If you’re a missionary who’s ‘staked out your claim,’ what do you do when another missionary comes to town? I’m being mostly sarcastic with that question. I say ‘mostly,’ but long-term missionaries can appreciate the seriousness of it. If you’re a missionary and have been working in a particular region or community for some time, you can appreciate the concerns that arise when other missionaries ‘invade your space.’
First off, I do not believe that missionary can, or should, ‘stake out claims on territories,’ and secondly, it’s not YOUR space. Finally, I’ve found that these sorts of issues tend to resolve themselves. That said, the reactions on ‘both sides of the fence,’ can cause unnecessary friction or a very beautiful cooperation of efforts.
If you’re a missionary who is looking to work where others are already working, or a missionary on the ground who has other missionaries looking to work where you are, it can be a potentially threatening situation.
What does the bible have to say about this?
Paul the Apostle said; “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20)
But he also said;
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.” (1 Corinthians 3:10)
In the first case, Paul is expressing his personal preference and not some hard rule. In the second case, he is acknowledging that others will come and build on his foundation.
Before you assume that you are a ‘master builder’ and have control over how and when foundation building proceeds, you should check your motives. On the other hand, if another is coming to build on your foundation while you’re still building it, then care should be taken. It’s an incredibly sensitive situation. From personal experience, there has only been a few times where I have been visited and consulted by other missionaries who wanted to work where I am working. The more prevalent scenario is people coming without care or concern about the bridges that I have built or am building in the local communities and cultures. There is little respect for an independent and denominationally unattached missionary. There is an assumption that regardless of whose already there, their agenda is better and their methods more effective. It’s painfully simple. It’s not that folks just aren’t doing their homework, it’s that they don’t care to. Again, that’s not everyone, but it sure seems to be a pervasive trend.
Short-term mission teams are notorious for unwinding years of missionary work in 7 to 10 days. Again, not all, and in my case only a few, but when teams from a hundred churches come to a town where there is only one resident missionary, it seems a bit odd that they wouldn’t at least try to understand his or her work and the challenges in the area. Sometimes folks come to do a ‘vision trip’ and completely disregard those who are already working on the ground or simply fail to do good due diligence. Sometimes it’s just prideful arrogance that says; “Well, there’s no one from our denomination working there, so it’s unreached,” or “this foundation is faulty,” and “we’re here to fix it.” By the way, doing ‘mission work’ without concern as to what’s already going on is not just carelessness, it’s cult-like.
Before it sounds as if I am complaining, I’m not. As a missionary, I have gone to ‘check out’ other regions etc., and have always looked to see who’s working there (if anyone), how they would feel if I came to work with them for a short time, how they would feel if I were to work in the same region/area as them, and so on. I seek to fellowship with them if possible, meet the people they are working with, and see if I can help. Many times it’s just not a good fit. Other times, after a mutually respectful conversation, it’s just not prudent.
Whether you like to admit it or not, when another missionary or missionaries come to town, there’s a hurdle to get over.
Much of the time, personal contentment and satisfaction reign over the corporate ‘one anothers,’ and community.
I believe there’s a better way.
I’ll develop some of those thoughts in part II of this article, but for now, let me just ask you:
If you are a missionary, short or long-term, what do you believe is the proper and biblical way to approach situations like these?
I’d greatly appreciate your input in the comment section.