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Friday, December 28, 2012

Top Indigenous Mission Trends of 2012

By Bill Bray
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (ANS) -- When writing a “Year in Review” piece on a topic like the top ten trends in the indigenous missions movement, there are two temptations. The first is to just count headlines and try to summarize 2012 through what dominated the news coverage. The other is to forget the headline count and give your own take as a journalist who has been on the scene all year.

Women protesting in Cairo, Egypt, as part of the so-called Arab Spring

Counting headlines distorts everything because you end up with a picture based on catastrophes, disasters or a handful of sensational situations that always grab center stage; on the other hand, just giving my own insights would be too biased.

So, I’ve tried to find a middle way this year by polling top continental directors at Christian Aid Mission in Virginia and a handful of the 50 other American agencies that assist indigenous movements. Most are members of COSIM, the Consultation on the Support of Indigenous Missions.

If this sounds unscientific and half-baked, I admit that it is – but that is the nature of journalism. Because you are writing history as it happens, you are always under a deadline and there is seldom time for the luxury of long-term research. So here, according to the insiders in the movement, are the top trends of 2012 listed in alphabetical order:

* ARAB SPRING CHAOS SWEEPS THE MIDDLE EAST – Although uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen grabbed the headlines after the “democracy movements” in the Muslim Middle East were unleashed, there was also tremendous fallout in the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, northern Iraq and Turkey. Response to the resulting humanitarian crisis is being largely planned and delivered on the ground by indigenous Christian missionaries. Western Christian churches, charities and mission agencies are relying on local leaders as never before and a new global respect has developed for IMs as a result – especially in Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.

Boko Haram fighters in Nigeria

– The Muslim crusade to impose Sharia Law on Nigeria and drive Christians southward continued throughout 2012 and made Nigeria a continual source of emergency relief. The terrorist effort, which began in 2012, attacks Christian churches and schools, usually on Sundays and holidays. Similar violence has occurred in newly formed South Sudan and continues in Somalia.

* BURMA/MYANMAR MIRACLE EXPANDS – There has been a flurry of mission renewal both inside Myanmar and around the world as the doors of economic and political freedom have started to swung open for this long xenophobic dictatorship. Suddenly, a new generation of tech savvy, young mission leadership has emerged to reach over 35 nations inside the Burmese federation – and also abroad to a huge Diaspora in Malaysia, India, Thailand, the USA and Europe. However, that doesn’t mean that persecution inside the country has ended. There is blow-back from the Theravada Buddhist monks that have dominated the country religiously for over a millennium.

* CELL PHONE, INTERNET USE EXPLODES – The digital Revolution is rapidly changing the landscape as hostile governments and anti-Christian religious persecution are being quickly exposed by cell users. Atrocities are harder to keep secret and the light is shining more frequently on their work, exposing their deeds. More importantly, evangelism and prayer movements are harnessing the Internet especially in places where there are already more cell phones than people, i.e. China and India.

* CHANGING OF THE GUARD UNDERWAY – With the retirement of Bob Finley in January, 2012, the undisputed father of modern indigenous missions, the movement is now almost completely led by his baby boomer disciples in half a dozen key missions’ agencies such as Advancing Native Missions, Christian Aid Mission, Gospel for Asia and Partners International. Dr. Finley’s wife, Cynthia, is now serving as president of Christian Aid and working with the board to seek younger leadership. However, throughout the entire movement, there is a growing awareness of the need to ignite new generations of leadership.

Chinese believers commit themselves to the Back to Jerusalem movement in Macau

– The death of Chinese leader Freddie Sun in August has accelerated the next wave of Chinese missions, popularly lumped under the banner of the “Back to Jerusalem Movement.” Dorothy Sun is working with overseas Chinese Diaspora leaders in the USA and Pacific Rim to increase support for this movement of the Holy Spirit – as well as ongoing support to various house church movements inside China. The Back to Jerusalem movement depends on marketplace ministries carried on by Christian lay missionaries migrating west and is uniquely suited to the challenges of China today.

* RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ERODES IN FORMER USSR, ELSEWHERE – 2012 was a horrible year. Violence against Christians increased as well as overt persecution. A revival of KGB-style persecution reminiscent of the Stalin era has steadily increased in Russia and Russian speaking
areas including the central Asian republics such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Persecution continued steadily in Laos, the central Vietnamese highlands and throughout the Muslim world.

* HIDDEN MISSIONARIES, THE UNTOLD STORY – The most exciting stories in North Africa and the Middle East, said one of the leaders I interviewed, simply cannot be told. In 2012, indigenous breakthroughs occurred in at least two countries that cannot be named. Just to describe the circumstances or name the places would put lives in danger and jeopardize the work of the gospel. This is the nature of all missions, but especially indigenous missions.

* MISSION GIVING REMAINS FLAT – Again, in 2012 giving to all Christian missions, including indigenous missions, remained flat. Most of those I talked to were simply grateful that God’s people are still making the sacrifices needed to keep missions moving forward. The American economy remains much to blame although most leaders believe it is much bigger than that.

* OUTREACH TO SAUDIS AND UNREACHED GROUPS INCREASE IN THE UNITED STATES – Indigenous mission leaders are being redeployed to (to or by) groups like Overseas Students Mission, International Students, Inc. and others to help recruit the next generation of indigenous leadership. Already, over half of the globe’s unreached or unengaged people groups are represented in the USA and efforts are being made to reach them through groups such as the Ethnic America Network and the Association of Christians Ministering among Internationals (ACMI). For example, nearly half of Saudi Arabia’s 130,000 overseas students are in the USA (66,000). A Christmas effort was launched in 2012 to mobilize Americans to distribute one million foreign language copies of the JESUS Film in partnership with Christ for All Peoples.

As leaders of the indigenous mission movement begin 2013, all believe there are many challenges ahead – especially regarding the economy. However, most remain buoyant in their faith. Hope in God is strong and there is a great eagerness to see what the Lord will do in days ahead. There is a sense of progress being made and a conviction that they are intimately involved in the preparations for the Lord’s soon return.

Bill Bray, 65, is an author and special correspondent who frequently contributes to ASSIST News Service. He specializes in covering international student ministries, foreign missions and charities. He has traveled to over 65 countries as a missionary journalist to report on missions and development ministries, returning to some countries as many as 30 times over the years. He can be contacted by e-mail at:

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