Samuel Kang was God's improbable choice to be a leader in the world's fastest-growing missionary movement. Kang was born in Japan when the Japanese empire was forcing alien Shinto beliefs down Korean throats.
At the end of World War II, the Kang family returned to Korea and grew deeply fervent in their Christian faith. The Kangs dedicated Samuel to God, and they told him, "You will become a pastor."
Kang rebelled. "I did not want to accept my parents' dedication of me to God without my consent," he says. For years, he resisted God's call. But by the time he was 20, Samuel's heart softened, and he felt compelled to give himself to God. "No one can escape from his sovereign call," Kang says.
It took another 20 years of discipling and discernment before Kang set foot on a mission field. At age 39, Kang and his wife, Sarah (who had discovered her own call to missions work), left South Korea for Nigeria. When they departed in 1980, there were only 93 Korean missionaries worldwide.
During the next 11 years, Samuel and Sarah Kang raised a family, planted Nigerian churches, and started a Bible college for Nigerian pastors. Kang's eyes sparkle as he recalls his days in Africa. "The Lord gave me this wonderful opportunity to serve him," he says. "If God gives me another life, may I give it to him as a missionary."
Kang doesn't look backward very often. Now 64 years old, with silvery hair and a gentle smile, he is leading an ambitious 25-year plan to help South Korea send out more missionaries than any other country.
Kang is chief executive director of the Korean World Mission Association and dean of the Graduate School of World Mission at Seoul's influential Chongshin University. He has helped move South Korean missions into a place never before imagined: South Korea today sends out more missionaries than any other country except the United States. In terms of missionaries per congregation, Korea sends one missionary for every 4.2 congregations, which places it 11th in the world. (The U.S. does not rank in the top 10.)
But more than that, mission scholars agree that Koreans are a potent vanguard for an emerging missionary movement that is about to eclipse centuries of Western-dominated Protestant missions. They call it the "majority-world" mission movement. They say this new term"majority world"is necessary to replace the aging terms "third world" and "developing world." The radical change in Protestant missions is forcing scholars and missionaries to create new ways of talking about the global scene.
The global majority (5.2 billion people) live in less developed nations. Of the world's 6.4 billion people, less than 18 percent live in developed nations. Scholars say the church's future in large measure rests in the hands of the global majority.
"The day of Western missionary dominance is over, not because Western missionaries have died off," says Scott Moreau, chair of intercultural studies at Wheaton College (Illinois), "but because the rest of the world has caught the vision and is engaged and energized."
Moreau says Americans must come to realize that "missions is a two-way street on every continent." Today's missionary is as likely to be a black African in Europe as a northern Indian in south India or a Korean in China. In addition, mission leaders are placing a new focus on Asia, where 60 percent of the global population lives. Samuel Hugh Moffett, the elder American statesman of Asian Christianity, told Christianity Today that Asia represents "the future for missions." Born in Korea to missionary parents and now professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary, Moffett has spent his professional life studying Christianity in Asia. Between 1998 and 2005, he produced the two-volume History of Christianity in Asia, the recipient of many scholarly accolades.