We are in the springtime of Christian missions.

The last couple of decades of the twentieth century hold forth more promise for the dynamic spread of the Christian faith around the globe than any other period of time since Jesus turned the water into wine.

What a distance we have come from the sixties! That was a wintertime for missions in the United States. The Western powers were retreating from their colonial empires. The Vietnam War had pushed American morale to an all-time low. Violent struggles for civil rights erupted. College students revolted on their campuses. Young people left their homes, hit the streets, and formed the hippie movement. America was under a dark cloud of confusion, pessimism, and despair.

Inevitably, this social mood influenced the churches. Many denominations that were not firmly committed to biblical, evangelical theology made decisions to demote evangelism and promote social ministries. One of the outcomes was a frightening membership decline in the mainline churches, which persists today. Missionary programs were curtailed, sometimes because the sources of funds were drying up. A professor of missions wrote a book entitled Missionary, Go Home. Christian leaders began talking about a postmissionary era. Not a few wondered out loud whether the whole missionary movement had failed.

In some circles a residue from the sixties still remains. For example, the mission agencies affiliated with the Division of Overseas Ministries of the National Council of Churches were sending out 8,279 missionaries in 1969 but only 4,817 in 1979, a drop of over 40 percent in ten years. But the general trend is the other way. The total number of North American Protestant missionaries sent overseas was 34,460 in 1969 and ...

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