Brazil: Scholars Debate Mission Methods

Scholars fault Western approaches to evangelism, advocate a new vision for spreading the gospel.
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With the dramatic Iguassu Falls as their backdrop, scholars and missionaries gathered in October for lively discussions about mission strategy, theology, and cultural conflicts.

The 159 participants in the Iguassu Missiological Consultation came to Foz do Iguassu from 53 countries to examine the way Christian mission is changing at the turn of the millennium.

Set on the border between Brazil and Argentina, Iguassu Falls is a two-and-a-half-mile wide waterfall system of 275 cataracts.

The rugged terrain around the Iguassu Falls is also where actors Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons reenacted a bloody incident from Latin America's colonial history for the 1986 motion picture The Mission. The actors played a Jesuit missionary and convert soldier resisting Portuguese conquerors bent on murdering the native Guarani and stealing their land.

That history of imperialism still lives in the memories of some who attended the consultation, sponsored by the Singapore -based World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF). Seattle-based anthropologist Miriam Adeney told attendees the parable of the mouse who danced with the elephant and was squashed—despite the elephant's enormous good will. Dozens of speakers and discussion participants invoked that image to explain their feelings toward North America and its missions organizations.

MISSIONARY AS MARKETER? Peruvian missiologist Samuel Escobar was unable to attend the consultation because of family illness. But in a paper discussed at the meeting, he criticized the "managerial missiology" practiced by certain North American groups. "The distinctive note" of this approach to missions "is to reduce Christian mission to a manageable enterprise," Escobar wrote. Practitioners of this approach focus on the ...

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