japan Times News (2 April 2014), (accessed 24 March 2017).

    [10] Kenichi Shinagawa, Talk delivered at the Bless Japan Prayer and Worship Summit facilitated by the Japan Council of Philippine Churches, Hachioji-shi, Japan, 20 March 2017.

    [11] The question, however, then follows: who processes them? To which home side do diaspora churches belong?

    [12] Andrew F. Walls, “Afterword: Christian Mission in a Five-hundred-year Context,” in Mission in the Twenty-First Century: Exploring the Five Marks of Global Mission, ed. Andrew F. Walls and Cathy Ross (New York: Orbis, 2008), 202.

  • 12 Jul
    Future Proofing OMF

    Future Proofing OMF


    This article discusses the lessons learnt from the discontinuation of OMF Southern Africa and the transition period when the team worked hard to let the old OMF Southern Africa model die. The lessons were profoundly important in the development of New Horizons (NH) as OMF’s means to engage workers from non-traditional sending countries. The discussion includes reflections on OMF as an organization and the possible impact of New Horizons on wider OMF structures.

    Jon Fuller

    Raised in the Philippines where his parents worked cross-culturally, Jon returned to the Philippines in 1988 with his wife Marilyn. After serving in church planting roles there for more than a decade, the Fullers moved to Canada in 2000 where Jon served as the Director of Personnel for OMF Canada. In 2005 the Fuller family returned to Asia where Jon served as the International Director for Mobilization at the OMF International Headquarters in Singapore. Jon has travelled extensively, including trips to Latin America, and Africa, exploring OMF’s commitment to be a global community of East Asian specialists. The Fullers returned to Canada in mid-2013 to take up the position of National Director for OMF Canada. Jon is the author of Cross Currents, published in 2005 by OMF Literature in the Philippines.

    Future Proofing OMF

    Mission Round Table 12:1 (January-April 2017): 13-22

    As Shenk puts it, missions are today in search of mission; agencies and institutions that once did pioneering work at the cutting edges of the Christian mission have too often been left facing in the wrong direction as the battle has moved on. In this situation they face a stark choice: either they engage in a radical re-formation, repositioning themselves to respond to the quite new challenges of the twenty-first century, or they are doomed to rapid and rather sad decline and extinction.[1]


    David Smith (and Wilbert Shenk before him) are only some of the voices arguing that the western missionary movement is facing a time of change. Globalization, the shifting center of Christianity, Christendom’s demise in the West, changing patterns of church/mission engagement and other factors, while not necessarily negative, are powerful disruptive forces for the western missionary movement.

    OMF Canada is one specific community in that movement, part of the larger OMF International community that celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015. Being part of something well established does not make the organization immune to disruptive forces. A rich legacy can also make it harder to adjust to rapidly changing environments. “Future proofing” an organization requires a commitment to adaptive learning where leadership is able to “recognize this new reality but also intentionally develop coping mechanisms and skill-sets that will help ensure that they don’t ‘miss the future’.”[2] OMF has to choose whether to engage with these disruptive forces as a threat, or as an opportunity for reflection and perhaps renewal.

    Learning in Southern Africa

    I took up the role of International Director for Mobilization (IDM) at OMF’s International Headquarters (IHQ) in August 2005 and began to learn as much as I could about the eighteen “homesides” for which I was responsible. I was a young, passionate, and idealistic leader excited to tackle this new role. In late 2005 the OMF Southern Africa (ZA) Council contacted me to say that they had decided to “close down” their operations after more than sixty years. On Saturday, 4 March 2006, the OMF ZA Council met with the six office staff members and two representatives of the field members to discuss the future of OMF ZA. I attended as an observer representing IHQ, and so was the one person in the room without a vote. The discussion was intense and at times emotional but ended with a unanimous decision to “discontinue” the homeside operations. This consensus included the agreement of the office staff, who were effectively terminating their employment.

    I have distinct memories of the discussions, and particularly of the emotional terrain over which we travelled. At the beginning of the day, the OMF ZA community was torn between frustration, anger, and grief, with grief increasing as the decision to “discontinue” became increasingly clear. However, with that clarity came a slow lightening of mood. The prospect of a decision, any decision, brought the uncertainty to an end. A “discontinuation” also brought to an end ten years of heroic, but in the end largely futile, effort to save OMF ZA. With the decision made, I sensed that many of those in the room were experiencing a new degree of freedom as they looked to their own future which might or might not include an on-going investment in OMF.

    In distinct contrast, while I had begun the day as an observer seeking to support this community in its time of crisis, by the end of the day I found myself feeling an intense weight of responsibility. The mandate given to “OMF International” essentially landed on my shoulders as the sole representative of that body and as the International Director responsible for OMF’s engagement with Africa. This involved, not just the call for a process of evaluation and exploration, but also the responsibility for the “administrative structure” that was needed to care for retirees and existing members.

    Emotionally, the day was a journey into darkness and doubt for me. As we drove away from the meeting, I found myself weeping. When one of my companions expressed concern, I pointed out that they as South Africans, had just handed the future of OMF in Southern Africa to a white, male, middle-aged Canadian who lived in Singapore.

    In Building the Bridge as You Walk on It, Quinn comments on the importance of courage in leadership, quoting one of his respondents. “Real leadership is about moving forward in faith, and it requires both head and heart…. Each of us has unique gifts; we are as different as snowflakes, but to realize and use these gifts, we have to use our courage and move forward with a commitment to true service.”[3] That day of discussion with the OMF ZA leadership stands out for me as a day of great courage, not least because the leadership’s “commitment to true service” was to choose to die. In Quinn’s words, “It [entering the fundamental state of leadership] means being so focused on achieving the desired outcome that we are always willing to accept that it may be necessary for us to go in order for the outcome to emerge. This means we are truly focused on the collective good.”[4] The ZA leadership had truly “walked naked into the land of uncertainty.”[5] I had the great privileged to join them on this journey.

    The Plenary Counsel captured this courageous decision in a statement which began, “With great sadness, but believing it to be God’s clear direction, we propose that the current OMF (Southern Africa) operation be discontinued.”[6] It is important to note that the decision was intentionally described as a “discontinuation” rather than “closing down”. This reflected the entire group’s conviction that the church in Africa still had a role to play amongst East Asians, and their hope that OMF would be part of that involvement. The commitment to the mission hadn’t changed, but OMF ZA was no longer deemed to be effective in accomplishing that mission.

    The statement gives the reason for the discontinuation as OMF Southern Africa no longer being able to “adequately serve God’s purposes in Africa today.” Although the statement includes a strong commitment to reaching East Asia’s peoples, the core reasons for discontinuation related to the center’s lack of relevance and effectiveness in the African context. OMF has taken pride for many years in its commitment to language and culture training in its field ministries; too often this concern for effective cross-cultural ministry has not been applied as rigorously in the “homeside” context.

    Finally, the statement gave a mandate to OMF International to “evaluate and explore” God’s future purposes for OMF in Africa “without the constraints of the existing structures.” This paragraph was carefully worded to express a hope for the future and to ensure that someone was responsible to take that effort forward. However, it also reflects the strong feeling that the “existing structures” had become part of the problem. Eldon Porter described this challenge well in his influential article “What Does the Future of the Traditional Mission Agency Look Like.”[7]

    There is a growing realization that an agency’s primary value-add for the local church is shifting away from the services offered through the sending office, toward the services offered on the field or ministry context. Historically, each agency has managed its own sending functions (mobilization, promotion, screening, selection, training, the financial services of receipting donations and transferring funds to the field, church and donor relations, and member care).

    These services consume upwards of ninety percent of an agency’s administrative dollar and large numbers of personnel. Maintaining these structures is the financial challenge many agencies are facing. It isn’t that these services are no longer needed, but rather that many of these services can be done by the local church, outsourced, or done in partnership with other agencies at a significantly lower cost. The day when an agency needed a large sending office building and the related office staff is a thing of the past.[8]

    This dependence on outmoded and unsustainable structures, was a significant factor in the decision to discontinue the OMF ZA operations. The decision was not just economic, but also reflected a deep concern for leader care. As one Council member put it, “We can’t afford to destroy another leader’s health by asking them to continue like this.”

    In hindsight, my unexpected role in Southern Africa turned out to be a precious gift for me as a developing leader. OMF Southern Africa became my “skunk works”, a place where I could experiment with new methods and models of partnership and mobilization.[9]

    There was nothing particularly advanced or secret about the work around OMF ZA between 2006 and 2013, but I was given a high degree of autonomy and the opportunity to experiment and try new methods in that context. In part, this was simply because Southern Africa was far away, and “off the radar” for most of our leaders based in East Asia. There was also a degree of sympathy for me having to deal with a difficult situation. The most common question I faced in the early years, was why we continued to be involved at all. It was easy (and partly true) to joke that I loved visiting South Africa, thereby deflecting the question in order to continue staying under the radar. In fact, my engagement with Southern Africa provided a safe “workshop” in which to explore questions about sustainability, meaningful partnerships, and critical contextualization.

    I am grateful for the support I received from Dr. Patrick Fung, OMF’s General Director and my director supervisor. I made sure that he was aware of the on-going work being done (or not done in the early years), and he was largely supportive of the evaluation and exploration. Organizationally, I looked to him to protect this “skunk works” and give me time, both to learn valuable lessons and also to bring OMF ZA to a point of either renewal or healthy closure.

    In the first three years after the “discontinuation”, we worked hard to let the old OMF Southern Africa model die. This was painful, particularly for the existing faithful donor and praying constituency, the OMF retirees, and the twenty or so current South African field members. The office building was closed and a small office set up in the home of one staff member who continued to manage basic administration half-time, replacing the six full-time personnel that had been working in the office. An accountant volunteered to manage the books, working with the administrator and with some support from the international systems.

    Instead of “the office” sending out prayer letters, members had to do so themselves or find a volunteer who would handle it. The bi-monthly prayer newsletter was discontinued, until a volunteer came forward to put something together and send it out electronically, without postage costs. Instead of someone from the office meeting members at the airport when they arrived home, helping to arrange housing, and setting up deputation meetings, the members had to do these things themselves with the help of their sending churches. This transition was difficult, but it also resulted in greater involvement from sending churches, more responsibility being taken by the members themselves, and reduced expectations of the organization from both sides. Many of the younger missionaries had already moved in this direction, with strong sending church partnerships. When OMF ZA began slowly to send new missionaries again, this model became the norm.

    In Managing Transitions, William Bridges describes the three stages of every transition: (1) Ending, Losing, Letting Go; (2) The Neutral Zone; and (3) The New Beginning. “Because transition is a process by which people unplug from an old world and plug into a new world, we can say that transition starts with an ending and finishes with a beginning.”[10] This is certainly true of OMF ZA between 2006 and 2013 when the community went through a very significant transition. In the early years of that transition, it was important to communicate the new reality, while at the same time acknowledging the losses, particularly for long-term members of the OMF ZA community, whether they were donors, prayer supporters, or members. This was a huge challenge, particularly for someone like me who was relatively new to the community and based in Singapore, geographically distant from virtually all of those involved. Looking back, much more could have been done to ease the transition at that first stage.

    As the transition moved into “The Neutral Zone”, it was important to resist the temptation to “make something happen.” In the early years, there was no shortage of suggestions for new initiatives, opportunities that I found difficult to resist as someone passionate about mobilization. However, in the day-long meeting that led to the “discontinuation”, the group had spoken a number of times of the need to let OMF ZA die, so that something new could grow. We honored that discussion by committing to wait for at least three years before taking any initiatives in mobilization, while choosing to see this as useful time in the context of the evaluation and exploration mandate. “The neutral zone is not the wasted time of meaningless waiting and confusion that it sometimes seems to be. It is a time when reorientation and re-definition must take place, and people need to understand that. It is the winter during which the spring’s new growth is taking shape under the earth.”[11] In March 2013 OMF Southern Africa was reconstituted reflecting this new model.

    The lessons learned in Southern Africa were profoundly important as OMF began to engage with mission movements in South America, which brings us to the story of New Horizons.

    What is “New Horizons”?

    “New Horizons” is an atypical OMF “center” facilitating partnerships in contexts where OMF does not have a traditional sending center. It is a helpful lens through which to consider the possibility of organizational change because, while it serves the mission of OMF, it uses quite different methods, reflecting a context without pre-existing OMF models.

    “Centers” in OMF are organizational units, which collectively make up the Fellowship, supported by the International Center, an organization-wide service center based in Singapore. Centers are traditionally divided into “Homesides” or “sending” centers, and “Fields” or “receiving” centers (although “receiving” doesn’t really capture the function of a Field accurately). Historically, the “fields” are where missionaries work, and therefore are traditionally located in East Asia, although there is now one global field, “Diaspora Returnee Ministries,” that focuses on East Asians outside of their historic, geographical context. These “field” centers have been served for many years by eighteen OMF “homesides”, nine in East Asia and nine in the “West”, including North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Resources including missionaries, finances, and prayer have come from the homesides to support field ministries. Centers have a director, staff, and physical infrastructure, and are almost all legally registered in their national context. They are supported by donors, who give to the center directly, or who give to specific missionaries sent out through the center and from whose donations the center takes a service fee. This structure is common to many mission agencies that trace their roots back to the nineteenth century, and reflects a Christendom model of missions in which the agencies’ role was primarily to facilitate the movement of resources from the Christian west to the pagan “rest”.

    Christendom’s division of the world and its peoples into two great blocs – here a culture shaped by the Gospel; there a realm of ignorance and darkness (a categorization that continues to inform the Western mind in various secularised reworkings) – has increasingly seemed to be implausible and unbelievable…. These questions become increasingly urgent in the light of the findings of Wilbert Shenk that the study of the missionary movement since the 1920s leaves the impression that ‘an ageing movement, increasingly unable to adapt to the times’ has found its basic structures and assumptions rendered irrelevant and that with the end of the modern period in world history has also come the end of modern missions.[12]

    The center structure and the tensions related to it in today’s world form the backdrop for the development of New Horizons.

    The first New Horizons team meeting in South Africa, May 2013.

    The Origins of New Horizons

    New Horizons does not represent OMF’s first engagement with countries where OMF does not have a sending office. OMF connections in Latin America go back to the mid-1990s when Alex Smith and Jim Morris spoke at a missions conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Over the next few years, a number of couples were sent to OMF Thailand through Avante, an indigenous Brazilian mission agency. OMF US was also involved in discussions with Latin American mission leaders at various times in the 1990s and early 2000s. OMF centers in Europe have routinely sought to facilitate the mission interest of individual applicants from nearby nations, wherever that was possible. In Asia, the Mekong center (minority peoples in and around north Thailand) has had an Indian couple working with their team for many years, partially supported by Singaporean churches. However, New Horizons is unique as the first organization-wide structure formed specifically to facilitate these kinds of engagements.

    In 2007 two of OMF’s International Directors visited Brazil to meet with an existing partner church and indigenous agency and explore further partnership possibilities. Over the next few years, a number of OMF leaders joined COMIBAM (the Latin American mission movement network) meetings, met with key Latin American leaders, and joined conferences in South America. OMF had already been involved with Latin America for about twenty years, but primarily within the existing structures and policies, although with some creative solutions even then. In face-to-face meetings with Latin American leaders, and with international leaders who had more experience than OMF in Latin America, we were able to review and evaluate our approach to the “global south” or “majority world”.

    OMF International relates closely to majority world mission movements in the East Asian context including Korea and the Philippines but has arguably been slow to connect with similar movements in other parts of the majority world, including Africa and Latin America. However, this was changing in the early 2000s, driven by our growing awareness of these global movements, and the increasing numbers of Latin American, African, and Eastern Europeans showing up in East Asia. The internet also stimulated increased awareness of mission interest from the majority world, as traditional OMF centers received growing numbers of inquiries about mission from countries like Nigeria and Pakistan. Many of these were uninformed inquiries or genuine requests for paid employment, but not all could be so easily dismissed. OMF leaders began to ask how we could respond to credible requests from contexts where we had no organizational presence. In some cases, a nearby OMF center could reply and develop the relationship. This model worked relatively well in Europe where distances are not great. In other cases, it was possible to refer the credible inquirer to a partner agency. However, these solutions all had limitations. The question arose if OMF should be establishing additional “homeside” centers in some of these new locations.

    The rise of the majority world church and related mission movements has been identified by Porter as one of two key factors along with globalization, which is driving change for mission agencies.[13] This is not simply because agencies need to retool to take advantage of a new recruitment stream from the majority world missionary movement, but because these missionaries are coming from churches with experiences of God and his mission which the western mission movement both needs and finds challenging. In The New Shape of World Christianity, Mark Noll argues persuasively for careful reflection on the complexity and diversity of the global church.

    In a word, today’s Christian situation is marked by multiplicity because of how deeply the Christian message, fully indigenized in the local languages, has become part of local cultures. The new shape of world Christianity offers a mosaic of many, many varieties of local belief and practice. Immigration, the modern media, global trade and the ease of contemporary travel have stirred this mixture. In many places it is possible to find traces – or more – of American influence. But the multiplicity goes far beyond what any one influence can explain, except the adaptability of the Christian faith itself.[14]

    Eddie Arthur sees this as both an opportunity and a danger.

    The different experiences of the Church in the West and elsewhere have led to a change in the profile of Christians around the world…. Evangelical mission agencies that were founded to take the gospel to Asia and Africa now live in a context where there is often a higher proportion of Christians on the “mission fields” than in the traditional sending countries. There is a growing disparity between the worldview of the growing world church and that of the mission sending churches. The southern churches tend to be spiritually vibrant, expecting God to intervene in situations, where their northern counterparts would look for rational, scientific causes and solutions.[15]

    The impact of the global church’s perspectives, experiences, and worldview is being increasingly felt through the expansion of global mission movements. Noll acknowledges that

    the growing reality of missionary service defined as Christian believers going from everyone to everywhere … by early in the twenty-first century, the rising reality on the missionary horizon was the presence of non-Western missionaries increasingly active in all regions of the world.[16]

    This was certainly true for East Asia, where OMF is focused. Although the organization’s initial and appropriate response was a desire to see more Latin American and African missionaries join OMF to help us reach East Asia’s peoples, our interaction with Latin American and African mission movements seasoned that motivation with a growing awareness of the ways in which God will use these movements to enrich OMF’s understanding and practice of mission.

    One very practical implication of this recognition was the decision not to open traditional OMF homesides in contexts like Latin American and Africa, but instead to invest in partnerships with existing indigenous mission movements. This was a significant strategic decision which went against the common practices of many of the other international agencies. However, the decision was deeply influenced by the voices of Latin American leaders with whom we met. Both from the platform and in private meetings, these leaders told stories of the struggle to partner well with international agencies that set up organizational units in their contexts. One leader shared the story of the elephant and the ant trying to dance together. He said, “No matter how well intentioned the elephant, the ant almost always ends up being stepped on.” Others spoke passionately about struggling with policies, structures, and processes which were presented as “international” but felt very western to the Latin American.

    The Latin American mission leaders’ desire for truly mutual partnership was also reflected in our interactions with African leaders. At the Movement for African National Initiatives (MANI) meeting in 2006, the president of the World Evangelical Alliance in Africa expressed his openness to partnership with OMF. He came from an ethnically Chinese church in Mauritius that had been planted by a former CIM missionary from Australia, and was particularly interested in OMF’s help to respond to the influx of Chinese to Africa. However, in expressing his welcome he gently, but quite firmly, asked that we collaborate with existing African communities, cooperating on new initiatives, and avoiding parachuting in resources or selling western methodologies. His invitation was, “Come live with us so that we can learn together.”

    These experiences led us to avoid setting up “OMF Brazil” or “OMF East Africa”. Instead, we committed ourselves to building relationships with existing African and Latin American mission movements, looking for partners who shared our values and whose vision and mission overlapped with us sufficiently that we could effectively work together towards OMF’s vision and mission. In many ways, it would have been much easier to just set up an OMF organizational unit. It would have been faster and more “efficient” perhaps, measured in terms of immediate strategic outcomes, but doing so would have reduced our ability to learn and grow through partnerships. It would also have been costlier in the long-run as the cost of maintaining traditional OMF structures in a new context began to add up. Eventually, resources and personnel from the local context would have been necessary, potentially removing those resources from the indigenous mission movements—the elephant unintentionally stepping on the ant. We were told stories of key “national” leaders being drawn away from indigenous movements, attracted by the higher salaries, more resources, greater opportunities for advancement, or higher prestige that are available through “international” agencies.

    Instead of replicating OMF sending centers in these new contexts, New Horizons developed as an atypical OMF center. From within OMF, it had the appearance of a traditional “homeside” with an Executive Director, Candidate Coordinator, Finance Manager, and a physical location at the International Headquarters in Singapore. Rather than being connected with a particular national context, it was identified as focusing “beyond established OMF communities.” Like any OMF center, over time Vision and Mission statements were developed that helped to explain New Horizons in familiar OMF terms.

    Both the Vision and Mission Statements were intentionally designed to address concerns about vision/mission “creep”, by articulating a continued commitment to East Asia’s peoples. However, the Mission statement also articulates the distinctive of New Horizons as being focused beyond the traditional OMF organizational context.

    Practically speaking, this meant that a new worker coming to a traditional OMF field in East Asia through New Horizons from a partner indigenous mission movement in Chile would appear within the OMF International Personnel System (IPS) complete with the expected forms and through the expected processes. This was important in order to reduce the change stress between NH and the wider organization. However, the Chilean partner agency would not be required to engage directly with OMF’s internal systems, which most found very difficult, using the English language being just the first of the challenges. Instead, the New Horizons team worked to:

    1. understand the partner agency’s existing processes;
    2. provide translation (organizationally and in some cases linguistically as well) into OMF compliant forms and processes;
    3. and identify gaps between the two partners and address those (e.g., High Altitude medical form required by an OMF Field but not by the Chilean partner agency).

    In all of this, the New Horizons team worked to develop the relationship between the partner agency and the “field” team, with the goal that in time much of this translation work might no longer be necessary. Building trust was an essential priority, first by listening and understanding each other and then by developing ways to accommodate. In many ways, New Horizons functioned as a door through which OMF ministry teams and indigenous mission agencies could connect. New Horizons work was to make the respective sides of the door appear familiar enough to each party to encourage engagement, while at the same time managing the relationships every time the door was used in one way or another. This applied not just to personnel but the flow of finances and of mobilization information.

    Some Reflections on OMF as an Organization

    In order to understand the development of New Horizons, particularly with respect to the change process, it would be helpful to reflect on OMF as an organization. We briefly discussed the structure of OMF at the beginning of this paper, but now need to take a more analytical view.

    I was introduced to Ichak Adizes’s life cycles of an organization during a series of Organizational Leaders Workshop training sessions run by OMF between 2007 and 2009. Adizes developed a theory of organizational lifecycles that explains “why organizations grow, age, and die, and what to do about it. [The theory] describes and analyzes the usual path organizations take as they grow and the optimal path they should take to avoid the typical problems of growing and aging.”[17] I have used Adizes’ model in both the agency and church contexts and found it a helpful tool in clarifying understanding of the challenge for those communities. Graphically, the life cycle can be illustrated as in Figure 1.

    OMF is a complex organization and it is difficult to position it accurately on the lifecycle as one entity. At any given time, there are parts of the organization in many of the lifecycle stages. However, as we worked through the changes involved in the development of New Horizons, it was with the feeling that OMF as a corporate entity was displaying some of the characteristics of Aristocracy. Between 2010 and 2015, the organization went through a major strategic review and subsequent restructuring that has brought the promise of renewal to many aspects of the organization. Through engagement with the majority world church and mission movements, New Horizons seemed to be one possible source of renewal and return to the vitality of a “Prime” organization. However, to achieve that it needed space to develop and grow, something not natural to many organizations in Aristocracy where new ideas and entrepreneurial effort are often limited. Aristocractic organizations have strong systems and procedures but do not find change easy. They are wise and experienced, but not nimble. Without a renewed vision and entrepreneurial energy, they can easily slide into Recrimination and Bureaucracy.

    John Kotter comments on this reality in his book Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World.

    Virtually all successful organizations on earth go through a very similar life cycle. They begin with a network-like structure, sort of like a solar system with a sun, planets, moons and even satellites. Founders are at the center. Others are at various nodes working on different initiatives. Action is opportunity seeking and risk taking, all guided by a vision that people buy into. Energized individuals move quickly and with agility.

    Over time, a successful organization evolves through a series of stages… into an enterprise that is structured as a hierarchy and is driven by well-known managerial processes: planning, budgeting, job defining, staffing, measuring, problem solving. With a well-structured hierarchy and with managerial processes that are driven with skill, this more mature organization can produce incredibly reliable and efficient results on a weekly, quarterly, and annual basis.”[18]

    Building on this, Kotter goes on to propose a “dual operating systems” model, in which established organizations renew the capacity for growth through a networking structure with some of the characteristics of a new start-up, but running parallel and loosely interconnected to the hierarchical system.

    The hierarchy part of the dual operating system differs from almost every other hierarchy today in one very important way. Much of the work ordinarily assigned to it that demands innovation, agility, difficult change, and big strategic initiatives executed quickly… has been shifted over to the network part. That leaves the hierarchy less encumbered and better able to perform what it is designed for: doing today’s job well, making incremental changes to further improve efficiency, and handling those strategic initiatives that help a company deal with predictable adjustments.[19]

    Kotter argues persuasively that the very strengths of the hierarchical structure become limitations for effective innovation in a rapidly changing world, but he is careful to recognize the value of the hierarchical structure and the importance of maintaining its vitality. Organizations that discard or devalue these structures and processes will simply find themselves rebuilding them in the future around the next round of innovation. Ellen Livingood makes the same point in her Catalyst training program with the illustration of the city developing a magnetic levitation train system, while maintaining the existing public rail system.[20] The maglev system is a critical new innovation but it cannot immediately replace the existing public transportation infrastructure and probably never will replace it completely.

    In many ways, New Horizons has become a “maglev” possibility for OMF, exploring a new way of engaging with mission partners that builds on, but doesn’t replicate, the existing system. While it is tempting to suggest that New Horizons was intentionally designed by organizational leadership as a parallel network structure, it’s probably more accurate to say that leadership responded to a need and opportunity and then built the network organically. In all of this God’s hand was clearly evident, particularly in the provision of key personnel at critical moments:

    • Koyuki from Japan whose vision of an “enlarged tent” led her to accept a personnel role;
    • Jim who came out of retirement to manage New Horizons finances from South Africa;
    • Guido who built partnerships across the capitals of Europe;
    • and many others.

    Leadership was a key factor in the early development of New Horizons. Kotter makes the point

    that the organization’s top management plays a crucial role in starting and maintaining the network. The … executive committee must launch it, explicitly bless it, support it, and ensure that it and the hierarchy stay aligned. The hierarchy’s leadership team must serve as role models for their subordinates in interacting with the network. I have found that none of this requires much C-suite time. But these actions by senior executives clearly signal that the network is not in any way a rogue operation. It is not an informal organization. It is not just a small engagement exercise which makes those who participate feel good.[21]

    In the early days of the development of New Horizons, it was very important to keep OMF’s senior leadership team well informed about developments in Africa and Latin America. Travel costs were significant to engage effectively in what were still largely new continents for OMF, and these decisions were scrutinized carefully. However, the senior leadership team was supportive of the new initiative, including, and perhaps most crucially, OMF’s General Director.

    Although the senior leadership were engaged with the New Horizons developments, many other leaders did not see it as particularly relevant to their areas of ministry, in part because it involved distant contexts with little prospect of immediate resources being made available. It was important to identify key stakeholders and pay attention to their influence on the new initiative. Work was done on this in 2007 using Lewin’s Force Field analysis, based on training given at an OMF Organizational Leaders Workshop.[22] Kurt Lewin’s tool is widely used to identify stakeholders and their direction and degree of influence in a change process.[23] Lewin’s analysis tool allowed OMF leadership to identify and address concerns that arose within the OMF community, as well as to maximize supportive factors for the change process. Figure 3 and Figure 4 illustrate how the supportive and restraining factors and stakeholders were envisioned fairly early in the change process. These evaluations obviously changed as time went on.

    Perhaps the most serious challenge to the New Horizons initiative was rather more ambiguous but had the potential to derail the whole change process. As New Horizons became more established and the stories of OMF leaders’ engagement in Latin America and Africa began to circulate, questions began to be asked about whether New Horizons was going beyond the Fellowship’s focus on East Asians. Part of this was a natural reaction by those for whom OMF’s focus was wrongly understood as being geographically “East Asia”, rather than “East Asians”. Some therefore struggled to understand why OMF would do anything in Africa or Latin America. The growth of the “diaspora” movement in OMF helped to address this misconception as the Fellowship became more intentional about focusing on East Asians wherever they were as long as there was a strategic need. Some OMF stakeholders could see the value of engaging with mission movements in Latin America or Africa if they resulted in new personnel for their ministry, but raised concerns about the cost, time, and effort involved given the potential limited return. This was a valid concern, which the New Horizons team needed to consider from the perspective of available resources and sustainability, but it reflected a truncated grasp of the value of engaging with these church and mission movements in order to learn from that conversation. It also reflected a Christendom missiology that only saw East Asia as a mission field and everywhere else only as a potential source of resources for our work in that field.

    Recognizing that the surfacing of these concerns represented both a challenge and an opportunity, New Horizons was brought to the International Executive Council (IEC)—the highest management body of the Fellowship at the time—for their review and approval as a formal organizational entity. The presentation responded to the concerns about OMF’s East Asian focus by articulating three key, but easily overlooked, truths about East Asia’s peoples today:

    • East Asia’s peoples are no longer only in East Asia.
    • East Asia’s church has a growing vision for the whole world.
    • The global church has a growing interest in reaching East Asians.[24]

    In 2012, the IEC agreed to the formal establishment of “New Horizons” as a non-traditional sending center that would be responsible for sending partnerships with communities beyond the reasonable reach of our existing centers.


    The discontinuation of OMF Southern Africa and the formation of New Horizons illustrate the significant challenges facing OMF as it engages with both the traditional western mission movements, and the growing majority world mission movements. The implications of these challenges for the Fellowship are being worked out on a daily basis by our leaders in conversations, prayer, and dreams about the future. Let me close this paper with an “endvisioning” exercise, expressing what OMF Canada might look like ten years from now. I share this, not as a prediction of the future but to stimulate the reader’s own reflections on how to envision OMF responding to the challenges of the coming years. The ultimate “future proofing” strategy is a passionate commitment to walk in obedience to the One who knows the future, but listening to God does not preclude engaging with what is happening in the world around us. OMF leaders must be like the men of Issachar who “understood the times” (1 Chronicles 12:32). John Stott called this the challenge of “double listening”. Let me close with his prophetic challenge given more than twenty years ago.

    [Double listening] is the faculty of listening to two voices at the same time, the voice of God through Scriptures and the voice of men and women around us. These voices will often contradict one another, but our purpose in listening to them both is to discover how they relate to each other. Double listening is indispensable to Christian discipleship and to Christian mission.[25]

    OMF Canada in 2027: Endvisioning Exercise

    The dining room was buzzing with conversation in at least three languages (English, Mandarin, and Cree) that I could pick out. I waved to Joe and Sarah who had just returned from their first term in a large Asian city. They were staying in the Guest Home for a few days to sort out the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, before heading up to North Bay where they would spend their Home Assignment. They were chatting away in Mandarin with Hong and Dai who were in Toronto on a visa run. Joe and Sarah had brought some gifts from Dai’s family. Hong and Joe were comparing notes on life in the Canadian “north”, with stories from the northern community where Hong and Dai were working with a Canadian mission team. I was very grateful for the partnership with these mission agencies, and with local churches in Winnipeg and Vancouver where we had placed East Asian missionaries reaching out to the First Nations urban poor.

    I remembered why I’d come upstairs, but before I could find George, Jane caught my eye. She was anxious to remind me that I’d agreed to speak at the “Engaging East Asia” three-day weekend coming up. I assured her that I was looking forward to being with the fifteen who had signed up for the long weekend of interaction and activities focused on East Asian culture, worldview, spirituality, and of course food. Jane was excited that twelve of the fifteen had already completed their on-line training modules, and after the Engaging course, would be ready for their interviews. Three couples were planning to join OMF as members, while the other nine were professionals headed to jobs in East Asia. Jane felt that at least half of those were committed to long-term mission engagement, and would be great additions to our teams in Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam. The “Marketplace Coordinators” in those countries had done a great job of extending a welcome to these professionals as they considered work and mission. I would be having lunch on Monday with pastors from six of the group’s churches, who would also be joining us for interviews.

    As I headed off to find George, Jane called out that they were expecting thirty-five inquirers on the “drop in” night of the Engage course and looked forward to good interaction between those attending the course and the inquirers interested in finding out more about East Asia. Hong and Dai were going to share their experiences as missionaries from East Asia serving in Canada.

    Jane grinned, and added that two of the “inquirers” were a mother and daughter who were working on a school project on Christianity in Japan. The mother had searched the internet on the topic and OMF’s website had been one of the top search returns. She’d been amazed at the helpful information available, and at the quick response when she’d sent an inquiry to the website. They were attending the “drop in” night to meet with two couples who were headed to Japan long term with OMF.

    I finally found George in the kitchen where he was helping his wife Mabel with the last of the dishes. I hated to disturb them, but needed to check with George if they had room the following week for four mission agency leaders to stay overnight. The mission agency leaders were getting together to review plans for our Thai joint mobilization event. Reflecting back to 2017 when OMF had eighty unused visas for Thailand, I was enormously encouraged that all of those visas were in use. It had taken a lot of trust and hard work to replicate the church planting partnerships we had on the field, through church mobilization partnerships here in Canada. However, today we had over fifty Canadian missionaries (including professionals) serving in Thailand through OMF visas, sent by six or seven different agencies and church associations.

    George checked his datagit, flicking through the pages with a series of quick blinks. I was still getting used to the new neural interface, but very glad to be free of keyboards. Having found his calendar, George assured me that there was room for the agency leaders, although he took the opportunity to remind me that we were close to full capacity with managing the flow of Canadians heading out to East Asia and East Asians coming to Canada. I smiled as I walked away, grateful for George and Mabel’s ability to cater to the needs of such a diverse community. Breakfasts were interesting with corn flakes and noodles served side by side.

    My datagit tickled the interface behind my ear and I managed to blink correctly and accept the call. It was Mark calling to confirm that he had just picked up Bishop Ho Meng from the airport and was taking him straight to a meeting with a group of East Asian church leaders. Bishop Ho Meng was getting quite elderly, but still enjoyed meeting with Canadian pastors and educators. We were always glad to have him in Canada to speak on behalf of the East Asian church. Canadians wanted to hear from East Asian leaders directly, and rightly so. Thinking back to my last Asian visit, I rejoiced at how the OMF field and homeside teams were pretty well integrated. The majority of them were led by Asian leaders, although anyone could lead the teams, depending on their experience and gifting.

    I hung up the datagit with a flick of my chin, and headed back downstairs to the office. Although OMF Canada now had nearly two hundred affiliates (sixty-five members and close to one hundred and twenty professionals), the office suite was surprisingly small. I settled into my chair amongst the set of hot desks in the office, and thought back ten years.

    I was extremely grateful for the small but gifted team of finance, administration, and personnel leaders who worked with our partners to ensure that we had world-class services, tailored to the needs of our personnel, and scalable as our numbers fluctuated. These partnerships had allowed us to focus our energy on partnering with the Canadian church to engage with East Asia’s peoples both in Canada and around the world, including those who had come to serve as missionaries in Canada.

    [1] Wilbert R. Shenk, Changing Frontiers of Mission (New York: Orbis, 1999), Kindle edition.

    David Smith, Mission After Christendom (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003).

    [2] Keith Coats, “Future-Proof Your Organisation: 4 Things Leaders Need to Know about Tomorrow.” Tomorrow Trends (15 August 2012). (accessed 4 April 2017).

    [3] Robert Quinn, Building the Bridge as You Walk on It: A Guide for Leading Change (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 17.

    [4] Quinn, Building the Bridge, 81.

    [5] Quinn, Building the Bridge, 153.

    [6] The Future of OMF Southern Africa, 4 March 2006.

    [7] Eldon Porter, “What Does the Future of the Traditional Mission Agency Look Like?” Evangelical Missions Quarterly (April 2014), (accessed 3 April 2017).

    [8] Porter, Future of Mission Agency.

    [9] “The designation ‘skunk works’ or ‘skunkworks’ is widely used in business, engineering, and technical fields to describe a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with working on advanced or secret projects.” From “Skunk Works”, Wikipedia, (accessed 3 April 2017).

    [10] William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, 3rd rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Nicholas Brealey, 2010), 5.

    [11] Bridges, Managing Transitions, 49.

    [12] David Smith, Mission After Christendom (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003), 3–5.

    [13] Porter, Future of Mission Agency.

    [14] Mark A. Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Influence Reflects Global Faith (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 27.

    [15] Eddie Arthur, “The Future of Mission Agencies.” In The Future of Mission. Singapore: Global Connections (2016), 3.

    [16] Noll, The New Shape, 92.

    [17] Ichak Adizes, Managing Corporate Lifecycles: How Organizations Grow, Age, and Die (Santa Barbara, CA: Adizes Institute Publishing, 2004), Kindle edition, Loc 144.

    [18] John P. Kotter, Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World. (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2014), 5–6.

    [19] Kotter, Accelerate, 21.

    [20] Ellen Livingood, Your Focus on the World (Newtown, PA: Catalyst Services Inc., 2009), 31.

    [21] Kotter, Accelerate, 21–22.

    [22] OMF Organizational Leaders Workshop: Session Two, 2007.

    [23] Peter Barron, “Force Field Analysis Free Step By Step Guide to Kurt Lewin Force Field Analysis,” (accessed 2 January 2017).

    [24] “New Horizons Proposal to IEC,” 4 March 2012.

    [25] John Stott, The Contemporary Christian:  An Urgent Plea for Double Listening. (Leicester: IVP, 1992), 29.

  • 12 Jul
    Mother Tongue Translation versus Lingua Franca: Some Thoughts on a Missiological Mainstay – A Response

    Mother Tongue Translation versus Lingua Franca: Some Thoughts on a Missiological Mainstay – A Response

    In order to help readers better interact with the article “Mother Tongue Translation versus Lingua Franca: Some Thoughts on a Missiological Mainstay,” we are including a conversation between a few experienced missionaries about some of the points made. We hope that other readers will continue this conversation with their friends or coworkers.

    Walter McConnell

    Grace Moron

    Neel Roberts

    Andrew Goodman

    Walter McConnell is the editor of the Mission Round Table and the head of OMF’s Mission Research.

    Grace Moron has been with OMF Philippines since 2001 working among the Manobo Tribe in Mindanao. She completed her MA in Intercultural Studies at Singapore Bible College where she is currently writing her DMin dissertation. Grace is the Philippine Home Council of OMF Executive Director Designate.

    Neel Roberts graduated from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in 1986. He works in the Mekong Region where he is currently involved in training emerging leaders from various ethnic backgrounds in cross-cultural service.

    Andrew Goodman has served amongst the Shan people since 1998. The Shan are a mainly Buddhist group in Myanmar, Thailand, and SW China. Andrew was part of a small team that worked to get the Shan Bible onto the Digital Bible Library so that it can be distributed on YouVersion and other apps.

    A Response to “Mother Tongue Translation versus Lingua Franca: Some Thoughts on a Missiological Mainstay”

    Mission Round Table Vol. 13 No. 2 (May-August 2018): 40-43.

    WALTER: In his article, Wilson shows that, contrary to Sanneh’s assertion that having the Bible in their own tongue increases the personal sense of worth of African Christians and raises the value they give to their own culture, many Manobo Christians prefer to read and study majority-language Bible translations even when they preach in their own dialect. What have you found to be true of the people with whom you work? What most impacts their relationship to the Bible in their mother tongue?

    GRACE: When I asked Manobo pastors and believers in our ministry area why they preferred Cebuano Bibles over the NT and portions of the OT that are translated into Manobo, they mentioned the lack of availability. It is hard for them to read the NT and cross-reference it to the OT because the OT translation is not complete. For this reason, they prefer using Cebuano Bibles as the OT and NT are printed as one book.

    They expressed a desire to use the Manobo translation because most of the first generation Manobo Christians in our area who have become pastors and leaders of the church first heard the Bible preached in their mother tongue by missionaries. Since literacy was an issue during the early years, adult literacy in their mother tongue played a vital role in establishing their desire to use the Manobo translation of the Bible and drives their continued aspiration to have a complete and/or revised version of it.

    Datu Macuramphil sharing God’s word with Manobo leaders (September 1994)

    NEEL: I believe that the people’s educational level in the national language is a key factor in whether they will want to use a mother tongue translation. The prestige factor is also important. Where a strong sense of ethnic self identity prevails, the mother tongue translation may be one of the icons that display the Christians’ love for their language and culture.

    ANDREW:  I agree with Neel in seeing that the level of education received in the national language seems to determine the preference with regards to use of the Shan language. Some preachers prepare sermons and lessons in Burmese, Thai, or Mandarin and then preach and teach in Shan with reference to the Shan Bible. Others favour using the Shan Bible but will refer to a national language translation if able. The influence of Shan people from Myanmar has led to the increased use of Shan materials in Thailand. If someone is seminary trained in the national language or English their ability to communicate to Shan people using Shan language seems more limited. I have witnessed Shan pastors in tears at their inability to convey scriptural truth in Shan language and I have witnessed Shan people in tears because those sharing the gospel to the Shan or teaching the Bible in Shan can’t do it in the Shan language. This is something that has been exacerbated in recent years as there has been an increasing openness towards the gospel amongst the Shan. Ten years ago, there were no Shan churches in Chiang Mai. There were some Shan believers on the fringes of some Thai Churches but they were peripheral and few Shan entered into the body life of the church. There are now at least six churches in Chiang Mai using Shan language in worship and the Shan Bible features to some extent in all of these churches.

    WALTER: Is it necessarily true that people will understand the Bible better if it is translated into their mother tongue?

    GRACE: I think it depends on how people are first exposed to it. I was exposed to God’s word when I was in the university and was given an English Bible for personal growth and reflection. When I later started to read the Cebuano Bible, I somehow struggled to understand it. Manobo believers who were first exposed to God’s word through the preaching and teaching of missionaries in their mother tongue desire to read it in their own language. This desire is preserved though it is hindered by the unavailability of Manobo Bibles whether as a complete translation or in a revised form.

    NEEL: Not all translations are created equal. Some are more understandable than others. But being more understandable does not mean they will be more popular. The Lisu Bible united the Lisu people in several countries. That gave it prestige. At the same time, it should be noted that the Lisu Bible cannot be understood by animistic Lisu the first time they walk into a church. The prestige of the translation makes someone willing to learn what it means. But of course, this begs the question of whether one needs to understand a sacred text or not. Many believe that if the book is holy one gains merit or protection by hearing it or having it on one’s shelf, whether one understands it or not. It is enough if the pastor can explain the important parts to his congregation. As one multilingual Christian leader explained it, “The question is not whether or not I can understand the passage. What matters is whether or not it is God’s word.” If a mother tongue translation does not conform to the more prestigious texts in a national or global language then even if people understand it they will not necessarily believe it is to be trusted. Generally speaking, in the Mekong Region where people have a choice of translations they will choose the more formal as opposed to the more colloquial versions.

    ANDREW: I believe that depends on the level of proficiency that people have. If they have a better level in their minority language then they will be able to understand the Bible better in that language.

    WALTER: If Wilson is correct that “absolutizing the ‘translation principle’ is not a sustainable option for mission strategy,” can you suggest any criteria that might help Bible translators determine what languages they should focus on for translation? How can they best deal with regional variations and language changes brought in by interaction with “languages of wider communication”? 

    GRACE: With the advanced technology that Bible translators are using, I believe that they still consider translating the Bible into different tongues is needed, not just the “languages of wider communication.” Even so, I agree with Wilson that “absolutizing the translation principle” is not sustainable. Perhaps we should say that rather than “absolutizing” the principle, Bible translators should contextualise it. Constant revision to keep up with language change and to make it relevant to the readers is, I believe, necessary.

    NEEL: I believe Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) has developed some very good criteria regarding Bible translation. They do a lot of research to decide where a translation is needed and whether it should be primarily used in audio or written format. We depend on their studies, assist them where we have some local contacts with a particular ethnic group, and are grateful for the way they freely share the results of their research with us.

    ANDREW: Again, I agree with Neel on this. SIL have tools to assess language vitality. (See It is my experience that we typically look at larger groups than SIL looks at.

    WALTER: In personal correspondence, Wilson has written that the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is frequently cited as indirectly affirming that the Bible should be translated into all languages. He then questions whether this and similar arguments really hold water biblically and theologically. How would you respond?

    GRACE: Acts 2 is a significant event in Christian history, but it should not be the basis for translating the Bible into all languages. I think what is important is to know how we can best preach, share, and/or teach God’s word in a manner so that the biblical truth is presented clearly and is theologically sound. Whether they translate the Bible into different languages or share it orally using their own tongue, what matters is that God’s people make disciples in obedience to the Great Commission.

    NEEL: Acts 2 is an example of orality. In many cases the gospel needs to be presented orally in the language that people understand. Bible storying in local languages is essential if every people group is to hear and respond to the gospel. The stories must be biblically accurate, but a full-blown, multi-decade Bible translation process is not always called for. In one case, a movement to Christ occurred that was in large part the fruit of a radio ministry. But now the thousands of believers want a translation in their own language and they are taking the initiative to make it happen.

    ANDREW: I believe that the story of Pentecost does tell us something about God’s desire that people should hear the gospel in their heart language. Even so, it is a stretch to say that it says anything about the written word. It has been my observation, however, that having the full Bible available to the Shan people has been used by God to change the spiritual climate among a group who were previously known as the most resistant people group that OMF worked with in North Thailand. There are a number of reasons for this change, including prayer, vision, and radio. But I do not think that it is a coincidence that prior to 2002, when the new Shan Bible was published, we could only count a handful of people coming to Christ each year. In subsequent years and along with an increased availability of the Bible, we have seen an increased receptivity to the gospel with between 100 and 200 people coming to Christ each year.

    WALTER: What changes have you seen in Bible translation? Which have been the most significant? What trends do you see for the future?

    GRACE: Technology helps a lot in translating the Bible. However, just recently, a particular group came to Mindanao and started translating the Bible into different languages and dialects—even languages and dialects that already have a translation. This group believes that anyone—even high school students and non-native speakers—can translate and they do not feel the need for theological training. OMF missionaries, Translators Association of the Philippines, and SIL missionaries were all alarmed by this approach. The possible trend that I am seeing for the future is the increase of Christians using diglot Bibles, especially in multi-lingual communities where people can switch languages in seconds.

    NEEL:   I have been in tribal churches where almost everyone, including the preacher, uses a smartphone or a tablet during the sermon. They can switch from the tribal language to a national one instantly. Certain minority languages will gain dominance as their community leaders effectively use modern media to promote their language and culture. From the first draft of the first verse, the translators must engage the people they claim to serve. If translators are merely seeking to preserve a language they are barking up the wrong tree. They must be in league with those who are seeking to develop and expand the language and not simply seek to preserve it. If such people do not exist among that ethnic group then the language will soon die, and in such cases the missionary translator should let the dead bury the dead and move on to more useful pursuits.

    ANDREW: In a multilingual context and with people commonly comparing Scriptures in a minority language with those in a national language, it is important that verses can be correlated. If the translation is too free, it leads to confusion. If the text is too literal, the translation becomes unintelligible.

    With the recognition of the importance of orality there is a trend to see the written translation (especially with languages where there are low literacy rates) as being a resource for the development of oral tools, with little expectation that the Bible will actually be read. This has been suggested in regard to the recently published Northern Thai Bible.

    The advent of powerful software such as Paratext (UBS/SIL) feeding into the DBL (Digital Bible Library)—the source of Youversion or—means that revisions of existing Bibles can be made much more easily than before. Apps that can be created relatively easily with tools like Scripture Application Builder are making God’s word accessible and affordable. (See

  • 11 Jul
    Japanese Buddhism is hard to define

    Japanese Buddhism is hard to define

    Today most Japanese do not regard themselves as religious, but most follow cultural practices that originate with Buddhism and Shinto. Japanese Buddhism focusses largely on keeping the traditions of one’s ancestors. For many Japanese people their active involvement in Buddhism only involves following traditions such as daily honouring their ancestors at the family shrine (a majority of homes have one of these) and participating in funerals when family members die. Usually most of the regular work relating to these traditions is done by one member who represents the family, often the oldest brother or his wife.

    When I talked with Japanese friends and missionary colleagues in Japan about Buddhism, it quickly became obvious that while Buddhism is a major religion in Japan, most Japanese people can’t articulate exactly what they believe. I learned that the influences on their worldview come not just from Buddhism, but also from Confucianism and Shintoism, and teasing out the difference between these three is nearly impossible.

    However, learning a little about the influence of Buddhism on Japan is helpful as we think about how to pray for this land.

    The traditional date for the introduction of Buddhism to Japan from the mainland is 552 AD.When it arrived, Shintoism and animism were already ingrained in Japan, but “Buddhism tends to gather indigenous religions under its broad umbrella. Thus, it dominates and integrates local belief structures, but does not dislodge nor destroy them” (from here).

    Buddhism, as an organized religion, was promoted by the Japanese authorities to stamp out Christianity during the Edo period of national seclusion (1639-1854). Families were forced to register with the local temple to prove that they had no affiliation with Christianity. To be a patriotic Japanese person became inherently linked with being Buddhist. To be a Christian was a betrayal of the nation, a crime that was punishable by death. The majority of the uneducated masses meekly complied with the rules to stay out of trouble.

    This passage from Daughters of the Samurai (a well-researched historical novel by Janice P. Nimura, 2015) illustrates how restrictive Japanese society was when its borders were opened in the 19thcentury:

    ‘Our historians bid us to obey the maxims, to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors, to change nothing in them,’ a senior official in Edo told Henry Heusken, secretary to the new American consulate. ‘If you do this, you will prosper, if you change anything, you will fall into decay. This is so strong that if your ancestors bid you to go by a roundabout way to go to a certain spot, even though you discover a route which goes directly there, you may not follow it. You must always follow the path of your ancestors.’

    Almost a century and a half later, Japan enjoys full religious freedom, but there are still many traces of this adherence to the ways of the ancestors amongst the Japanese. Active involvement in Buddhism has waxed and waned over the centuries, but even today, there is a strong sense that to be Japanese is to participate in Buddhist traditions.

    Though few even understand what Buddhism teaches, Buddhist thought backed up by Confucian philosophy and Shinto animism, permeates the psyche of most Japanese whether they are conscious of it or not.

    By an OMF missionary

    1. Dale Saunders, Buddhism in Japan(Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1964), 91.

    Will you pray for Japan?

    • Pray that Japanese people searching for meaning or fulfillment would find hope in Christ.
    • Pray for Japanese Christians, that they would have great discernment in living their lives in a land permeated by a worldview so influenced by Buddhism.
    • Pray for missionaries, that they would know how best to present the gospel to those they come in contact with.


    Download resources to help you pray for Japan.


    Learn more about OMF Japan.


    Find out about serving with OMF Japan.

  • 11 Jul
    Buddhism in Japan: a complex topic

    Buddhism in Japan: a complex topic

    Sometime in 2013, I found a document in Japanese in my pigeon-hole at church. A glance at it told me that it was about how to evangelise Buddhist believers in Japan, the title: “The main points for the Strategic Evangelisation of Buddhism.”

    A couple of years later, I decided to translate this paper because I thought it would be useful to me and other OMF missionaries in Japan. It was written by the pastor of Nara Gospel Church—Nara was the old capital of Japan from which the power of Buddhism increased in the 700s AD.

    It was 12 pages of dense, sometimes very technical Japanese. It covered the types of Buddhism that are common in Japan, the main festivals, home Buddhist altars (butsudan), the basic teachings of Japanese Buddhism, and some of its history.

    Long and complex sentences made my brain hurt. Trying to unpack specialist terms into simpler language stretched me. Creating an easily read document for non-native speakers of English added to the challenge.

    Several years later I’ve just finished translating and formatting it as a bilingual document and producing a vocabulary list. It’s become a sizeable 50-page document in the process. I asked many people about concepts and words that I was not sure about. I’ve learned much that will help me and others reach out to people here in Japan.

    The deep and lasting impression I have out of undertaking this task is how utterly different Japanese Buddhism is to Christianity. The concepts are so strange to me. The stories it tells are confusing. Its festivals and ceremonies are completely foreign to Christianity. Many of the people involved are unheard of outside of Japan.

    This tells me the following truth (which I knew already, but it was good to be reminded of again): If I want to preach the gospel of Christ to Japanese people who have been brought up in this Buddhism-soaked atmosphere for centuries, then I need to explain the gospel repeatedly, clearly, and simply. I also need the Holy Spirit to take my words and make them live! May it happen Lord!


    By Peter, an OMF missionary

    Will you pray for Japan?

    • Pray for wisdom for missionaries trying to understand Buddhism in Japan so that they can communicate the gospel effectively.
    • Pray that the Holy Spirit will take efforts at evangelism and use them to speak to Japanese hearts.
    • Pray that more Japanese Christian leaders will teach those in their churches how to best to communicate the gospel to their fellow countrymen.


    Download resources to help you pray for Japan.


    Learn more about OMF Japan.


    Find out about serving with OMF Japan.

  • 04 Jul
    Religious confusion in Japan

    Religious confusion in Japan

    When you think of Buddhism, what do you think of? It probably depends on which part of the world you are in or from and even which country or region. To get a better understanding of Japanese people’s thoughts about religion, I have been asking my friends and acquaintances in Japan, “What is Buddhism?”

    At the English Language café where I help, students have to introduce themselves by including something about their country and religion. The other day three Japanese students introduced themselves:

    One said, “I don’t have a religion.”

    And the second, “My home is bukkyo (a Buddhist household)”. I asked her what that meant. She said, “I go to the temple at New Year and maybe when I want to pray for something, such as success in study.”

    The third student said, “My household is Shinto.”

    I asked them about the difference between Shinto and Buddhism. They proceeded to debate amongst themselves, with one talking uncertainly about washing yourself before entering the temple, whilst the other one corrected her saying that you wash at the shrine, not the temple. Between them they did not seem to be able to fully agree on what was done at a Buddhist temple and what was done at a Shinto shrine.

    The short exchange above reflects quite a few of the answers I received from those I asked. Most said that Japanese people do not really have a religion, but if they did, their family would be a Shinto household or Buddhist household, or sometimes even both. However, sometimes they would mention one and it would turn out that they actually meant the other.

    I’ve discovered that it can be easy to confuse the two because you sometimes see a building labelled as a temple and yet behind the sign is a simple gate with two vertical pillars connected on top by two horizontal bars—a Shinto gate (tori).

    One reason for this confusion dates back to a time when Buddhism and Shintoism were combined, as I discovered during a recent visit to Nikko. The Nikko national park hosts one of Japan’s world heritages sites containing a Buddhist temple and two shrines within 50.8 hectares. All three used to be united, combining Buddhism and Shintoism, until after 1868 when the new government issued a Separation Order in which all institutions had to belong either to Shintoism or Buddhism.

    Whatever the reason, it is clear is that many Japanese do not think of themselves as religious. Even when they do say that they are either from a Shinto or Buddhist household, they are not really certain of exactly what Buddhism (or Shintoism) is and have often not really thought about it. Rather they seem to just do the rituals accordingly because it is their family custom.

    If they have not thought much about their own beliefs, how much harder it is when introducing the Christian gospel to them!

    But it is good for us to consider whether there are things that we also do as a tradition or custom but are not aware of the origin or reason for it. May we all reflect on these things and truly question what their true meaning is and hence be guided to search for and find the true meaning of life—true life that is found only in Christ.

    By Margaret, an OMF missionary

    Will you pray for Japan?

    • Pray that missionaries would have wisdom in introducing the gospel to Japanese people.
    • Pray that we would be humble in considering our own traditions and customs.
    • Pray that Japanese and missionary alike would be guided towards Christ in whom is found the true meaning of life.


    Download resources to help you pray for Japan.


    Learn more about OMF Japan.


    Find out about serving with OMF Japan.

  • 02 Jul
    Taiwan is a bi-lingual country

    Taiwan is a bi-lingual country

    We have often been with Taiwanese friends where both Mandarin and Taiwanese are used interchangeably. One sentence is spoken in Mandarin, followed by another sentence in Taiwanese. Or, a sentence may begin in Taiwanese and then finish in Mandarin.

    The people in central Taiwan where we serve are functionally bi-lingual. That is, they speak both Taiwanese and Mandarin in everyday life.

    There are two generalizations about language in Taiwan:

    The first is that people over 40 years old speak Taiwanese while those under 40 speak Mandarin. The second is that people in the North of Taiwan speak Mandarin, whereas people in the South speak Taiwanese.

    These generalizations are oversimplified and are not really accurate.

    The truth is that people all over Taiwan communicate (speaking and listening) in both Mandarin and Taiwanese on a daily basis.

    Tina leading a church service in Taiping

    Incoporating both languages

    A local church in Taiping uses an interesting solution to incorporate both languages in the worship life of the church.

    The church runs a worship service every Sunday. On the first, third, and fifth Sunday of the month, the church service (songs, preaching, prayer, and announcements) is conducted in Mandarin. On the second and fourth Sunday, the church service is conducted in Taiwanese. During informal fellowship gatherings at the church, both Taiwanese and Mandarin are used interchangeably.


    The bi-lingual nature of Taiwan

    The bi-lingual nature of life in Taiwan is a reality that we live with. This is why missionaries have to commit to learning language and engaging with people well.

    In addition to the two major languages (Mandarin and Taiwanese), many Taiwanese are of specific ethnic backgrounds. So, they may also speak other languages such as Hakka and many of the aboriginal tribal languages.


    – Nathan, Ministry Team Leader

    (Taping, Taichung City, Central Taiwan)

    Facebook page

    Engage with missionaries, ask questions, receive regular information.

    OMF Taiwan videos

    Hear from missionaries, understand deeper issues, and see regular ministries.

1 2 3 4 97