The East African church newspaper Target recently carried an article entitled “Moratorium, A Bitter Pill to Swallow” (issue of October 12, 1975). Christian Council secretaries of Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan have categorically rejected the idea of a “moratorium” on missions. The term has, they say, “created unnecessary confusion and misunderstanding both in Africa and abroad, and should therefore be dropped and substituted with the more direct term ‘self-reliance.’ ” When about 1,000 evangelical church delegates met at the Congress on Evangelization in Nigeria last August, they flatly rejected moratorium.

Western Christians should not use moratorium as a cover-up for spiritual inertia. Encouragingly, at the 1970 Urbana missionary convention 884 students signed up for missionary service if God so led, and in 1973 there were 5,585.

The concept of a moratorium on missions as proposed at the Lusaka Assembly of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) means the unconditional withdrawal of all missionaries and financial resources from overseas for five years. This has not been followed through even by the advocates of moratorium. The Chicago Daily News for two successive days in January, 1975, reported two pleas by Canon Burgess Carr. In one report the headline was, “Keep Missionaries Home.” But the next day another read, “Financial Help Still Is Being Requested.”

In its July 26, 1975, press release, the AACC announced the following concerning the financing of its new $1 million Nairobi headquarters: “The Committee authorized the raising of grants and loans from mission boards in the U.S.A. to a total of $500,000.”

In the April, 1975, International Review of Mission, Professor Peter Wagner outlined four reasons behind the call for moratorium. Let me examine these first and then add three more.

1. Western cultural chauvinism. The thinking runs like this: Missionaries have destroyed our culture and imposed theirs on us. They should therefore go home and take their money with them. Only when this is done can the church in Africa find its identity.

Admittedly, some aspects of culture have been condemned by missionaries unnecessarily. Wagner cited as examples of “Western cultural chauvinism” efforts to advance such concepts as two-party elections, capitalism, and literacy as second to godliness. But how widely are these concepts pushed by missionaries?

2. Theological developments. It is usually felt that foreign missionaries are standing in the way of the development of theologies that speak in various cultural contexts. Some missionaries may indeed think that the final word has been said in theology. But this view is not general. Undoubtedly, members of a given culture have certain advantages in contextualizing theology, within that culture. But they do not necessarily make use of these advantages. Some African champions of “African theology” have been branded “black Europeans” by fellow Africans.

3. Paternalistic interchurch aid. It is true that some missionaries fall into the temptation of the “syndrome of church development”—that is, staying on the scene too long after planting a church, and not moving on to plant new churches. But is moratorium the answer to this? Wagner rightly suggests: “Perhaps in this case a relocation of missionary personnel would be in order rather than a moratorium.”

4. Nonproductive missionaries. It is suggested that some missionaries are not producing. But who can be the judge? Even the non-fruit-bearing branch is to be pruned and not torn off. The Church can help in the pruning by prayerfully working out the solution in each individual case rather than by listening to a pontifical pronouncement from Nairobi or Geneva.

I want to add the following points.

Article continues below

5. Moratorium is a part of the liberation process. Some Christian leaders see the Church as a party to the colonial strategy of oppression of Africans. In the early colonial days the missionary was a hero who risked his life contacting the Africans. The white colonial officer found him an asset. A few missionaries shared in the paternalism of the day. Unfortunately, that is still the case in some situations today. But this does not warrant the description of Christianity as a system of servitude from which African Christians should be liberated. Missionaries have preached the message of freedom. “If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

6. Moratorium is part of a wider ecumenical strategy. At the New Delhi assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1961, the International Missionary Council was integrated into the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism. At Bangkok in 1973, salvation was described as “the peace of the people in Vietnam, independence in Angola, justice and reconciliation in Northern Ireland” (assembly papers, Section II, p. 90). The preparatory material for the recently concluded WCC Fifth Assembly in Nairobi presented mission only as dialogue. To accept the unconditional withdrawal of missions is to sign a death warrant for worldwide evangelism. Evangelicals cannot afford to do that while 2.7 billion people are still unevangelized.

7. Moratorium and politicizing seem to go together. The emphasis placed by ecumenicals on human development rather than spiritual new birth as a priority makes missionaries irrelevant. An African Christian leader pled for a replacement of spiritual sermons with lessons on economic development. It has been reported that many churches in Mozambique have been turned into medical clinics and food-distribution centers, and that some missionaries have been imprisoned. In some countries, political indoctrination is now replacing religious instruction. Some ecumenical leaders in Africa praise these moves.

Political and social circumstances may necessitate a withdrawal of missionaries. In such situations our sovereign Lord can still bring good out of a humanly tragic situation. But the Church should not be disobedient to the heavenly vision. The 3,000 missionaries emerging in the Third World should join hands with the missionaries from the West and “be occupied” till He comes.

In rejecting moratorium I do not mean to imply that all is well in the household of faith. My main concern is the remaining task of evangelism, which requires a cross-cultural sharing of the Gospel. The strategy that would meet this need is the training of Africans for leadership.

Missionaries with paternalistic and culturally chauvinistic attitudes should bring these sins to the cross and plead with the Lord for a new heart. Nationals and missionaries should cry before the Lord, “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?” (Ps. 85:6). When Christians are filled with the Spirit of God, cultural relevance and contextualization will be brought about in the church without moratorium. It is pruning we need, not uprooting.—

BYANG H. KATO,

general secretary of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar,

Nairobi, Kenya.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: