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A Missional Church Is . . . : Artistic Expressions of a Fuzzy Concept

The Chattahoochee Valley Church in Columbus, Georgia commissioned the “Missional Church” series after Mark Woodward presented a series of lessons. I had done a few smaller projects for earlier themes the ministry staff had presented to me.

Each of the posters is purposefully simplistic and relies on symbols to portray the statements in a way that expands upon each of the ideas. It’s great to have the opportunity to use artwork to inspire, encourage, and develop the church in a way that will hopefully get them thinking more missionally. I hope that these images will serve to communicate to everyone from longtime Christians to newly reborns. It’s my hope that these images are able to constantly preach, every time someone views them. For example, if they remember the image of the church building with its walls felled and pointing outward, then imagine how they are to bring Christ to the world outside those four walls, I would deem the purpose of the images a success.

I hope the message received is that the whole church body, not just its leaders, is tasked with sharing the gospel to its neighbors, coworkers, and friends. I’m struck by how quickly the early church was able to spread the gospel, even through persecution, because all had taken on the duty of spreading the good news. They were excited about it. I’m not sure what steps need to be taken to stop the pervasive cultural misconception that mission work is “not my job” among the church members. We’ve assumed the roles of spectators and performers rather than a unified cause for Christ.

Aaron Sparks is a former youth minister who moved to the UK in 2010 to attempt vocational mission work and is now starting a career in social care work for young people. He has a beautiful wife, a five-year-old Star Wars fanboy, and a three-month-old Princess Leia in training. He is most likely found in a coffee shop reading a good book.

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Review of Jean Johnson, We Are Not the Hero: A Missionary’s Guide for Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency

Jean Johnson. We Are Not the Hero: A Missionary’s Guide for Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency. Sisters, OR: Deep River Books, 2012. 335pp. $15.99.

Missionaries strive to leave healthy, indigenous churches that are relevant to their host cultures and lead by local leaders. These dreams fall short, however, as they settle for planting unhealthy churches that are too dependent upon the missionary’s skills, resources, and Western ways of “doing church.” Missionaries unintentionally leave behind unsustainable models of church growth, leadership, and development that the local church cannot hope to emulate. What is needed is guidance and coaching to ruminate on the challenges associated with indigenous church planting.

In her first book, Jean Johnson provides a catalyst for rethinking missionary methods. Johnson previously spent sixteen years as a missionary in Cambodia, and she currently works as a leadership coach and consultant for both missionaries and indigenous church leaders with World Missions Associates. As she reflected on the history of Christianity in Cambodia, as well as her own challenges and failures on the mission field, Johnson came to a realization: although the mission churches she had helped plant were “healthy” and had good attendance, they were not able to multiply and grow effectively. These churches were, in essence, too Western in their worship, preaching, evangelism, and leadership development. They depended upon Western funds to sustain their outreach and church programs. With this realization, Johnson began to adjust her efforts in order to plant effective indigenous churches run by Cambodian leaders. Johnson challenges the reader to a “premeditated” missiology that focuses on “multiplication, indigeneity, and sustainability among the respective people groups” with whom they work (13). Using stories, parables, and case studies from her own time on the field, as well as those of other missionaries, Johnson seeks to share her new missiological understanding with her readers.

Johnson’s mantra throughout the book is, “Day 1 affects Day 100” (64). Missionaries often focus much of their time, effort, and energy on how to enter the culture. Even more important, however, is for the missionaries to focus on how to phase themselves out of the work. Sustainability must be worked into the DNA of the church from the first day, in the way that we reach out to the community and conduct evangelism. Indigenous evangelism focuses on relevant cultural forms: stories and songs, parables and poetry, etc. When the gospel is shared in culturally relevant ways, Christianity is no longer seen as a “foreign religion” and the new converts can easily share what they have learned.

Shockingly, Johnson calls missionaries not to plant churches. When missionaries begin planting churches, they unknowingly import Western forms of church: singing translated Western songs instead of using indigenous melodies; preaching expository sermons instead of telling stories; training through seminary classes rather than coaching and modeling. Instead of planting churches, Johnson calls the reader to plant the gospel:

Allowing the gospel (God’s presence and transformational work) to take root within a community in such a way that the community expresses and spreads its faith in an organic manner. . . . This organic expression may look very different from the cross-cultural communicator’s church experience. (241)

In order to build a sustainable evangelistic movement, missionaries must be intentional in every action they undertake. From the very beginning, missionaries should do evangelism with reproduction in mind. If the local leader cannot reproduce the missionary’s efforts and materials, and in turn teach others to do the same, then these methods must be rethought.

According to Johnson, every aspect of the missionary’s method and lifestyle must be rethought in light of the receptor culture.

Johnson’s book is broken into three parts and an introduction. In the introduction, Johnson calls missionaries not to think of themselves as heroes, which comes with an air of superiority and colonialism. Instead, she challenges missionaries to enter the culture humbly as learners and servants, walking alongside the contacts or Christians as a guide. Part 1 reveals the need for indigenous, self-reliant church movements that create disciples. Johnson uses the history of Christianity in Cambodia to highlight the need for multiplication, sustainability, and self-reliance. Part 2 helps the reader reflect on how to plant healthy, indigenous churches in which local leaders take the lead in all aspects of worship, evangelism, teaching, and expansion. Part 3 is more practical, helping the missionary conceive how these ideas can be put into practice. My only complaint with the material is in its organization. Parts 2 and 3 should have been integrated into one another in order to provide a cohesive flow. Also, at times the ideas of multiplication and sustainability overlap, and these areas could have been addressed together. Overall, however, the book was incredibly insightful and convicting.

Two sections were very thought-provoking. First, Johnson focuses on the differences between oral and literate societies in chapters ten and seventeen. Western communicators learn through bullet points, outlines, diagrams, and abstract concepts. Seventy percent of the world’s population consists of primary or secondary oral learners, however, which necessitates a different approach to communication, teaching, and evangelism. Johnson calls this type of communication orality. “Orality is a method of communicating truth by dressing it up in parables, poetry, riddles, stories, drama, dance, and song” (158). Johnson calls us to focus on the values and worldview characteristics of oral cultures by emphasizing community, working with heads-of-households, and using examples from everyday life in order to best communicate the gospel. She also reflects on ethnomusicology (“heart music”) as the best manner to convey biblical truths. Johnson’s insights into oral cultures are important areas of growth for most missionaries.

Second, Johnson calls the missionary to take the lesser role in ministry and instead work as a “shadow pastor.” Mission works often start with the missionaries as the leaders and then go through a process of nationalizing, in which local leaders are raised up and trained to take over these roles. Instead, Johnson calls us to practice indigenizing, coaching local leaders from the beginning and allowing them to succeed (and sometimes fail) in leadership as they learn to grow and thrive (247–48). The missionary keeps the focus off of himself/herself and instead mentors these new leaders behind the scenes, which allows local leadership to thrive faster than in traditional models.

Johnson’s book challenges the readers to rethink their missiological practices in light of what is best for the culture of their receivers. It would serve as a great textbook for an upper-level missions class or for missionaries who are strategically planning their work on the field.

Daniel McGraw

Community Life Minister

Houston, Texas, USA

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Review of W. Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus

W. Ross Blackburn. The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus. New Studies in Biblical Theology 28. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 238pp. $17.00.

Ross Blackburn’s study contributes to the recent rise of attention given to the theme of mission in the interpretation of Scripture. His purpose in this monograph, an iteration of his doctoral thesis written under Christopher Seitz at St. Andrews, is to argue that mission is the governing theme of the book of Exodus. At first glance this aim may strike the reader as peculiar, if not backward: how is mission the driving theme of Israel’s story of liberation and constitution? Anticipating such a question in the introduction, Blackburn defines his use of the word mission as God’s desire to right what is wrong, principally through God’s commitment to be known among his people and, through them, among the nations. Blackburn proposes that, when read as a coherent narrative within a canonical framework, Yhwh’s missionary impulse explains his motivation in each major development in the story and resolves some thorny hermeneutical issues therein.

After an introduction (ch. 1), Blackburn divides his treatment into six chapters. In chapter 2 he builds the case that the primary theme in Exod 1–15:21 is the revelation of Yhwh’s name/identity as redeemer. Through the burning bush, the plague cycle, and deliverance of the people from slavery, Israel and Egypt (to a lesser extent) come to know Yhwh’s redemptive character, Yhwh’s supremacy, and that Yhwh’s identity and mission is tied up with Yhwh’s goodness toward Israel.

Both chapter 3 (15:22–18:27) and chapter 4 (19–24) explore how the provision of torah/teaching carries forward God’s missional intention to make his name known. Blackburn argues that the sequence of wilderness trials serves the purpose of training (better than the commonly translated “testing”) Israel in the knowledge of her new sovereign. The giving of water, food, and security seeks to instill trust in Israel as preparation for Sinai. Chapter 4 casts Israel in a priestly role for the sake of reflecting the character of God before the watching nations. The law’s essence is a revelation of the character of God; thus, Israel’s holy imitation of Yhwh (by keeping the covenantal demands) aims toward the larger goal of mediating knowledge of God among the families of the earth. Israel’s witness pulsates out from her distinctive conduct.

Blackburn next turns to the dense tabernacle legislation in chapter 5 (25–31). The instruction detailing the materials to be used in the tabernacle’s construction and its accoutrements communicates the sanctity and kingship of Yhwh, dwelling in Israel’s midst. Moreover, within Israel, the tabernacle was a palpable, microcosmic symbol of Yhwh’s orderly, macrocosmic reign over the universe. The presence of Yhwh among his people in the tabernacle is an end in itself, but the purpose of the tabernacle was not limited to this end. Rather, the tabernacle pointed in nuce to God’s missionary desire to reign in similar fashion among all the nations.

Chapter 6 wrestles with how Moses’ petitions persuade God to forgive Israel’s transgression committed in the golden calf debacle (32–34). Blackburn persuasively argues that Moses succeeds in his remonstrations by appealing to Yhwh’s honor among the nations. In short, Moses defends God’s reputation before God. Thus, Yhwh restores Israel because Yhwh’s name among the nations is at stake. Yhwh’s judgment and mercy emerge from the same motivation—to be known among the nations. Yhwh’s forgiveness restores the plans for building the tabernacle (35–40), which Blackburn treats briefly in chapter 7. The construction of the tabernacle signals that forgiven Israel can now fulfill her commission to be a priestly kingdom and holy nation. God dwells in her midst—this is both the object and method of Israel’s missionary vocation.

The main body of the work is well written, well researched, and for the most part well reasoned. Blackburn’s commitment to reading the text in its canonical presentation as a coherent narrative pays rich exegetical dividends, especially in tracing underappreciated connections to the larger Exodus story in the wilderness narratives and Moses’s appeals to God in Exod 32–34. So too, Blackburn’s insistence that the minutiae of the tabernacle legislation carry theological, even missiological weight brings a welcomed corrective to traditions that devalue priestly texts. Because his work is in an evangelical series on biblical theology, Blackburn rounds out each chapter (and sometimes begins them) with reflections on texts outside of Exodus, mostly connecting his emphases to New Testament motifs. While this move helps further elucidate themes under discussion in some chapters (e.g., his parsing of the relationship of gospel and law in ch. 4), in others it feels more like an appendage that provides too terse a treatment. Blackburn concludes his work with four brief observations concerning how mission in Exodus informs the mission of the church. Because this is precisely the kind of theological payoff needed by churches (and so often lacking in rigorous works of biblical theology), the book could have been enhanced significantly if this chapter were longer than a thin five pages.

Blackburn’s book is a solid attempt to show how a missiological hermeneutic opens up the interpretation of a central Old Testament book. Yet, the book suffers on two accounts. First, Blackburn is in danger of instrumentalizing Israel’s election. His appreciation of God’s larger purposes undersells the promises to the patriarchs as a reason for the Exodus and creates some unnecessary tension with the subsequent history of God with Israel. For example, how does Israel’s future interaction with the nations (e.g., Canaanites) make sense of the missionary bent of Exodus, if this is indeed the governing theme of her root narrative? The conquest, which itself draws on themes from Exodus, fits this trajectory with difficulty. Israel as a “missionary people” may fit some of Isaiah’s prophecy—a prophet who draws liberally on Exodus themes—but is this the most apt theological backdrop for, say, the oracles against the nations? Moreover, what does it mean for the nations to know Yhwh? Is the acknowledgement expected of the nations on par with Israel’s acknowledgement? As a work of biblical theology, I would have liked these questions addressed with more rigor. Second, and related, Blackburn’s definition of mission will strike many as too narrow for biblical theology. He rightly stresses that in Exodus Yhwh’s presence is what makes Israel holy—attending to Yhwh’s presence is to make Israel distinctive, thus mediating knowledge of God. But does this fulfill the book’s subtitle: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus ? The missional theology of Exodus is chiefly centripetal, and I am not certain it is the heart of the book, that is, the central theme giving life to all else. Nevertheless, I recommend the book for students and scholars alike, and I look forward to future works from Blackburn.

Nathan Bills

Assistant Professor of Old Testament

Lipscomb University

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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Review of A. Scott Moreau, Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models

A. Scott Moreau. Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2012. 432pp. $22.03.

Certain subjects linger in a state of cumulative chaos, waiting for the right scholar to create a sense of order. The discussion of contextualization among evangelical Christians is such a subject, and Scott Moreau has proven equal to the task of systematizing its diverse parts into a balanced presentation. The undertaking requires both a comprehensive understanding of a multifaceted debate and the methodological rigor necessary to avoid reductionism. In Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models, Moreau combines these qualities in an orderly, economical rendition of the issues.

A. Scott Moreau has taught missions at Wheaton College for more than two decades. In addition to authoring or editing a variety of missiological works, he has been the editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly since 2001. A prominent evangelical missiologist, Moreau aims to “map” evangelical models of contextualization. Some prominent treatments of contextualization have lumped evangelical contextualization into a single category among a more theologically liberal array of options. Thus, the impetus behind his endeavor is the need for a truly representative analysis of evangelical perspectives. Moreau hopes his cartography will help readers explore the diverse regions of the evangelical “continent” of contextualization in order to make informed judgments about particular proposals.

The book bears a popular academic style that does not shy from technical content but consciously avoids scholarly wordiness. The real key to the book’s success, though, is its systematic and restrained exposition. The body comprises two sections of nearly equal length. The first section illuminates Moreau’s methodological concerns, and the second section is the substance of the proposal itself. Though Moreau’s descriptive endeavor is potentially fraught with subjectivity, in the first section he so thoroughly explicates the assumptions and criteria at work in his map that there is hardly any cause for uncertainty. Moreover, he manages to introduce working assumptions, such as the meaning of “evangelical” or the place of holism in contextualization, convincingly, without bogging down in topics that could be books unto themselves.

The proposal trades on Moreau’s credibility rather directly. He classified 249 examples of evangelical contextualization from published sources, according to seventy-nine criteria. In this process, he “discovered” six initiator roles (195). Moreau utilizes these six roles as his models of contextualization, cross-referencing them with other criteria to define exemplars of each model and their respective tendencies. The selection of these models, as well as the definition of the various criteria, is completely Moreau’s prerogative despite the clinical feel of his data analysis. By section two, though, the reader is convinced that Moreau is anything but arbitrary in his procedure, and his credentials certainly merit the benefit of the doubt. The skeptical reader may wonder, nonetheless, whether the source material could be organized into different categories, as Moreau cannot defend his choices in a work this size.

Moreau’s map seems to represent the major regions of evangelical contextualization. His models are Facilitator, Guide, Herald, Pathfinder, Prophet, and Restorer. One problem with these categories is that some examples fit equally into multiple models. Anticipating such objections, Moreau clarifies that his intention is not to communicate “that the individual never takes on other roles or that the method is constrained by that role” (175). Taken as typical rather than definitive, and in relation to the many other variables in Moreau’s dataset, the models are a powerful tool for “locating” contextualization efforts on the evangelical map.

One question lingers, primarily regarding the Restorer model. Although “the restorer comes to heal or deliver from bondage of any type,” most of Moreau’s examples have to do with spiritual warfare. Curiously, the evidence suggests that “evangelicals consider demons qua demons somehow immune to contextual or worldview considerations” (299). “A criticism of initiators as restorers,” states Moreau, “is that practitioners rarely discuss their methods as explicitly contextual” (307). The question, then, is why Moreau considers this a model of contextualization, when its presuppositions are acontextual on average and nearly anti-contextual at worst. It seems that the Restorer is a model of mission work rather than a model of contextualization. And this observation highlights a concern for the other models to a lesser extent. Approaches to mission that deal with issues in their contexts (such as spiritual bondage) are not thereby necessarily contextualized, as per Moreau’s own definition of contextualization (36). One danger of being as impressively thorough as Moreau has done is to be overly inclusive to the detriment of a limited notion of contextualization.

Because Moreau intends to systematize existing proposals rather than rehash them, the specific processes of contextualization in his models are never in view. He stays at a bird’s eye view of each exemplar, leaving the reader wishing for a more concrete understanding of each one, which would help clarify why each one is in fact an example of contextualization rather than just missions methodology. The book would be far more lengthy with that provision, though, and the bibliography is available.

A couple of other peculiarities are noteworthy. One, Moreau’s definition of evangelical appears to exclude Majority World evangelicals. There are a few exceptions, and he is aware of the issue (320–21), but it is clear that American evangelicalism is in view. This is due primarily to the use of published exemplars, of which there are far fewer from the Majority World. The point here is not that Moreau would chose to exclude Majority World exemplars given an alternative (although his definition of evangelicalism does have roots in American culture wars), but the fact that he cannot represent them severely limits the representativeness of his map. As with Europeans’ “discovery” of the Americas, once readers venture off the map, they may find the second half of the world—or more, in this case. Two, large portions of the book read as an extended exchange with Charles Kraft. Kraft is an influential and controversial missiologist whom Moreau could not wisely marginalize in these discussions, but at times it seems as though evangelical contextualization comes down to Kraft’s proposals and their dissenters.

One of the key successes of the book is that it makes evident the occasion of the contextualization discussion. The urgency of talking about particularly evangelical contextualization, and to a large extent the urgency of the dialogue with Charles Kraft, is a symptom of the ongoing shift within conservative Christianity toward critical realism. The mapping of contextualization models among evangelicals is fundamentally about establishing an epistemological continuum on which to locate contextualization efforts. Though evangelicals will need to move beyond Moreau’s descriptive contribution into critical and prescriptive proposals, they can now do so with the profound yet accessible insight he has provided regarding what is truly at stake.

Greg McKinzie


Arequipa, Peru

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Review of J. D. Payne, Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission

J. D. Payne. Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 206pp. $10.91.

J. D. Payne serves as the pastor of church multiplication for The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to his current position in Birmingham, Payne was a domestic missionary with the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and an Associate Professor of Church Planting and Evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also directed the Center for North American Missions and Church Planting.

Payne’s book, Strangers Next Door, has a twofold purpose: (1) to educate Western evangelical churches on the large-scale global migrations that are taking place as the peoples of the world move to the West as long-term and short-term workers, students, refugees, and asylum-seekers (18); and (2) to challenge Western evangelical churches to reach, equip, partner with, and send the least reached people living in their neighborhoods to return to their peoples as missionaries (19). Payne’s book is neither a theology of mission nor a practical guide to missional living, though it includes elements of both. Rather, it is an impassioned plea and a vision, calling for evangelicals in the West to notice and act on a unique missional opportunity of the twenty-first century: the presence of migrants from least reached, unreached, and hard-to-reach people groups in Western countries, living right next door to us.

After defining his terms and outlining his theological assumptions in chapter one, Payne uses half of the book to make his case first that migration is occurring in the modern era on an unprecedented scale (chs. 2, 6, 7, and 8) and second that many of these migrants are moving from unreached or least reached areas of the world to Western countries (ch. 3), by which he means the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many of the countries commonly referred to as Western Europe. On both accounts, Payne demonstrates his claims very persuasively with extensive statistical data. However, with regard to his second claim, Payne reveals a significant theological bias that obscures much of his data, namely, he considers people groups comprised of less than 2 percent evangelicals as unreached. He borrows his definition of evangelicals from the Joshua Project (55), but based on which countries he labels as unreached, Payne clearly excludes most, if not all, members of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and mainline Protestantism, among others. For example, he lists France, Portugal, and Spain as among the most unreached countries in the world (60), three countries known for substantial Catholic populations. Although this bias does not diminish the importance of Payne’s overall thesis and argument, it does limit the usefulness of the book in determining which countries and peoples are unreached for one who operates with a more inclusive understanding of Christianity.

The rest of the book focuses on what Payne calls “diaspora missiology,” which brings migration research to bear on missiology. In chapters four and five, he demonstrates from Scripture that God has constantly worked through migrations to accomplish his purposes in the world. In chapter nine, he shares inspiring stories of people who have acted on this vision to reach the unreached through migrants. Finally, chapters ten through twelve offer guidelines and a strategy for accomplishing the task of reaching, equipping, partnering with, and sending migrants back to their home countries as missionaries to reach the unreached peoples of the world. Payne suggests helpful missiological insights in these chapters, but due to the nature of his book as a vision-casting plea, these suggestions remain surface level and brief. For example, his section on contextualization is three paragraphs long. Anyone wanting to learn about how to contextualize the gospel in migrant communities in their neighbors will need to look elsewhere for advice.

Payne’s overarching vision, that churches in the West should focus their efforts on reaching migrants in their neighborhoods from unreached or least reached countries, with an eye towards partnering with and sending those migrants back to their home countries as missionaries, is worthy of attention and consideration for all, including non-evangelical churches in Western countries. I recommend this book to any church leaders and lay people willing to re-envision their task of sharing the gospel with the nations. As Payne argues, for those of us living in the West, the nations have come to our doorstep and we are now confronted with an exciting missional opportunity to proclaim the gospel to them without ever having to set foot on a plane.

Garrett Matthew East

Missionary in Training

ACU Halbert Institute for Missions

Abilene, Texas, USA

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Review of Bryan P. Stone and Claire E. Wolfteich, Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence

Bryan P. Stone and Claire E. Wolfteich. Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. 168pp. $15.60.

Stone and Wolfteich challenge the missional reader with the reminder that “while the Bible begins in a garden, it ends in a city” (90). Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence records the discoveries of 96 urban pastors who are given the opportunity, through the Boston University School of Theology and the Lilly Endowment, Inc., to examine their missional approaches to ministry. The project seeks to answer two questions: “What constitutes pastoral excellence in the urban context? What sustains it?” (ix). Excellent urban pastoral leadership requires a unique approach to ministry, one that involves serving the city as well as serving oneself. “If your . . . soul and spirit is not growing and at peace with God, the sheer intensity of urban problems will overwhelm and crush you” (63).

While defining four needs of urban pastors—partnership, spiritual renewal, Sabbath, and study—the authors specify each need as an individualized spiritual discipline. Spiritual friendships are to be interpreted as one enjoys Christ as a friend: a life-giving addition to pastoral ministry. Spiritual renewal is found in embracing spiritual disciplines that continually refocus one’s energies on the purpose and presence of God. Sabbath, a challenge for an overworked and understaffed urban pastor, is a reminder that the work of God can find completion while the man or woman of God carves out mandatory rest. Study allows the pastor to contemplatively hear a sermon for the people as well as a sermon for oneself while lounging in the Word.

Through their partnership with urban pastors, the authors discover that excellent urban pastors know and love their cities. This means that they also know and love the people:

To know and love the people of the city and to practice a solidarity with them creates a space for confession, pardon, and forgiveness. To know and love the people of the city is to treat no one like a heathen, a demon, or an outcast, and this honoring of ‘the other’ we encounter allows us first to hear them; second to serve them; and third, to be open to allowing them to creatively transform our ministries. (xiii)

A warning repeats throughout the book, from authors as well as pastors, that if urban pastors overlook the practice of Sabbath, they will not effectively serve the city. Urban ministry presents many needs and few resources. With the focus on required renewal, the participating pastors also receive a four- to eight- week compensated sabbatical. “We cannot talk of sustaining pastoral excellence without talking about the pastor’s ongoing spiritual renewal, for receptivity to God’s Spirit precedes any work of ministry” (63). Sabbath not only includes rest, but play, setting higher boundaries, and a fresh commitment to one’s family. Counsel from one pastor’s spiritual director reminds her that, “Just because you have the time to do something doesn’t mean you should do it” (55). Rest is a requirement for renewal.

The honest voices of the 96 urban pastors should be heard by all pastors, not just those in the urban setting. Sabbath in the City should inform the students in seminary who begin with a vision of excellence and are often extinguished by exhaustion and frustration. The stories of the participants will powerfully inform future decisions for current readers.

Missional ministry requires one to go and serve incarnationally, fulfilling the missio Dei. Being a sent people requires preparation, partnership, and pauses throughout the journey. Urban pastors are by their very nature missional, since many have moved into the city to serve with decreased funds and increased functions. The practical guidance detailed in Sabbath in the City will enhance the journey of any seminary student, pastor, or layperson who seeks to serve. Stone and Wolfteich have gone into the city, found the hearts of servants, and are striving to replicate their beat through their excellent voices of wisdom.

Kate Sullivan Watkins

Doctor of Ministry Student

Lipscomb University

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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Vulnerable Mission: Questions from a Latin American Context

Vulnerable Mission, as the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission articulates it, comprises important missiological concepts. These concepts are not new to missiology, though they have often been under-practiced. Vulnerable Mission is thus a welcome call to more conscientious and thorough application of sound missiological principles. Yet, at least in the Latin American context, some questions remain as to the universality and absoluteness with which missionaries should apply Vulnerable Mission methods.

Clarifying the Contrast Between Vulnerable Mission and Mainstream Missiology

The Alliance for Vulnerable Mission (AVM) is promoting a conversation that Christian missionaries can ill afford to ignore. I am grateful that Abilene Christian University, through the initiative of Dr. Chris Flanders, has brought the conversation into the realm of missiological reflection among Churches of Christ. I wish to respond to the proposals of Vulnerable Mission (VM) from my particular location.1 The reader might triangulate my location with a few key coordinates: I write as an Anglo-American, trained missiologically in an a cappella Church of Christ university, serving as a missionary in urban Peru. From this vantage point, the basic impulse of VM looks beneficial. The AVM homepage states:

“Vulnerable mission” may be seen as part of the movement toward contextualization of the Gospel of Jesus, which we regard as the theory of many and the practice of few. We would like to see more people take the risks of contextualization and vulnerability in order to reap the rewards that only come to those who value local resources and invest in local languages.2

The notion that there is a disconnect between mission theory and practice is plainly true. The bifurcation exists on a variety of levels: academy versus ministry, missiology versus missions, ideals versus realities, goals versus potentialities, and the list goes on. The fundamental issue is how to overcome the divide, and VM is attempting to provide a solution: “VM does not propose different goals than mainstream mission and missiology. We are arguing that the mainstream methods of reaching those goals are not achieving them very well.”3 To be clear, though, the problem is not that mainstream missiology (just “missiology” hereafter) has failed to provide methodological direction.4 While there are still cross-cultural workers who are not cognizant of missiology, I believe this conversation, directed at an audience that attends missiological conferences and reads missiological journals, must really be about the best practices that many missionaries know about but find difficult to implement.

“Contextualization and sustainability are widely preached; imperialism and dependence are widely practiced,” states Stan Nussbaum with salutary directness.5 The criterion by which we can evaluate VM, then, is its effectiveness in bringing about contextualization and sustainability where missiology has failed. VM’s intention, in other words, is to provide a practical handle for actually propagating the “three selves” that have been missiology’s Sisyphean task for over a century. In Nussbaum’s taxonomy, that practical handle consists of three methods: local language, local resources, and local thinking style.6

Nussbaum grants that there are “major improvements to the ethnocentric model” found in “partnership methods.”7 He lumps “most advocates of partnership,” represented especially by Mary Lederleitner at the ACU conference, with “missiologists.” Lederleitner’s book Cross-Cultural Partnerships is a popular-level example of the way missiology brings anthropological study to bear on cross-cultural interactions.8 Thus, it is not fair to missiology that Nussbaum represents the alternatives to VM as either (1) the “ethnocentric model” or (2) a partnership model that would use English as much as local languages and would opt for a simplified message instead of considering local modes of thought:9

Goal VM methods Partnership methods
Contextualized Local language English or local
Sustainable Local resources Prime the pump, or top up local resources
Missional Local thinking style Simplify the message

If the contribution of VM hinges on its ability to achieve what missiology has not, it is absolutely necessary first to grant missiology its full qualifications, in order to see what VM’s practical difference really is. And historically, missiology has taken local languages, resources, and thinking styles as the key to the self-realization, if I may use that term, of the indigenous church.

To tease out what is really at stake, we must think about the nature of the goals that missiology and VM admittedly share. Self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation cannot mean partial self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation. “Self” does not mean some outside resources or some foreign modes of thought and speech. Rather, whereas VM is apparently advocating the method of permitting no foreign resources, languages, or thinking styles from the beginning of a missionary endeavor, missiology has historically made allowance for getting to the self-realization of the indigenous church by degrees. And it is only fair to note that by degrees is, from a missiological standpoint (rather than a blindly imperialist one), a deliberated compromise rather than a justification for easy, self-serving methods.

Furthermore, the introduction of no foreign resources, languages, and thinking styles, to the degree possible in a cross-cultural relationship, is a logical corollary of the goal. If the end is self-support, for example, the most direct means is quite obviously not to introduce foreign support. To take a well-known representative with a Latin American outlook, in 1953 Melvin Hodges was able to quote a missionary in Colombia as saying:

No money for [national] preachers and [national] churches is not a handicap nor hindrance; it is a challenge to missionary ability and a policy that, if adopted generally and more rigidly, would save many a heartache and produce a stronger, more humble church in the foreign field.10

Advocacy of “no money” as the means to self-support is not novel; VM is not proposing new methodology but rather agreeing with extant missiological wisdom by which Hodges felt sixty years ago missionaries should “generally and more rigidly” abide. While the difference between Hodges and VM on this point seems to be that Hodges was willing to say, “The right use of money has its place in missions,” we still have to acknowledge that Hodges was advocating throughout his book—as a methodological outworking of Roland Allen’s proposals—the introduction of no foreign funding.11

Moreover, the infamous “moratorium on missions” last century was “not because of liberal theology or anti-Western bias, and it was not intended to signal the end of missions” but was an attempt to foster “an alternative to remaining dependent on foreign funding and personnel.”12 We might understand so drastic an approach as the recognition that there is no way to use only local language, resources, and thinking styles as long as foreign missionaries are present. The only way to avoid compromise on some level is to dissolve the cross-cultural relationship altogether.

Because missiology assumes the necessity—and the benefit—of the cross-cultural relationship, it is dedicated to mitigating cross-cultural challenges and increasing the missionary’s capacity for contextual discernment. One can imagine easily that, given this purpose, missiology would advocate the use of local languages. If mission history is rife with examples of missionaries using colonial languages or depending upon translators, we need not confuse that fact with missiology’s own perspective. The goal is the self-realization of the indigenous church, and one method for everyone concerned is the use of local languages. David Hesselgrave states in his influential volume Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally:

Almost without exception, missionaries will be well advised to learn the language of their respondent culture. . . .

If one wants to communicate Christ to a people, he must know them. The key to that knowledge always has been, and always will be, language.13

Or consider the position of linguist and missiological luminary Eugene Nida:

As regards a very high percentage of the social and religious culture language is an indispensable instrument for transmitting not only the outward forms but the inner content and subjective evaluation. Perhaps the best evidence of the essential function of language as a transmitting mechanism is seen in the almost total failure of meaningful cultural contact when effective communication is lacking. . . . If a culture cannot and does not transmit its own concepts except by language, how can missionaries expect to inculcate wholly foreign concepts without using the only language which the people really understand?14

What is even more noteworthy, though, is the quantity of Nida’s work that simply takes for granted the missionary’s use of local languages.15 Local language is missiology’s presumed method for even the initial communication of the gospel. How much more so for the self-realization of the indigenous church? On this point too it seems as though VM is not proposing a new method but rather suggesting that missionaries actually employ the method missiology knows to be so indispensable.

That brings us to the final VM method, local thinking style. It is especially important for this paper because it is Nussbaum’s addition to the VM agenda.16 He states, “A paradigm is a tool that an analytical thinker uses to compare two or more systems. Non-analytical (oral) thinkers do not use that tool because they never undertake that task. They simply do not look at their worlds that way.”17 He explains further, quoting John Walsh:

“When people routinely assume that the opposite of orality is literacy, they are making only a superficial contrast. The real contrast is not oral vs. literate. It is oral vs. analytical.” In other words, an oral style is a story or narrative or holistic style of thinking as opposed to a conceptual style that breaks everything down into pieces and then connects the pieces. Oral thinkers apprehend whole ideas; analytical thinkers comprehend them one piece at a time.18

Orality is therefore a way of looking at the world that is non-analytical and holistic. As Nussbaum mentions in a footnote, accounting for this sort of local thinking style is not methodologically novel. First, authors such as Duane Elmer and Sherwood Lingenfelter have dealt with “holistic thinking” in popular missiological publications—and they have done so by placing holistic thinking in relation to a much larger complex of cultural variables that more amply characterize “local thinking” in its sundry configurations.19 Second, as Nussbaum hinted, the bigger issue is the way local people “look at their world”—their worldview. It is an immense understatement to say that missiology has been concerned with worldview. One prominent representative is sufficient for our purposes here. Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews is a thoroughgoing overview of worldview theory, including sections on various kinds of logic and narrative epistemology and a whole chapter on “Worldviews of Small-Scale Oral Societies.” He also presents a chapter on “Methods for Analyzing Worldviews”—which moves well beyond the suggestion that we should use local thinking to methods for doing so, including the analysis of wisdom literature (including proverbs) and aesthetic culture (including music and festivals).20 These are not best characterized as “quirky interests of a tiny minority.”21 There is undoubtedly only a small portion of the missionary force that undertakes rigorous worldview analysis, but in the context of a discussion about what methods missiology offers for achieving its goals, that is hardly the issue. These are mainstream methods. They are well-developed, widely published, and accessible.

If these methods have been at missionaries’ disposal for so long, why then have they continued to use foreign languages, resources, and thinking styles? The answer, I believe, is that the complexities and difficulties of cross-cultural cooperation require mutual discernment and, often, ad hoc decisions. This reality is hardly an excuse for the many poor decisions that have led to dependency and paternalism. At the same time, doubling down on the counsel to use exclusively local methods is not a practical solution to the complexity of cross-cultural relationships that has prevented missionaries from doing so long since. Thus, in my own historical and cultural location I am left with a number of questions that challenge VM.

Problematizing Vulnerable Mission

What About Urbanization?

VM gives the impression that it has rural contexts in view. The idea of local language quickly becomes problematic in areas where urban migration is a factor. The urbanization of Latin America is a well-known phenomenon. I live in Arequipa, Peru, a city of about a million inhabitants. In Arequipa, there is a confluence of Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara—the three official languages of Peru. Spanish, of course, is the dominant language; that of the conquerors and colonizers. But it is, as a matter of historical reality, the first language of most urban inhabitants. It is the language of the school system, business, government, and the transcontinental social construct called “Latin America.” In Arequipa, Spanish is colonial and local.

The indigenous persons who migrate to Arequipa do so for a variety of reasons. In general throughout Latin America, “industrialization and the introduction of capitalist modes of production in rural areas from the 1930s onwards triggered a process of concentrated urbanization that seventy years later had led to a majority of the societies in the region crossing the urban threshold.”22 Although rural to urban migration had tapered off in many countries by the 1990s,23 in Peru no few fled the countryside in the wake of Maoist group Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path) during the 1980s and 90s. Droughts during the same time period also precipitated urban migrations. Currently, urban migration tends to be a matter no longer of industrialization per se but of its cousin modernization, driven primarily by the same economic impulses that marked earlier patterns of urbanization. Yet, it is not truly representative to characterize urban migrants’ motives as purely economic. In a study by the Wellbeing in Developing Countries Research Group, researchers developed a culturally specific model of wellbeing that identified the most important and most frustrated life aspirations of Peruvians. Regarding analyses specific to migrants, James Copestake summarizes the study’s findings:

Overall, what emerges from both the quantitative and qualitative evidence is the complexity of the personal wellbeing trade-offs entailed in migration. For many, the main cost of searching for a more secure livelihood was not delaying starting a family but being forced to live in a more insecure and uncertain environment. Migration behaviour is also revealed to be more than a movement of individual workers driven by real wage differentials or even the outcome of diversified household livelihood strategies: it is also part of a life-cycle process of seeking independence from and often then negotiating interdependence with relatives, particularly parents. An understanding of the relational dimensions of migration should not be regarded as a useful supplement to a separate understanding of more important material dimensions. Rather, material, relational and indeed emotional effects of migration are profoundly interrelated.24

One area of the wellbeing paradigm, called improvement from a secure base (ISB), was of special importance: “In-depth interviews revealed there to be a strong positive ISB motivation for migration to urban areas, particularly Lima: this being associated with terms like ‘betterment’, ‘superación’, ‘improving life conditions’, ‘securing the future’ and ‘upward social mobility.’ ”25 In fact, three ISB goals were statistically the standouts for disparity between aspiration and achievement: “Perhaps the most distinctively ‘Peruvian’ aspect of [the results] is the low satisfaction with achievement of highly ranked status goals for education, salaried employment and professional status.”26

Copestake notes, “The ISB goal can be viewed as corresponding closely with the Western idea of development, and suggests a desire to be part of a modernization process, subject to not taking excessive risks.”27 Certainly, there are among Arequipa’s urban migrants those less voluntary participants in the city’s modernized social arrangement—refugees from natural disaster or insurgent violence. But we can safely postulate that the vast majority of first generation rural to urban migrants, whose primary language is Quechua or Aymara, desire to be in the city precisely in order to participate in the opportunities modernization affords, to which the dominant Spanish-language criollo culture plays host.28 They endeavor, often at great risk, to enroll their children in a Spanish-only school system, to participate in the local urban economy, and to attain status as defined by urban Peruvian culture.

Especially regarding the Spanish-only school system we may recognize dynamics at work that are important to VM.

Whereas, in the past, formal education was exclusively Spanish in medium of instruction and urban and Western in content, the last quarter of the 20th century brought a shift in both policy and practice toward greater inclusion of indigenous language and content, usually under the label of bilingual intercultural education.29

Peru, in other words, made a legal requirement the use of both the local language and Spanish in the classrooms of indigenous communities. As the quotation intimates, the use of local language is necessarily a change not only of medium but also of content. And while the simultaneous use of Spanish might mean that “interculturality” is “simply a new guise for the ‘same old’ enlightened assimilationism that yet maintains the hegemony of Spanish as the language of writing, of formal communication, and of power,” it is also possible that the recourse to local language affords “a genuinely new intercultural ideology that seeks to incorporate indigenous languages, cultures, and ways of knowing into a new national identity.”30 Here we have, for the indigenous peoples themselves, the opportunity to choose, at least to some degree, their local language and local thinking style. In the urban context, we must therefore reckon with the decision of migrants to uproot their families partly in order to place their children in Spanish-only, urban, Western schooling. Second generation migrants usually speak their parents’ language poorly if at all and typically do not use it outside the family context. But why should they, when their parents have sacrificed so much to assimilate to the urban environment?

The question for the missionary in urban Peru, then, is what local language and thinking style to use. The difference between Spanish and Quechua, as well as the difference between indigenous and urban worldviews, is every bit as significant as VM asserts. Yet, is it the missionary’s place to overrule the indigenous migrant’s intention to live in the linguistic world of her second language? If she speaks Spanish but still “thinks” Quechua, need the missionary insist upon a Quechua approach—or is this even a realistic view of language? Nida notes the complexity of what he classifies as “a heterogeneous society with included face-to-face constituency”:

When a single over-all social structure involves not only a dominant group but an included face-to-face constituency, it is essential to recognize not only their differences of structure, but also their interrelations. One of the most serious mistakes in missionary work has been to imagine that Indians in the Americas, for example, should be reached as a separate constituency and developed as an isolated community, when all the time they are in highly dependent relation to the urban center.31

Nida points out that it is more common to err in the other direction, when the missionary “lumps them together without regard to their different structures.”32 So, even in this urban nexus VM provides a corrective when it provokes the sub-cultural sensitivity to which the melting pot can numb the missionary. But I emphasize Nida’s point about “interrelations” here because VM seems to disregard the complexity of the urban environment with its local-only formula:

In a heterogeneous society with an included folk culture there is always the acute problem of dealing with people in a state of transition. How are they to be ministered to—in terms of their rural circumstances, or in their city setting? In a sense, it all depends on where they are and how they view themselves.33

The point here is to juxtapose the urban Latin American scenario with Jim Harries’s rural African context, from which much of the VM perspective apparently arises:

Presumably the content of African languages arises from the content of African lives. Does learning of another language “magically” result in a change in way of life? Or is the widespread use of English making people dependent on what they do not understand because it is not a part of who they are? If we had examples of non-European languages ‘succeeding’ [as the medium of enlightened advanced education] then perhaps we could say that the choice of a European language for an African student is a free or arbitrary choice. As it is, if it is a choice at all, then it is a choice that largely precludes taking the African person’s own context seriously. This default option for African students handicaps them for the rest of their lives.

For example, consider the contrast between monism and dualism. English is “at home” in dualistic communities. When used by dualistic people, it can be extremely productive, because the way it is used fits the contours of life of the people concerned. But if used by a monistic people, it loses its moorings. Its implicit categories are no longer the right ones. It serves a monistic people very poorly. This is the case unless they adapt English so as to use it in their way. Such “adaptation” of English defeats the original intention—that English be a means of easing communication with the wealthy and powerful international community and a means of achieving development and prosperity on Western lines.34

The parallel is strong. Spanish is the colonial language and the “means of achieving development and prosperity on Western lines.” But the practical issue is Harries’s theory of language, which the Peruvian urban migrant’s intentions challenge. The logic of Harries’s argument is that the context (“the content of African lives”) is what determines their language. This is unidirectional, though, because in his view their context actually determines their worldview (monism) first, and their language is merely the manifestation of their worldview. Language is a surface element, which means that learning a new language cannot result in a new worldview (dualism). The context is still determinative, therefore the new language will be employed (adapted) only in terms of the existing worldview.

To this view, the urban migrant essentially poses the question: What if I change contexts? Is it possible for the Quechua speaker to see the world differently enough that her use of Spanish does indeed cohere with the native Spanish speaker’s use? The missionary’s expectation that every person’s worldview can be transformed into that of Jesus and VM’s expectation that the missionary can effectively adopt local language and thinking styles both require an affirmative answer. The oral thinker can learn to think analytically—they “simply do not look at their worlds” analytically, but they can do so every bit as much as the missionary can learn to think orally in order to “use local thinking styles.”

It is clearly paternalistic to require non-Westerners to conform to a Western worldview, but it is equally paternalistic to deny non-Westerners the agency to use non-local languages, non-local thinking styles, and non-local resources should they so choose. It is paternalistic to opt against partnership because potential partners may find it “very difficult, if not impossible” to “understand that the resources provided by the Western mission body to support the spreading of the gospel are not the gospel.”35 The methodology of using only local language, thinking styles, and resources, rigidly applied in urban Latin America, stands to become one more way that Western missionaries say, “We know what’s best for you, whether you realize it or not.”

Another way of putting this is that my context reveals the peculiarity of VM’s stated aim, to seek “more perspectives on VM from Majority World people whose contact with the West has not persuaded them to approach mission like Westerners.”36 I must ask, instead, why not equally seek the perspectives of Majority World people whose intentional contact with the West defines their reality in terms of interculturality and hybridity? The mestizo voice should not be marginalized here as well.37 It calls out a challenge to the notion of local culture as static and closed. It asks missiology to consider new, dynamic configurations that are oral and analytical, narrative and propositional. It seeks dialogue, discernment, compromise, and provisional decisions appropriate to contexts that are in flux.

What About Theological Education?

With the mestizo voice in my ears, then, I want to discuss the question of what language and thinking style to use from within the concrete (though diverse) situation of theological education. There are three principal issues that shape the conversation: (1) the nature of theology, (2) the extant voice of Latin American theological scholarship, and (3) the inevitability of cross-cultural interactions in the globalized world.

The Nature of Theology

There is no doubt that the dominant current of theological reflection in Christian history is part and parcel of the various Western church traditions. The recent overhaul of church history mentioned by Dyron Daughrity in the present issue implies a recovery of previously subdued non-Western theologies as well. Backing away from this development for a wider perspective, Western theology has already been in a long process of self-criticism, intensified by postmodernism, in which the idiosyncrasies, foibles, and blatant deficiencies of Enlightenment streams of Christianity have been laid bare. To some degree, Christianity finds itself in a theological malaise induced by an uncertainty about what to do after the assertion that theology is culturally conditioned. The instruments of communication that might potentially span the gap are themselves subject to the deconstruction of Western imperialism: rational discourse that assumes a particular rationality; communication media embedded in globalization; the practical need for linguae francae that finds a path of least resistance in formerly colonial languages; the written word, which excludes a variety of oral and grassroots theologies—not to mention academic standards such as peer review that further delimit publication. Paralysis results in theological ghettoization.

Personally, I hail from a theological tradition that drank deeply from the Enlightenment well and developed a hermeneutic that programmatically denied the possibility of theological pluralism, cultural or otherwise. Thus, along with the rest of Western Christianity, sectors of the Churches of Christ have been in a period of profound introspection, after which we see clearly that our culturally conditioned ways of talking about God are not universal and definitive. For all that, I maintain a commitment to the primacy of Scripture that must, for the Churches of Christ, be the point of departure for a discussion about the nature of theology.

There is vast diversity among literate cultures; conflating literacy with Western thought will never do.38 Yet, the VM advocacy of only local thinking styles among oral cultures runs up against theological education that makes Scripture central. Nussbaum contends that the contrast between orality and literacy is superficial, but superficial or not, illiteracy is a component of orality. To concretize the issue, what should theological education look like for my illiterate or functionally illiterate Arequipeño brothers and sisters?

Scripture stands as a testimony to the people of God’s enduring, trans-cultural impulse to center theology upon the written word. We may make historical caveats about the illiteracy of the majority, the priority of narrative, and the variety of cultural patterns that mark the reception of the text, but these do not obviate the nature of Scripture as scripture. Moreover, the rabbinic and Hellenistic modes of theology canonized in the New Testament demand to be met on their own terms by readers of every culture. At this point, it hardly needs saying, the cultures of the Bible stand at tremendous distance from US, Latin American, and African cultures alike. How could missionaries who focus upon Scripture not introduce foreign thinking styles? The use of local language in missiology intends to mitigate the distance, but as Nida said, the purpose is still in virtually every context “to inculcate wholly foreign concepts.”

The Western tradition’s historical-critical tools may be indelibly marked by the culture(s) in which they developed, but it is something else to say they are irredeemably compromised. Christopher Wright says:

There is no point, it seems to me, in swinging the pendulum from Western hermeneutical hegemony and ignorance of majority world biblical scholarship to the fashionable adulation of anything and everything that comes from the rest of the world and the rejection of established methods of grammatico-historical exegesis as somehow intrinsically Western, colonial, or imperialistic.39

At their best, historical-critical tools allow us to meet biblical cultures on their own terms. If the choice is between attempting that cross-cultural encounter with the text or subjugating it to the autonomy of a local thinking style, theological education should choose the former in every context. As a scholar who has spent much of his career giving the Latin American context a voice to critique and improve Western hermeneutics, René Padilla’s words on this point are weighty:

It has been argued, however, that . . . the grammatico-historical approach is itself typically western and consequently not binding upon non-western cultures. What are we to say to this? . . .

No interpreters, regardless of their culture, are free to make the text say whatever they want it to say. Their task is to let the text speak for itself, and to that end they inevitably have to engage with the horizons of the text via literary context, grammar, history and so on. . . .

The effort to let Scripture speak without imposing on it a ready-made interpretation is a hermeneutical task binding upon all interpreters, whatever their culture. Unless objectivity is set as a goal, the whole interpretive process is condemned to failure from the start.

Objectivity, however, must not be confused with neutrality.40

Similarly, as a twenty-first century American, my encounters with Irenaeus, the Cappadocian Fathers, Anselm, Calvin, or Karl Barth are all cross-cultural. Theological education actually seeks to challenge the student’s local thinking style, not to place it in a reservation.

Latin American Theological Scholarship

Vibrant theological scholarship already exists in Latin America, though its scale is modest relative to the number of churches it serves. Latin American theological scholarship bears certain prominent traits that present difficulties for VM methods. First, theological leaders think of themselves in terms of Latin America and therefore undertake their task internationally in Spanish or Portuguese. Entities such as the Latin American Theological Fellowship and the Evangelical Association of Theological Education in Latin America represent this characteristic most prominently.41 Second, they are participants in the theological discourse of the global church. Prominent leaders such as Samuel Escobar and René Padilla have played vital roles in the Lausanne Movement, for example. They participate in this global scene, as well as publish, in English.

The weight of these simple observations increases in proportion to the degree that theological leaders of the dominant criollo culture do indeed represent their diverse national contexts. This is not to say that local languages should be ignored—the principles of sound missiology stand. But even in indigenous communities in Latin America, “in the pedagogical process and in the development of an integral formation both languages are necessary and complementary”:42

The educational process, within the framework of the religious conscience is decisive in a socialization which will allow the aboriginal people and other participants to elaborate critical and constructive relations with the society in which we are living. The contrary, within current conditions, would inevitably lead to one form or another of the extermination of minority groups. In this sense, the proposal which certain anthropological currents uphold, to “maintain the indigenous cultures in a state of purity” simply brings on the same tragic consequences that the destruction/absorption plans have produced. . . .

The aim of a school in the aboriginal context is a double one: on one hand, to rescue and affirm the values of their own culture, language, identity, religious cosmovision; and also to offer adequate training so as to enable participation on a level of equality in a multi-cultural society, which at the same time is a dominating and vicious one towards certain sectors.43

If it is necessary to introduce Spanish-language theological education into the indigenous community rather than maintain a purely local-language theology, how much more must Spanish-language theological education be the right approach in the urban context, where indigenous migrants have made dominant-culture socialization their goal? It is invariably best to bring students’ culturally and linguistically determined thinking styles into dialogue with Spanish-language theology, first because balance is necessary in order not to perpetuate marginalization, and ultimately because the “promotion of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue for an improved mutual integration into a pluralistic society” is one of the goals.44

Considering Latin American theological leadership, it is important to note that Nussbaum sees the charismatic movement in Latin America as an example of Jim Harries’s “VM approach to theological training.”45 It may be that we see here the contrast between largely analytical mainstream theological scholarship in Latin America and that of supposedly oral charismatic Christianity. Yet, charismatic Christianity in Latin America is notoriously marked precisely by a lack of theological education, not an alternative “oral” model of it.46 And while many “grassroots” groups have certainly developed without foreign funding, it is not the case that they demonstrate a particular care for local languages—in fact, in Arequipa there are a significant number of native Quechua speakers participating in Spanish charismatic church services. Here as well, urbanization is determinative, and charismatic churches flourished first and foremost in Latin American urban environments.47

If it is right to describe the widely diverse charismatic movement in terms of Nussbaum’s conception of orality, then there is no doubt that the movement’s chief characteristic in regard to thinking style is not local indigeneity but socio-economic marginalization, along with which goes a lower level of education. José Míguez Bonino summarizes various sociological descriptions of Pentecostalism’s emergence:

A series of diverse hypotheses arose, but with a common denominator: They saw Pentecostalism as a movement which found its space in Latin America’s transition from a traditional society to a modern one, or more specifically, in the transition from a largely agrarian society to a partially industrialized one, from a rural to an urban society.48

The socio-economic implications of this transition are well known. The connection is clear between the indigenization of Pentecostal churches and the nationalist stirrings that accompanied the rural to urban transitions of poor, oral, uneducated populations.49 It is, however, difficult to demonstrate that a principle of orality was the cause of indigenization. It is perhaps a simpler explanation that lack of education, and therefore continued orality, became endemic in transitional groups precisely because marginalization prevented them from completing the transition they intended, which in turn led to a break with the wealthy, educated, analytical culture that marginalized them. They did not indigenize because they were oral but remained oral because they indigenized through conflict at a time when their identity was shaped by limited access to education.

To put it this way highlights the fact that one notion of education is regnant in Latin American urban society. There is no romantic notion of local indigenous education at work here. Rather, there are systems of urban poverty that perpetuate a divide between those with greater educational opportunity and those without. In this context, an “oral” rather than analytically trained mind is indeed the default mode of cognition, but it is hard to imagine idealizing such orality as an equally beneficial thinking style in a society that functions economically, legally, and politically in a more analytical mode. Indigenous migrants know as much and for that very reason seek every opportunity to integrate.

Furthermore, it is similarly difficult to think that such orality in the church context should not be challenged by the analytical theological mode that is itself indigenously Latin American and understands its context in the socio-economic terms pertinent to the urban reality of uneducated oral communities. There are strong links here to Paulo Freire’s conscientization—part of a pedagogy for marginalized groups that focuses on “critical literacy,” dialogue, and engagement.50 Freire’s influence on Latin American liberation theology, which much of Latin American evangelical theology has appropriated to varying degrees, finds expression in mainstream Latin American theological scholarship in the tendency toward discourse and interculturality. This disposition is especially concerned to empower the voice of the marginalized, yet it certainly expects theological education to be dialogical rather than monologically “local.”

Cross-Cultural Interaction in the Globalized World

Theological education cannot afford to treat local cultures as closed systems; especially in urbanized contexts, attempting to treat them so is futile. The world is plugged in, and there is no going back. Harries says, “The responsibility is on the West to communicate and interact inter-culturally.”51 That is a justifiable challenge to the ethnocentric Western missionary force; a historically reasonable corrective. Especially because the missionary enters the local culture to instigate the cross-cultural relationship, the burden to assume an incarnational posture is hers. Yet, when it is a matter of the local Christians’ theological education, to insist upon banning non-local thinking styles handicaps the resident of the globalized urban setting. What is more, to place the responsibility of the cross-cultural relationship solely upon the West is, inversely, to advocate the ethnocentricity of local Christians.

Were Western missions to achieve a moratorium on ethnocentric short-term missions and cut all “dead aid,” local Christians would nonetheless need the capacity to self-theologize (a self unmentioned in Nussbaum’s proposal) in dialogue with the global community.52 This precludes the local-only thinking style—or perhaps, more accurately, redefines the local in relation to the global. Of Harries’s context, Mercy Amba Oduyoye said twenty years ago—just before the hyper-acceleration of globalization through the Internet:

We short-circuit the cultural context of Black Africa if we forget that the contemporary culture, except maybe in the remotest of villages (and how many do we have left?), is fast becoming an amalgam of Arabic, European, technological, and African cultures. The context is today as it has been shaped by yesterday, and continues to interact spatially within a world of changing cultures.53

Missiologically, there is little to gain by ascribing moral value to globalization. It is not intrinsically good or evil; it affords opportunity for both. More importantly, it reshapes local realities regardless of our judgments. The missionary who judges it negatively may choose, to the extent possible, not to be an instrument of globalization. But globalization will change her context in any event. Therefore, the missionary task of contextualization must account for that change:

For some missiological reasons, traditional indigenization has been enthusiastic about preserving our Indian culture, especially in Indian dialects. This indigenization has been to a large extent romantic, in the sense of looking to the past and glorifying the noble savage without seriously taking into consideration the present, much less the future. Contextualization is asking for the incarnation of the gospel, not in a traditional and static culture, but in the struggle and agony of the people in search for a new culture, namely, a better way of life for them and their children.54

Beyond the inevitability of globalization, the bare fact that Majority World churches are engaged in cross-cultural mission throughout the world is enough to bring local-only thinking under scrutiny. Just as VM (and missiology) calls Western missionaries to respect local thinking styles, missionaries from oral cultures must learn to meet more analytical cultures on their own terms.55 This critique becomes all the more urgent given that theological leadership of the global church must begin to arise from the Majority World. On this point, no one speaks more eloquently than Andrew Walls:

It is inevitable that the religio-cultural transformation of the 20th century will place Africans and Asians more and more in positions of leadership in world Christianity; the more so since the Great Reverse Migration will ensure that the United States and Europe become more consciously multi-religious as well as more secular entities, and as the once axiomatic identification of the West with Christianity becomes more and more problematic. But any leadership needs to be an informed leadership; it is incongruous to have Western intellectual and theological leadership of a non-Western Church. That Africa will bring gifts to the church is widely recognized, and many see those gifts as including zeal for Christ, unembarrassed witness to him, energy and delight in worship, and fervency in prayer, all of which will bless the wider church. But Africa and Asia must bring other gifts too. Intellectual and theological leadership of the Church must increasingly come from Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a result, theological adequacy, rubbing along, is not going to be enough. There must be excellence, world-quality capacity for leadership. Africa, Asia and Latin America will increasingly have to be the powerhouses of Christian thought.

If we translate this into academic terms, it means that Africa, Asia and Latin America must first become centers of creative thinking, world leaders in biblical and theological studies. And theological and biblical studies may be one of the few disciplines, possibly even the only one, in which this will be true for much of the area. Economic and other factors will always give Europe, North America and East Asia the edge in scientific and technological disciplines, and in many branches of the humanities and social sciences. But for the sake of the Christian Church worldwide, Africa, all Asia and Latin America, home to so many Christians, must pull their true theological weight.56

This is not to reduce theological studies to Western modes of academia. There is much that other cultural modes of study and reflection can bring to balance and correct Western scholarship:

It may again be time for Christians to save the academy. And it may be that salvation will come from the non-Western world; that in Africa and Asia and Latin America the scholarly ideal will be re-ignited, and scholarship seen as a vocation. To follow a calling means putting other things aside as distractions, laying aside every weight; and the scholarly vocation may be best fostered by breaking with some of the Western models; developing new structures that encourage the community of scholars, rather than their competition. And in theological scholarship—the area in which Africa and Asia and Latin America have to excel for the sake of the worldwide Church—this will mean scholarly communities that maintain a life of worship and are in active relation to Christian mission.57

By itself, the Western church’s need for an intelligible, dialogical corrective from Majority World theological leadership is a powerful reason not to establish local Majority World churches with a purely self-oriented vision of ecclesial existence. The resistance to dependency and paternalism that powerfully compels the conscientious Western missionary should not engender a reactionary methodology that ultimately blinds the local church to God’s global mission. Theological education of local Majority World churches for global theological leadership cannot be reduced to Western academia, but it must certainly encompass Western modes of theological reflection.

What Is Vulnerability?

I affirm the need for vulnerability in mission. The narrative of Jesus’ incarnation, life, and death provides the theological imperatives for mission.58 Nonetheless, those imperatives need nuance. It rings true that Western missions has often compromised its own missiological principles because of the temptation to work from a place of strength and convenience. At the same time, it is not clear that mission in weakness and vulnerability can be flatly equated with exclusive localness.

On one hand, Jesus certainly did not leave humanity to its own resources. As Mary Lederleitner puts it, “Jesus is the ultimate high-powered and highly resourced partner in global mission. . . . I am glad Jesus didn’t say, ‘You know, there is such a big gap between what I can do and what you can do. Why don’t we just work separately?’ ”59 I get the sense that the VM response to this point is that it was the Holy Spirit rather than Jesus who brought these “outside resources” to bear, and that missionaries have relied on their own resources rather than the Holy Spirit. Yet, the analogical mode in which incarnational theology issues its imperatives for mission also permits us to compare Jesus’ power and authority with whatever resources the Creator has placed at our disposal. Taking for granted a biblical worldview, what resources would a missionary actually arrogate to herself, as her own strength?

On the other hand, there is nothing more vulnerable than the attempt to negotiate cross-cultural partnership in the most faithful and beneficial way in our postcolonial reality. The missionary who seeks to prevent dependency and facilitate sustainability is far more vulnerable to frustration and failure when she serves in a mode of genuine mutuality and intercultural dialogue rather than avoiding the complexity of the cross-cultural relationship and the reality of the globalized world. Absolute local-only methods may take missiology to its logical conclusion, but in abstraction from local realities, they may serve as oversimplified answers to questions whose difficulty makes us truly vulnerable.

An Appreciative Comparison

I conclude with a comparison between VM and the mission work I am a part of in Arequipa, Peru. There are two facets of the work in Arequipa: church ministry and development ministry. The missionaries conceive of both together in terms of kingdom sowing, but for practical and heuristic purposes they may be separated. I limit my comments to church ministry.60

Historically, Churches of Christ have tended toward a building-oriented strategy in Peruvian (and Latin American) urban church planting, whether renting or building facilities in order to establish a congregation or beginning in homes with a view to renting or building facilities. In either case, raising funds from US churches has been normal. Our intention to establish churches in poor urban communities caused us to doubt the appropriateness of such an approach. We concluded our study of the context:

Naturally, in the context of the poor, the rental or construction of a building is neither reproducible nor often sustainable. For churches intended to multiply themselves, it is not an acceptable model of church planting. Practically, churches that would choose to train leaders capable of growing congregations large enough to reproduce the building model will stifle the potential for church multiplication. This leads to a second point—that of leadership training. Building-centered strategies are virtually always locked into a pastor-laity dichotomy fostered by the institutional structure of the church. The assumed roles and tasks of church leadership professionalize ministry to the detriment of church-wide equipping. The assumed goal of growing large further removes the possibility of “ministry” from many would-be spiritual leaders and frustrates even natural leaders’ best efforts. Furthermore, the quality of the church communities that have had the most growth is contingent on the dynamics of small groups that have no need for a building. Lastly, the building of church buildings among Peru’s poor, as well as the leadership style it assumes, fails to contrast strongly enough with the religiosity that spiritually impoverishes nominal Catholic believers. Such an approach cannot adequately redefine and reconstitute “church” for new Christians. On each of these points, a building-centered strategy is at odds with the contextual factors uncovered by the best of Latin American missiologists and sociologists.61

Thus, we bring new Christians into a house church network. The use of local resources is not our only concern, but our critique of standard strategies does have some similarity with Nussbaum’s discussion of the financial implications of the “analytical church”:

Biases that go with assuming a mature church must be an analytical church

  1. Professionalization—the leaders are the best analysts; laity tag along.
  2. That kind of leader needs special schooling for analyzing the Bible.
  3. A congregation must be big enough to support a professional pastor.
  4. That size of congregation will need a building.
  5. The building, the schooling, and the pastor all require major funding.62

These assumptions are generally typical in my context as well. Yet, the issue is really professionalization—a particular model of theological education—not a particular thinking style.63 Because theological education in the urban Peruvian church must take into account the nature of theology as dialogue with the historical church, dialogue with extant Latin American theological leadership, and dialogue with the global church within the globalized world, we are searching for an alternative model of theological education that does not professionalize students and conforms to the economic reality of Arequipa. Nussbaum’s proposal is suggestive:

Alternative model if a mature church can be an oral-thinking church

  1. The laity can be involved in developing the theology of the group.
  2. Special schooling not required for leaders; they can be apprenticed.
  3. Congregations can thrive and sub-divide though too small to support a pastor.
  4. Buildings are optional.
  5. Little or no funding required.64

Practically, apprenticeship is the model of theological education for Nussbaum’s oral-thinking church. The rest are implications of refusing to professionalize ministry or otherwise grow congregations into large budget-maintenance mechanisms—implications that are also the goals of an alternative theological education model in Arequipa. The question, then, is whether apprenticeship will be sufficient to equip theological leaders to serve the urban Peruvian church. We affirm the essential commitment of VM: to foster an ecclesial existence among poor urban communities that is truly Peruvian (self-governing), economically sustainable (self-sustaining), and reproducible as the Peruvian church participates in God’s mission (self-propagating). Nonetheless, we must also promote the “fourth self”: self-theologizing.

Self-theologizing in the urban Peruvian context must not be a detriment to the economic sustainability of the church. In fact, because theology is done by the church, the nature of the church as contextual, sustainable, and missional should provide strictures for its self-theologizing, including the equipping of those gifted to be theological leaders. Therefore, it is unreasonable that theological education would entail costs incommensurate with the local economy or require foreign subsidy.

At the same time, theology is the point where historical, social, and global dialogue become indispensable. While the trappings of the Western academic edifice are both unsustainable and unnecessary for the education of poor Peruvian theologians, there may be some vital components that are more costly than the local church can afford. For example, one area where we have departed from a local-only resource methodology in Arequipa is the acquisition of Spanish theological texts. Books are more expensive in Peru than in the US, despite the relative weakness of the Peruvian economy. Therefore, US Christians have donated texts to the church in Arequipa. Is this the slippery slope of dependency, or is there a place for cautious, deliberate collaboration?

Discussing the “western captivity of theology,” Andrew Kirk, a theological educator in Latin America and other Majority World contexts, articulates the basic problem that theological education faces in contexts such as Arequipa’s:

Theological education is restricted in many instances to those who have reached a particular level of academic achievement, who can lay hands on sufficient financial resources for study and who share the cultural background of the educator. How is theological education to be made available to people who inhabit a “non-book” culture, i.e. for those who have not succeeded in meeting the expectations of the normal educational process? Present patterns of theological education will probably continue to reinforce the Western Church’s alienation in deprived, urban areas. How is it possible for existing Western theology, given its cultural assumptions, to equip a genuinely indigenous leadership in all strata of society?65

Both local resources and local thinking styles are at issue when we decide to make the theological library a component of education. It is not a decision to make lightly. Of course, the same can be said about the decision to translate, mass publish, and disseminate the Bible. Even if we hold firmly to VM convictions, when practical benefit outweighs idealism we must discern legitimate compromises. Undoubtedly, Christianity can thrive and expand without access to theological texts. But what is most beneficial for the urban Peruvian church: absolute economic independence or access to historical, social, and global dialogue? This is a situational dilemma that cannot be reduced to a choice between right and wrong but instead requires discernment of the contextually most beneficial option—which in turn makes us vulnerable to error. We must pose such questions prayerfully and humbly. And it is perhaps best to reiterate that our commitment to missiological principles already excludes Western academic institutionalism, ministerial professionalization, and economically unsustainable church forms.

I believe interculturality is the best mode for Latin American theological education—and probably for the global church of the twenty-first century. In Peru, at least, it is already an intelligible pedagogical framework. In this dialogical mode, which fosters theological interdependence, hybridity, and “a new level of partnership that is fully bi-directional,” it is a legitimate compromise for wealthy churches to put theological tools at the disposal of under-resourced churches.66 The use of those tools in a contextually appropriate educational framework will require creativity, experimentation, a permanently repentant heart, and attention to Latin American theologians who are already leading the way.67

VM seems to look at such a compromise with the expectation of impending dependency and paternalism because the history of Western missions justifies pessimism. Western missionaries have long felt empowered to compromise where it seemed expedient without regard for the imperative of vulnerability or the long-term cost of “strength.” Looking upon a global missionary movement prone to compromises that have undermined missiological principles, it seems reasonable to feel a more radical position is the only alternative for real change. My call for discernment and cautious compromise can appear to be just another path back to colonialist practices. I have great sympathy with the VM perspective and great appreciation for its intention to be consistent. In many cases, missiological principles need simply to be carried to their logical, hard conclusions. Yet, missiology also gifts us the fundamental insight of contextualization: there are no universal formulas. Urbanization and globalization are not excuses for missiological delinquency, but they are realities that complicate our notions of local, create new opportunities that are both risky and possibly constructive, and, ultimately, may require more than a local-only methodology.

Greg McKinzie ( is a missionary in Arequipa, Peru, where he partners in holistic evangelism with Team Arequipa ( and The Christian Urban Development Association ( He is a graduate (MDiv) of Harding Graduate School of Religion. He can be contacted at


Alliance for Vulnerable Mission.

Almada, Samuel. “Intercultural Dialogue Perspectives in Theological Education with Originary People.” Journal of Latin American Hermeneutics 1 (Summer 2004): 1–11.

Asociación Evangélica de Educación Theológica en América Latina.

Bonino, José Míguez. Faces of Latin American Protestantism: 1993 Carnahan Lectures. Translated by Eugene L. Stockwell. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Centro de Estudios Teológicos Interdisciplinarios. “Diplomatura en Estudios Teológicos Interdisciplinarios.” 2010.

Copestake, James. “Development and Wellbeing in Peru: Comparing Global and Local Views.” WeD Working Paper 09/48. Wellbeing in Developing Countries Research Group. June 2009.

________, ed. Wellbeing and Development in Peru: Local and Universal Views Confronted. Studies of the Americas. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Diccionario de la Lengua Espanola de la Real Academia Espanola. 22nd ed. New York: French and European Publications, 2001.

Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In around the World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002.

Enns, Marlene. “Theological Education in Light of Cultural Variations of Reasoning: Some Educational Issues.” Common Ground Journal 3, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 76–87.

Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana.

Freire Institute. “Conscientization.” Concepts Used by Paulo Freire. Paulo Freire.

González, Ondina E., and Justo L. González. Christianity in Latin America: A History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Harries, Jim. “The Need for Indigenous Languages and Resources in Mission to Africa in the Light of the Presence of Monism/Witchcraft.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 51–67.

Hesselgrave, David J. Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991.

Hiebert, Paul G. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985.

________. Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.

Hodges, Melvin L. The Indigenous Church: Including The Indigenous Church and the Missionary. Kindle ed. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2009.

Hornberger, Nancy H. “Bilingual Education Policy and Practice in the Andes: Ideological Paradox and Intercultural Possibility.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly 31, no. 2 (June 2000): 173–201.

Jeong, Paul Yonggap. “ ‘Mission in Weakness and Vulnerability’ in Selected Writings: From Lesslie Newbigin’s and David Bosch’s Missiological Books.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 10–20.

Kirk, J. Andrew. “Re-envisioning the Theological Curriculum as if the Missio Dei Mattered.” Common Ground Journal 3, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 23–40.

Langford, Ben. “The Art of the Weak: From a Theology of the Cross to Missional Praxis.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 3, no. 1 (February 2012): 14–25.

Lederleitner, Mary T. Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010.

Lingenfelter, Sherwood, and Marvin K. Mayers. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Nida, Eugene A. Customs and Cultures: Anthropology for Christian Missions. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1982.

________. Message and Mission: The Communication of the Christian Faith. Rev. ed. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1990.

Núñez C., Emilio Antonio, and William David Taylor. Crisis and Hope in Latin America: An Evangelical Perspective. Rev. ed. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1996.

Nussbaum, Stan. “Vulnerable Mission Strategies.” Global Missiology 10, no. 2 (2013):

________. “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 68–80.

Oduyoye, Mercy Amba. “Contextualization as a Dynamic in Theological Education.” Theological Education 30, Supplement 1 (Autumn 1993): 107–20.

Padilla, C. René. “The Interpreted Word: Reflections on Contextual Hermeneutics.” Themelios 7, no. 1 (September 1981): 18–23.

Reese, Robert. “Western Missions and Dependency.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 2, no. 2 (August 2011): 59–72.

Roberts, Peter. “Extending Literate Horizons: Paulo Freire and the Multidimensional Word.” Educational Review 50, no. 2 (June 1998): 105–14.

Rodgers, Dennis, Jo Beall, and Ravi Kanbur. Latin American Urban Development into the 21st Century: Towards a Renewed Perspective on the City. Studies in Development Economics and Policy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Tennent, Timothy. “Theological Education in the Context of World Christianity.” Keynote address at the 2012 Lausanne Consultation on Global Theological Education. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Walls, Andrew F. “World Christianity, Theological Education and Scholarship.” Transformation 28, no. 4 (October 2011): 235–40.

Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.

1 I restrict my comments to the conference material published in the present issue of Missio Dei, with primary reference to Stan Nussbaum’s article (and his related article “Vulnerable Mission Strategies” in the latest issue of Global Missiology) and secondary reference to other conference papers.

2 Vulnerable Mission, “Alliance for Vulnerable Mission,”

3 Stan Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 70.

4 I do not attempt to delimit mainstream missiology here but assume with VM advocates that common theory and practice, as reflected in peer reviewed and edited publications and in Christian missions all over the world in the last century, have recognizable tendencies. It is important to note, however, that VM’s argument assumes there is a great divide between what we say (missiology) and what we do (practice), and then it attributes the failure back to missiology. The problem with this procedure is twofold. One, it relegates missiology to theory. In fact, missiology is among the practical theological disciplines and is in large part about methods. Two, it falsely attributes to missiology the failure of implementation as a failure of methodology. Yet, VM advocates would not want the same standard applied to themselves: the failure to put VM methods into practice would not necessarily signify a failure of VM methods. By “missiology,” therefore, I mean typical mission methodology, both before and after it is put into practice.

5 Stan Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies,” Global Missiology 10, no. 2 (2013):

6 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 71.

7 Ibid.

8 Mary T. Lederleitner, Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010).

9 Nussbaum’s taxonomy undoubtedly has heuristic value, and my point is not to criticize the exigencies of table formatting.

10 Melvin L. Hodges, The Indigenous Church: Including The Indigenous Church and the Missionary, Kindle ed. (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2009), locs. 1212–14.

11 Ibid., loc. 1124. See loc. 128 for the specific connection to Allen’s missiology.

12 Robert Reese, “Western Missions and Dependency,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 2, no. 2 (August 2011): 69.

13 David J. Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 355.

14 Eugene A. Nida, Customs and Cultures: Anthropology for Christian Missions (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1982), 212–13.

15 E.g., Eugene A. Nida, Message and Mission: The Communication of the Christian Faith, rev. ed. (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1990). Writing about the communication of the faith, Nida deals with many complex anthropological issues. Yet, he never says that the communicator should use the local language. For a linguist and translator helping missionaries overcome cultural disparities, the use of local languages is a sine qua non. It is so self-evident, there is no need to say it.

16 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 74, states that his proposal contributes to the “trend in missiology to attend to thinking style as an aspect of worldview. This is greatly needed because the message has not got through to many mission practitioners and even mission agency leaders yet. They do not comprehend the orality issue and assume it as a core aspect of mission strategy in nearly the same way they assume contextualization and sustainability.”

17 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 72.

18 Ibid.

19 Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In around the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002), 142–49; Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 51–64.

20 Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), esp. chs. 2, 4, and 5.

21 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 73.

22 Dennis Rodgers, Jo Beall, and Ravi Kanbur, Latin American Urban Development into the 21st Century: Towards a Renewed Perspective on the City, Studies in Development Economics and Policy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 3.

23 Ibid., 8.

24 James Copestake, “Development and Wellbeing in Peru: Comparing Global and Local Views,” WeD Working Paper 09/48, Wellbeing in Developing Countries Research Group (June 2009), 18–19,; See James Copestake, ed., Wellbeing and Development in Peru: Local and Universal Views Confronted, Studies of the Americas (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) for the complete study.

25 Copestake, “Development and Wellbeing in Peru,” 18.

26 Ibid., 20; emphasis added.

27 Ibid., 14.

28 I am using criollo in the general sense of “colonial descent.” The word has a variety of uses, and in Peru it refers to a coastal subculture that combines Spanish, indigenous, and African elements (similar to the English word creole). But originally, the term referred to children of Iberian descent born in Latin America. In general usage, it has now come to mean “local” or “homegrown.” Yet, in much of the literature on Latin American history and culture, it still denotes Iberian identity reshaped by the Latin American context. This etymology is itself a manifestation of the way the colonial becomes the local.

29 Nancy H. Hornberger, “Bilingual Education Policy and Practice in the Andes: Ideological Paradox and Intercultural Possibility,” Anthropology and Education Quarterly 31, no. 2 (June 2000): 176.

30 Ibid., 177.

31 Nida, Message and Mission, 188–89.

32 Ibid, 189.

33 Ibid.; emphasis added.

34 Jim Harries, “The Need for Indigenous Languages and Resources in Mission to Africa in Light of the Presence of Monism/Witchcraft,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 57.

35 Ibid., 60–61.

36 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 77.

37 I am using the term mestizo in the sense of cultural hybridity. See Diccionario de la Lengua Espanola de la Real Academia Espanola, 22nd ed., s.v. “mestizo, za,” “Regarding culture, spiritual matters, etc.: Resulting from the mixture of different cultures.” (author’s translation).

38 See, e.g., the discussion of various logics in Marlene Enns, “Theological Education in Light of Cultural Variations of Reasoning: Some Educational Issues,” Common Ground Journal 3, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 76–87. University students from both China and the US are both highly literate, but Chinese students reason holistically.

39 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 42, fn. 14.

40 C. René Padilla, “The Interpreted Word: Reflections on Contextual Hermeneutics,” Themelios 7, no. 1 (September 1981): 21.

41 See Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana,; Asociación Evangélica de Educación Theológica en América Latina,

42 Samuel Almada, “Intercultural Dialogue Perspectives in Theological Education with Originary People,” Journal of Latin American Hermeneutics 1 (Summer 2004): 3.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid., 2.

45 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 75.

46 See Emilio Antonio Núñez C. and William David Taylor, Crisis and Hope in Latin America: An Evangelical Perspective, rev. ed. (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1996), 316, 464 for representative general comments. See also José Míguez Bonino, Faces of Latin American Protestantism: 1993 Carnahan Lectures, trans. Eugene L. Stockwell (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 72–75. His discussion of Latin American Pentecostal theology deals with “the relation between the ‘lineal logic’ and ‘enlightened’ rationality which we usually take for granted, and the rationality of the symbolic.” He concludes that “the need remains for the Pentecostal movement to examine its ‘explicit’ theology in terms of the ‘implicit’ theology in its foundational experience” and examines how fundamentalism short-circuits the encounter with the biblical text.

47 Ondina E. González and Justo L. González, Christianity in Latin America: A History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 281, 295.

48 Bonino, 57–58.

49 González and González, ch. 10, passim, esp. 276.

50 For Freire, “critical literacy” was vitally important for conscientization, “the process of developing a critical awareness of one’s social reality through reflection and action” Freire Institute, “Conscientization,” For an overview of Freire’s theory of critical literacy, see also Peter Roberts, “Extending Literate Horizons: Paulo Freire and the Multidimensional Word,” Educational Review 50, no. 2 (June 1998): 105–114.

51 Harries, 64.

52 Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), ch. 8.

53 Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “Contextualization as a Dynamic in Theological Education,” Theological Education 30, Supplement 1 (Autumn 1993): 110.

54 Núñez and Taylor, 336–37.

55 Paul Yonggap Jeong, “ ‘Mission in Weakness and Vulnerability’ in Selected Writings: From Lesslie Newbigin’s and David Bosch’s Missiological Books,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 17. Jeong similarly applies the missiology of weakness and vulnerability to “the missionary forces from the Majority World, since [they] tend to think, generally speaking, that [they] . . . are now replacing Western missionary forces.”

56 Andrew F. Walls, “World Christianity, Theological Education and Scholarship,” Transformation 28, no. 4 (October 2011): 238.

57 Ibid., 239.

58 See Jeong; Ben Langford, “The Art of the Weak: From a Theology of the Cross to Missional Praxis,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 3, no. 1 (February 2012): 14–25. The contrast between a theology of the cross (which is the consummation of the vulnerability of Jesus’ incarnation and life) and a theology of glory (or glorification, in Pauline terms) is an eschatological one that perhaps assumes a false dichotomy. Mission must locate itself between the already and the not yet in the proclamation of the kingdom, which implies the triumph of the king but permits no ecclesial triumphalism. The resurrection was a foretaste of the future and the inauguration of a new epoch, and the Spirit brings the power of the resurrection and glorification into the present life of the church (Eph 1:17–23). Thus, the church’s life is a sign of the future when it conforms to the way of Jesus, who lived the foolishness and weakness of the cross because he was completely in step with the Spirit (1 Cor 1:18–2:14). The foolishness and weakness of the cross is the power (du/namiß) and wisdom (sofi÷a) of God (1 Cor 1:24) that Paul prayed for the church (Eph 1:17, 19). The resurrection and glorification of Jesus, then, is the vindication of Jesus’ way rather than its supersession. Glorification cannot be understood apart from the cross (John 12:23–33).

59 Lederleitner, 124.

60 The development facet is an equally relevant case study but would require an entire paper of its own. See for an idea of what our developmental ministry looks like. Of particular relevance to the present discussion is our Living Libraries program, which promotes literacy by providing Peruvian public school teachers with staff development opportunities in the area of literacy education and by placing age-appropriate reading books in public schools that do not have funding for libraries. The local thinking style is surely marked by illiteracy or functional illiteracy (ability to read but inability to comprehend), but we agree with the Peruvian school system that this should not be the case. Evangelism and church growth is in fact subject to the limitations of adults who long to read the Bible for themselves (perhaps a “Protestant ideal” but undoubtedly an aspiration of many Peruvians I have met) but cannot follow the thought units of large portions of the Bible. Therefore, we see promoting the literacy of children in the present as a gift to the church in the future (and to Peruvian society as a whole). To that end, the use of foreign resources to supply books to school children is a compromise we are willing to make.

61 Greg McKinzie, unpublished strategy document for the Team Arequipa mission work.

62 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 73.

63 Additionally, in Latin America, the impulse to rent or build a building is not solely based upon the size of a group necessary to support a professional pastor. Deeply embedded conceptions of church, holy space, and religious identity carry over unchallenged from popular Roman Catholicism into much of evangelical Christianity.

64 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 73.

65 J. Andrew Kirk, “Re-envisioning the Theological Curriculum as if the Missio Dei Mattered,” Common Ground Journal 3, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 33–34.

66 Timothy Tennent, “Theological Education in the Context of World Christianity,” keynote address at the 2012 Lausanne Consultation on Global Theological Education, held at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary,

67 See, e.g., the curriculum of the Centro de Estudios Teológicos Interdisciplinarios (CETI): CETI is a ministry of the Kairos Foundation:

Kairos was] formed as a community in 1976 by a group of Christian leaders residing in Argentina. Its main objective was the formation of disciples of Jesus Christ who would relate their faith to every aspect of life and particularly to their own professions. In 1987 the community was registered as a non-profit organisation called ‘Fundación Kairós’. For over thirty years Kairos has been inspired and led by René and Catharine Padilla.”

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Vulnerable Mission in Angola: An Intra-African Conversation with Jim Harries

The Vulnerable Mission movement grew first in the rich soil of rural Western Kenya, based in the deeply contextual insights of Jim Harries. Africa, however, is large, diverse, and changing. This article considers what Vulnerable Mission might look like in another corner of Africa: the cities of Angola. The contextual differences require that Harries’s proposals undergo considerable alteration. Vulnerable Mission strategies in Angola must recognize Portuguese as a truly local, African language and must take into consideration the globalizing changes that have redefined local identity and resources.

In its relatively brief existence, the concept of Vulnerable Mission has undergone a subtle but far-reaching seismic shift in its foundational assumptions—a shift which perhaps the seismographs of the movement have not adequately detected. This shift, in a word, is context. VM grew first from the fertile soil of the African continent, specifically in the life-experience and work of Jim Harries, long-term missionary to rural Zambia and rural Kenya. Harries’s writings draw deeply from local African culture and language, struggles in the African church, and pan-African philosophy. As a result, Harries’s strategic proposals are explicitly aimed at mission to Africa.1 However, his proposals struck a chord with mission practitioners from around the world, and in recent years his Alliance for Vulnerable Mission2 has attracted voices from Latin America and Asia and others who write on behalf of the “Majority World” at large.3

Without doubt, the VM discussion has much to offer non-African contexts. But I suggest that the shift in the discussion has happened so rapidly as to preclude careful reflection on the side effects of abandoning the contextual roots of the discussion.4 Therefore, in this reflection paper I intend to take the VM conversation back to its roots: I engage in an intra-African conversation with Jim Harries. Specifically, I will interact substantively only with Harries’s thought as canonized in his 2011 volume Vulnerable Mission, a collection of fourteen previously published articles written as early as 1997.5

Harries’s encapsulated strategic proposals—the use of local languages and local resources—are nothing novel to missiology.6 Rather, the strength of his contribution lies in his exposition and defense of those proposals grounded deeply in his personal and studied experience of Africa over the last two and a half decades. His writings are replete with references to Luo customs; linguistic comparisons of Dholuo, Kiswahili, and English; and ground-level assessments of “what is really going on” in African initiated churches. Thus he provides a refreshing and at times unsettling corrective to much current missiology that pays lip-service to contextualization but lacks the deep contextual grounding to substantiate its claims.

Unfortunately, Harries’s strength is also his weakness. From the vantage point of a Luo village in Western Kenya, he writes on behalf of plenary sub-Saharan Africa.7 In this tendency to gloss over significant contextual differences across the continent, Harries can claim a prestigious heritage of African scholarship. Classic studies of African culture such as John Mbiti’s African Religions and Philosophy and Geoffrey Parrinder’s African Traditional Religion mix examples indiscriminately from West, East, and Southern Africa, yet still today are widely cited to substantiate missiological approaches in particular African contexts that may or may not fit the paradigms they espouse.8 Such generalization may have been justified in a fledgling field of study, but it is time for African missiology to come of age, resisting the temptation to paint with one brush a continent that incorporates 54 sovereign nations, over 1,000 languages, countless local histories, and a stunning diversity of current economic and social influences.

To highlight the need for contextual sensitivity, therefore, I bring to the conversation my local experience in another corner of Africa: the city of Huambo, central Angola. Through reflection on Angola’s context and an analysis of how Harries’s assumptions and proposals fit (or do not fit) this local setting, this essay will demonstrate the need for two key correctives to Harries’s proposals. First, the use of local languages in African missions may well need to include so-called “European” languages. Second, the identification of local languages and local resources may well be more globalized, even Westernized, than Harries is willing to admit. At stake in this discussion is our view of what Africa really is and our willingness to fearlessly contextualize the VM approach amidst the whirlwind of globalizing change on the African continent.

Introduction to Modern Angola9

To say that Angola is a former Portuguese colony is true but insufficient to convey the depth of impact the Portuguese had. A quick contrast with the British colonization of Kenya may at least provide some idea. The Portuguese arrived in Angola in 1483; within a decade they had built their first Catholic mission and begun their cultural expansion, and within three centuries they had militarily and economically subjugated the vast majority of what is today Angola.10 The British, on the other hand, arrived in Kenya with cultural impact only in the 1880s—a difference of 400 years. The Portuguese founded Luanda, Angola’s capital and largest city, in 1576; the British founded Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and largest city, in 1899. At the height of colonial occupation, more than 335,000 Portuguese called Angola home;11 fewer than 56,000 British lived in Kenya.12 From early days Portuguese colonists intermarried with black Angolans, creating a large and influential mestiço population;13 interracial marriage in British Kenya was rare. The Portuguese settled widely across Angola, founding cities as they went; in Kenya a large segment of the British population attempted to isolate themselves in the “White Highlands.” The British began pulling out of power in Kenya in 1959, granting full independence in 1963.14 At that time, Portugal was busy redoubling their presence in Angola; independence would come only in 1975 after an intense and prolonged military struggle. In short, compared to other colonial powers in Africa, the Portuguese arrived much earlier, dug in deeper, and stayed longer.

Even before the Portuguese left Angola, a civil war erupted that would dominate Angola’s existence for twenty-seven years, devastating the country until 2002. The war shaped modern Angola in many ways, but three are especially relevant to our study. In all three cases, the war continued and substantially accelerated trends that were already in progress from colonial times:

  1. Intermixing of ethnolinguistic groups. After the abolishment of the slave trade, a widespread colonial system of forced labor caused large-scale internal displacement and thus intermixing of Angola’s tribal groups.15 But the civil war intensified this displacement many times over. People fled to other regions to escape the violence and destruction and then would flee again when war arrived at their new location. In addition, both government and rebel forces pressed any available men or children into military service, taking them to every corner of the country, many never to return home. This intermixing resulted in the breakdown of tribal barriers. In some cases whole tribal societies were broken down by the war, to be replaced with the national identity-shaping experience of civil war.16
  2. Urbanization. In 1960, before the war for independence and the civil war, urbanization in Angola reached 11% as a result of normal push/pull forces.17 The wars, especially the civil war, created massive internal displacement as villagers fled the war, often being uprooted two or three times before finally “settling” in the relative safety of a provincial city such as Malange, Benguela, or Huambo.18 But they were not safe even there when the war reached the cities in 1993 and 1994—wave upon wave made their way to Luanda, bloating the capital’s population many times over.19 The result: by the end of the war well over half of the country’s population lived in urban areas.20 Contrary to Western assumptions, they would not return “home” to the rural areas. The only “home” they had was the city. Current estimates place Angola’s urban population at 59% of the total population.21
  3. Use of the Portuguese language. The colonizers mandated education in Portuguese, and mission schools across Angola provided the means for the goal.22 But the war succeeded beyond the colonizers’ dreams. Precisely through the processes of urbanization and intertribal mixing, Portuguese became the only viable means of communicating on a daily basis. In addition, because the UNITA rebels championed the use of Bantu languages, the MPLA (government) forces that controlled the cities outlawed use of indigenous languages, allowing only Portuguese. As a result of this confluence of factors, an entire generation of Angolans that function primarily in Portuguese has reached adulthood. Tony Hodges relates the stunning statistics of a 1996 survey:

No less than 42 per cent of children under 9 years of age and 34 per cent of those between 10 and 19 speak Portuguese as their first language. . . . It is now common to find young Angolans, especially in Luanda, who do not speak any African languages at all—a situation which has no parallel elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. The implication is clear: almost half of today’s children are being brought up to speak Portuguese as their first language, and Portuguese seems set to outstrip all the African languages.23

That was 17 years ago. Those “children under 9 years of age” are now parents of a second generation of Angolans who speak Portuguese as their mother tongue—and often as their only tongue.

The war ended abruptly 11 years ago, but its impact remains. Angola today is an urbanized nation where tribal identities have been blurred and a national identity has grown strong, epitomized by the use of the Portuguese language as the language of Angola. Mission in Angola, even Vulnerable Mission, must take account of this reality. In the following section I will share our mission team’s attempt to engage with this bewildering context that is Angola. In the process, the reader will get a glimpse into what these national statistics look like from ground level.

Introduction to Our Ministry in Angola

In July 2011, our mission team of six adults and four children moved to Angola for the purpose of long-term church-planting ministry. Though we are the first long-term missionaries from the Stone-Campbell Movement to Angola, we did not come with a pioneering mentality. Rather, we took seriously the Christendom context: 95% of Angolans claim to be Christian,24 and churches are ubiquitous but proverbially shallow in biblical knowledge. Rather than create more division within this “Christian” context, we accepted the invitation to work with the Igreja de Cristo em Angola (ICA), an indigenous Angolan church movement. ICA began as an interdenominational association of Angolan Christians praying for peace in Angola, and in 1974 they adopted the name Igreja de Cristo, meaning “Church of Christ.” In the mid-1980s ICA first learned about “Churches of Christ” in other nations, specifically Brazil and Portugal, and over the next two decades had sporadic interactions with these churches. For the most part, however, ICA continued to make its own way forward, isolated from the world by the same factors that kept Angola as a whole isolated during many years. As a result, the dreaded dependency disease has not afflicted ICA—what they’ve accomplished, they’ve accomplished without outside assistance—and their theology and church practice are characteristically Angolan. When we arrived, ICA comprised about 36 congregations, mostly in Luanda and the northern regions of the country. They asked us to help in Bible teaching, church planting, evangelism, and social outreach ministries.

Our team was determined not to make a mess of the promising situation into which we stepped. So as not to introduce dependency, we have very carefully avoided the use of Western resources in ministry.25 Also, we have been careful to avoid stepping into positions of power—but that has been easy. In the existing ICA systems of power and influence, we young missionaries are welcome participants but decidedly low on the totem pole!

After surveying many possible locations, we settled in Huambo, an urban center of perhaps 350,000 in one of the hardest-hit regions during the civil war.26 Huambo’s geographic centrality makes it an ideal strategic base for ministry with a nationwide focus; indeed, our team has already visited churches in 16 of Angola’s 18 provinces. We are currently gaining experience in church planting in the Huambo area in a variety of settings: urban, peri-urban, and rural.27 We pray that in the future this experience will be useful as we mentor Angolans in planting and maturing healthy churches with a nationwide scope. In all we do we try to partner with Angolans rather than working alone. This is not the financial “partnership” oft glorified and much maligned in missiological literature, but the daily camaraderie of getting our hands dirty together in the labor of church planting and maturation. God heard our strategic plans as prayers, and he has graciously allowed our team to participate in the planting of four new churches in the past year, all initiated by our Angolan coworkers.

I live with my family in an Angolan-style house in the bairro (low-class high-density peri-urban neighborhood) of São Luís on the outskirts of Huambo city.28 Day after day I walk fifteen minutes through the labyrinth of narrow dirt alleyways to the area of the São Luís ICA church plant, where I devote the bulk of my ministry efforts. In the bairro my interaction with Angolans is ground-level, devoid of grandeur. I drink kissangwa in their homes; I overhear drunken brawls in nearby courtyards; I sit in solidarity with family members at their funeral wakes; I join in arguments about the local football scene; I stumble over my phrases of Umbundu, the predominant Bantu language of this area, which I am in the throes of learning. And in all of this, I try to bring God’s word to interact with their lives at their level.

The point of this somewhat extended introduction to our ministry in Angola is simple: that the reader may understand that our mission team shares the values of Vulnerable Mission, and that we are struggling to apply these values and principles to the particular Angolan context in which God has placed us. In the process, we have learned that several key assumptions of VM as espoused by Harries simply do not fit the Angolan context. If we cannot say “Amen!” to Harries’s proposals for mission in Africa, it is not because we differ in strategic goals; rather, it is because the “Africa” of urban Angola is a world away from the “Africa” of rural Kenya.29

VM Assumptions that Do Not Fit Angola

If I were to list the VM assumptions that do apply well to the Angolan context, the list would run to pages and pages. Harries is correct in saying that there is much in the African mentality that is common across Africa.30 However, the following assumptions that do not hold true in Angola are foundational enough to Harries’s proposals that they must be addressed:

European languages are not local, and thus should be avoided in mission.

Harries argues strongly that European languages, though widely used in Africa, are so disconnected from the daily life and thought processes of Africans as to preclude helpful communication, especially as regards a topic so intimate and far-reaching as the gospel. European languages are foreign, based on vastly different cultural foundations, and instruments of dangerous cultural imperialism.31

In response, allow me to introduce some of the members of the São Luís ICA church, still less than one year old, planted in the bairro by an Angolan.32

  • Jeremias was one of the first baptized and is growing by leaps and bounds in his Christian life. His father is Chokwe by tribe, from Lunda Norte province, more than 700 km away from Huambo. His mother is Ovimbundu33 by descent, but spent most of her life in Luanda and some in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where she learned Lingala. Jeremias only speaks Portuguese; he cannot even greet in Umbundu.
  • Gideão’s parents were both Ovimbundu. They died when he was eight. For the last eight years he has been raised by extended family, also Ovimbundu. His life is only in the bairro; rarely does he venture more than one kilometer from his house. Yet Gideão neither speaks nor understands Umbundu. Portuguese is his first and only language.
  • Nanda is a grandmother and a faithful Christian. She is fluent in Portuguese and Umbundu and truly enjoys worshiping in Umbundu. She is semi-literate in Portuguese, but cannot read a word of Umbundu.
  • Mama Chinha is a young mother who sells tomatoes in the local market. Her parents from Kwanza Sul Province speak Kimbundu, which she partially understands. She speaks only Portuguese. I often forget and greet her in Umbundu—I always receive a Portuguese response.
  • Avelino is a father who struggles with alcoholism. Umbundu is his first language, but he is also completely comfortable in Portuguese. He can read relatively well in Portuguese, but not at all in Umbundu.
  • Moisés lives in Luanda but works in Huambo. Portuguese is his first language, and he also learned Kikongo at an early age, since he is Bakongo by tribe.
  • Pedro, fourteen, speaks Portuguese as his first language. He also speaks Umbundu, but often struggles over vocabulary since he uses it much more rarely than Portuguese.
  • Paulo, eighteen, is one of Pedro’s close friends. He is Muila by tribe, but speaks Portuguese as his first language. He has learned enough Umbundu to communicate when needed.

About half of the church members speak Umbundu. Half don’t. Not a single member is capable of reading Umbundu. Every single member is comfortable speaking Portuguese, and the vast majority can read (to some extent) in Portuguese. None speak English or other European languages, though the youth would like to learn English.

To put this in context, Umbundu is the most widely spoken Bantu language in Angola, and Huambo province is one of the most ethnolinguistically homogeneous regions of the country. Here, in the heart of Ovimbunduland, I listen to children playing on the streets in Portuguese, drunks cursing the world in Portuguese, churches worshiping in Portuguese, people in the market buying vegetables in Portuguese, and family members engaging in chores at home in Portuguese. Huambo, like Angola in general, functions in Portuguese.34

European languages remain rooted in foreign cultures; they do not become Africanized.

Harries admits that some of his linguistic argument would not apply “if European languages were allowed to become African”:

Should communication with European originators of the foreign languages used in Africa suddenly cease, then the very languages will become Africanised. This is not currently happening, because (at least in East Africa) Northern languages are valued exactly because of the links that they enable with the North, and are assessed using foreign standards.35

Angolan Portuguese stands as a counter-example to Harries’s assumptions. Since a majority of people in Angolan cities function primarily in Portuguese (in all contexts of life, even home life), and since a sizeable minority speak no other language besides Portuguese, it is clear that they have found a way to Africanize the Portuguese language—to root it in the Angolan context and adapt it to fit Angolan life. A hypothetical glimpse at the vocabulary of an Angolan morning may illustrate the case:

Paizinho wakes up before the sunrise and immediately goes outside for his matatino (morning run), a typical Mwangolé (Angolan) morning routine. Back at home he draws water from the cacimba (well) to take a bath, conserving the water bué (very) carefully since it is August, near the end of cacimbo (the dry season). Clean and refreshed, he takes a few moments to matabichar (eat breakfast) before heading out for the day. Normally Paizinho works doing candongueiro (informal business that involves buying, transporting, and selling), but today he must visit the soba (local authority figure) to discuss some makas (problems) regarding his family in the kimbo (rural area). Before going to the jango (meeting hut), he winds his way through the beko (alleyway) to the market to buy a gift to present to the soba. He knows which sellers will give him eskebra (a little extra for free); perhaps today someone might even give him kilapi (informal credit), since he is short on cash.

The italicized words above are purely Angolan. Native speakers in Portugal may not have a clue what they mean, except the few words that have come to Portugal as slang. Moreover, these words are not Bantu. They are Portuguese. Though some have etymological roots in Kimbundu, Umbundu, or other Bantu languages, they made their way into Angolan Portuguese generations ago and are now used widely across the nation of Angola, from Cunene in the south to Cabinda in the north. They are used daily by Angolans who speak only Portuguese. And many Angolans would be quite surprised to hear that citizens of Portugal don’t even know how to communicate with these basic Portuguese words. “Do people in Portugal not eat breakfast?” they might ask.36

Adaptation of the language has enabled Angolans to use Portuguese effectively in even the most traditional African settings. Last year I had the opportunity to be a bystander in a sensitive situation where a church leader was accused of using witchcraft to possess a teenage boy with his spirit, resulting in debilitating madness. The case was handled by the soba (traditional communal leader) and included input from the traditional herbal healer who was watching over the boy in the far-flung rural area of his home. The process lasted parts of three days—and all of it was conducted in Portuguese. The only times someone broke into Umbundu were when they wanted the opinion of the boy’s grandmother, who was not comfortable in Portuguese. Immediately after hearing her opinion, the participants would switch back to Portuguese.37 Portuguese is Angola’s medium of choice to handle the intricacies of African life.

Portuguese today belongs to Angola as much as it belongs to Brazil or Portugal. Each country has its version of Portuguese; the differences reflect the variations in culture, and the similarities foster fraternal connections between the three continents.

Ethnolinguistic ancestry is the key identity for Africans.

Harries relates the unwillingness of the Luo people to accept him, a white man, as part of their tribe. The reason is simple: “in much of Africa, unlike in the West, someone’s key identity is rooted in their ancestry.”38 I suggest that this observation forms a defining assumption that undergirds the whole of Harries’s thinking. For example, he makes much of the cultural roots of language, and his (usually unspoken) assumption is that in Africa, cultural means tribal.39 I concur. In my experience in many parts of Africa, tribal (ancestral) identity is key.

Angola is not, in this sense, like “much of Africa.” The two-sided sword of ethnolinguistic mixing and urbanization has pierced deep. In our local church this intermixing has already been noted. The church, which averages fewer than 20 adults on a typical Sunday, includes not only Ovimbundu but also Kimbundu, Bakongo, Chokwe, and Ovamuila persons—here in the most ethnically homogeneous region of the country. In the cities of Lubango and Luanda the situation is even more pronounced. Paul Robson and Sandra Roque conducted an excellent ethnographic study among migrants to the cities and found that the exigencies of internal displacement have created a pervasive heterogeneity:

People end up renting or building a house wherever they can. This is one of the main reasons why the peri-urban bairros are so heterogeneous. People go to live where it is cheapest or where there is space, and this is not necessarily in the bairro where they first went to or where live their relatives, friends and other people originally from their area. [This has] important consequences . . . for the social dynamics of the peri-urban areas.40

Among the important consequences is the disappearance of ancestral traditions. “Nowadays few traces of rural traditions remain in the social life of Luanda’s peri-urban areas.”41 Even in Huambo, “traditional festivals like ovinganji, olundongo, and evamba are almost non-existent.”42

The question remains: despite changes in language, customs, and urban heterogeneity, do Angolans still hold ancestry as their key identity? For many, the answer is no. One may catch a glimpse of this in their conversations with each other. When making a new acquaintance, Angolans do not typically ask, “What tribe are you?” as might be common in other nations. Rather, they ask, “What area are your parents from?” The answer often shows that the choice of phrasing is not superfluous. “I was born in Moxico while my mother was fleeing the war, but she is originally from this area (Huambo). Her father was from Malange. My father grew up in Luanda, but his family is originally from Uíge. . . .” Moreover, the rhetoric of ethnic rivalry was used by government and rebel forces to perpetuate the civil war. Angolans of today explicitly shun such rhetoric; they want no part in undoing the peace they have gained at such great cost.

Angolans have had to forge new identities and new sources of identity. The central worldview question “Who are we?” is always rooted in a story, and when the story changes, so does one’s key identity. Traditional Bantu myths emphasize the cyclical nature of life: we are a community composed of members from the past, present, and future. Ancestors play a vital role in the continuity of life, and numerous community rituals (birth rites, circumcision, funerals, libations and sacrifices, etc.) function to reinforce the communal and cyclical coherence of life together with the ancestors.43 This story defines each tribal social grouping in contradistinction to others.

The continuing importance of ancestors has waned significantly in peri-urban Angola,44 and many other elements of the traditional story, including rituals, have been removed or replaced, as noted above. Perhaps it is not too bold to say that peri-urban Angolans explain their place in the world not primarily in terms of the traditional story, but in terms of the story of how they have survived the war and rebuilt since the war. It is this story that has redefined the social groupings. For some, such as the returned refugees from Kinshasa, their new community is not their tribe but the people who accompanied them in their journey of survival. Thus this group does not speak Kikongo (their tribal language) but Lingala (the language of their refugee story). They feel a unique solidarity with each other, but not with other Bakongo.45 For other residents, their social group is their immediate family. They are the only ones who have stuck together through thick and thin—there is no story which binds them to their neighbor, regardless of ethnicity. One of the most important social groupings, by the assessment of several independent observers, is the church community. Fellow church members are the people who have endured the struggles of the story together and hence share a solidarity that is not found in the larger peri-urban population.46 But for many, key identity has shifted to the national level: an individual is, first and foremost, an Angolan, regardless of region, social class, language, religion, or race. A national identity has been forged in the furnace of the nation’s story of struggle, a story that binds Angolans together and distances them from surrounding peoples, many of whom used to be family. For many Angolans, a redefined story has redefined communal identity.47

Perhaps the illustration of this reformation of communal identity that would most surprise Harries is Angola’s breakdown in racial division. As he notes, where tribal identity is key, whites must necessarily remain foreigners in black Africa. So great is the racial divide of his Kenyan context48 that Harries naturally adopts the racial divide into his own terminology:

Use of the term “black” . . . is applied to people of African origin wherever they are now living. The term “African” is reserved for those black people who are living in (and are assumed to have been born and raised in) Africa.49

Thus Harries concurs with the assumption of his Luo neighbors that a white person cannot be African.50

My thoughts turn to Alexandre, Huambo’s local veterinarian. He was born, raised, and educated in Huambo. His parents, too, are from Huambo. But he is white. Alexandre says he is Angolan, and his passport agrees. Through his paternal grandfather he can trace ancestry back to Portugal; but his identity is formed by his story, not by his ancestry. At the end of the work day, Alexandre walks home with his black receptionist who shares his story, for she is also his wife. It would never occur to their two mestiça daughters that a white man cannot be Angolan.

The racial divide runs so deep, writes Harries, that “for a white man to become a leader in black Africa in other than an ‘oppressive’ way, is almost impossible.”51 But no one informed José Luís de Melo Marcelino, Huambo’s municipal administrator, that such was the case. Marcelino is white, Huambo born and bred, and in a government position of great responsibility. He is also respected by the people of Huambo: black, white, and mestiço. From an elevated vantage point, he shares the people’s identity because he shares their story.

Examples could be multiplied. The point is simple. Through ethnolinguistic and even racial integration, Angolan identity has shifted from its roots in tribal ancestry toward new roots in the shared national story of struggle, survival, and rebuilding.

Westerners maintain economic and cultural hegemony over Africa.

The last of Harries’s assumptions with which I will contend is that, because of the great economic gulf between rich Western nations and poor African nations, Africans are forced to follow Western leading, hoping for a handout. This particular strand of the dependency virus, he maintains, has infected Africa at the national level, the institutional level, the communal level, and the personal level.52 His analysis is perceptive and convincing; it rings true with much of what I have seen in other parts of Africa.

What makes Angola different? In a word, petroleum. Crude oil. As Africa’s second largest producer of oil, Angola has no shortage of cash.53 On the contrary, the nation has emerged from its war years to find itself in a position of considerable economic clout in the global arena. It did not take long for Angolan politicians to discover the ease with which petroleum dollars can overturn American idealism, French justice, and international armament embargoes.54 With its pockets lined, Angola wasted no time becoming bedfellows with the superpower that is China.55 But perhaps the most poetic twist in the international plot was when Portugal, the former colonial power, came on its knees begging for a financial bailout from Angola, its former colony.56 Of course Angola condescended to open its purse! Who could pass up the chance to reverse history, to rise from slave to master with all the world watching?

What does this look like at street level in Angola? There is lots of money floating around in this country. As “wealthy Westerners” in Angola, we find ourselves consistently unable to afford the exorbitant prices that wealthy Angolans throw money at. We stay as guests in homes in Luanda that would rent for $20,000 a month. There are also many poor Angolans who live on just a few dollars a day; the lifestyle gap between rich and poor is astounding!

So what does this mean for dependency issues in Angola? Angolans, like other Africans, will take a handout no matter who it comes from, but most of the time in Angola it comes from wealthier Angolans. International aid dependency, whether from the IMF, NGOs, or churches, is still a problem in Angola. But it is dwarfed by the issues of internal dependency. A church here might ask us missionaries for funds to build a new building, but when we don’t prove golden, they waste no time in turning to their list of Angolan donors, who consistently prove much more generous than the stingy foreigners who keep mumbling on about missiological ideals. In this context, the all-important purse strings are held not by Westerners, but by wealthy Angolans who walk in the age-old African paths of patronage.57 This pattern holds true at levels from the individual to the national. The result is that in Angola, Westerners are seen as potential donors, but their influence is not dominant because they do not carry the biggest wallets.58

One final note regarding the dynamics of wealth in Angola is important. Wealthy Angolans serve as a wide-open door between Angola and the globalized world. Many Angolan businessmen make their millions internationally; not through aid, but through trade. As such, they swim in the urban currents of New York, São Paulo, and Beijing, drinking from the global fountains of politics, materialism, and religious pluralism. These ideas (and things!) flow steadily into Angola down the patron-client canals, eventually inundating even the lowest socio-economic rungs of Angolan society. Whether we missionaries want to participate in this globalizing current is a moot point. Angola is already there, with or without us.

Implications for Vulnerable Mission in Angola

If these assumptions that are at the heart of Harries’s contextual concept of Vulnerable Mission do not hold true in Angola, how are we to move forward? VM’s key principles, the use of local languages and local resources, remain missiologically sound, but they must be radically adapted for use in the Angolan context. I suggest that the following five alterations to Harries’s recommendations do not require a lengthy defense, but rather emerge naturally from the above analysis of Angolan culture.

  1. Mission in Angola should be primarily in the Portuguese language, with secondary usage of Bantu languages to the extent they are used among the target population. Missionaries’ fluency in Portuguese should be honed in the Angolan context, so as to reach Angolans in the local flavor of their heart language. Angolan Bantu languages should not be neglected, since they provide an important window into Angolan culture and thought, but should not be imposed as the primary means of communication.
  2. Mission in Angola should strongly consider a nationwide strategic focus, since Angolans increasingly define their own storied identity at a national level.59 To missiologically target an ethnolinguistic group is to recreate historical divisions that Angolans do not embrace. More importantly, it is to misjudge the identity-shaping story of the Angolan people. There are contextual exceptions to this rule: small homogeneous ethnic groups that survive on the peripheries of Angolan culture.60 Mission to these particular groups should closely follow Harries’s original proposals.
  3. Mission in Angola should train some Angolan Christians to function missionally as a cultural bridge from the urban and peri-urban to rural environments. The urban-rural divide plagues many aspects of Angolan life, and the church should be at the fore in bridging the divide: helping urbanites relate to their uneducated rural neighbors and helping rural Angolans know how to cope in the whirlwind of globalizing change. Rural areas should not be approached in isolation, since they yearn to share in the national Angolan identity; neither should they be neglected in favor of greener urban pastures, as many Angolan churches already tend to do.
  4. Theological education in Angola should include training in how to translate theological concepts between Portuguese and Bantu languages. Portuguese should be the primary vehicle for theological education, but teachers should ideally be conversant enough in Bantu languages to model healthy translation processes. This dual-language approach will (1) mimic the translation processes already in use in daily Angolan life, (2) open Angolan church leaders to the published resources of the Lusophone world, especially Brazil and Portugal, (3) enable nation-wide networks in which Angolans can mature theologically together, and (4) facilitate the urban-rural bridge mentioned above.
  5. Mission in Angola should use the resources that Angolans typically have at their disposal, whether local or global, giving preference to the local. In an urban environment, local must be understood as an ill-defined range in the graduated spectrum from individual to global. To the extent that Angolans customarily call on resources from other neighborhoods, cities, or countries, missionaries should be willing to follow suit, while always being vigilant to watch for signs of dependency that may catch Angolans unaware, and while consistently reminding Angolans not to undervalue local small-scale resources. Moreover, foreign missionaries should avoid introducing external resources that are not already a well-integrated part of Angolan culture.

Conclusion: What Does Angola Have to Do with Africa?

If the contextual situation of urbanized Angola contrasts so dramatically with that of rural Kenya as to necessitate such significant revisions to the core strategies of VM, then perhaps Angola should simply be treated as an outlier—noted and ignored—in matters related to African missions. Perhaps missiologists in sub-Saharan Africa should embrace and advocate Harries’s approach while including a footnote that says, “except in Angola.”

Angola is indeed exceptional in some aspects. I know of no other sub-Saharan nation, for example, where the colonial language has become the first and only tongue of so great a segment of the population. The historic moment when the former colonizer, Portugal, entreats the former colony, Angola, for financial assistance is perhaps unprecedented. But it would be a mistake to equate “unprecedented” with “won’t happen again.”

Africa is changing. In some aspects, Angola is not exceptional but rather simply ahead of the curve. Urbanization is the obvious example. The pull of the city is relentless across Africa: urbanization is expected to march forward at about 1% per annum,61 which is among the highest rates on the globe. Thus Africa as a whole will pass the 50% urban mark by 2035,62 and will triple its urban population by 2050.63 Already thirteen sub-Saharan countries are at least 50% urban.64 Even among those nations with lower urban percentages, Christian mission cannot afford to overlook the cities.

Urbanization will continue, across Africa, to increase the percentage of Africans who speak trade languages, including former colonial languages, as their first language. Urbanization will continue, across Africa, to bring people of different ethnolinguistic backgrounds shoulder to shoulder as neighbors. And above all, urbanization will continue to open doors to the already pervasive influence of globalization. Whether we like it or not, global languages, global resources, and global thinking styles are irreversibly becoming a part of the local African scene. In these aspects, Angola is not exceptional but rather ahead of the curve. Perhaps we should see it as a preview of coming attractions.

Moreover, Angola is not the only African nation whose national story has been so intense, so epic, as to forge within its flames a new national sense of identity. In this globalizing world, Africans across the continent are being challenged to rethink tribalism’s place as key identity. If missiologists are to exercise diligently our anthropological duties, we must be ever bold enough to probe the worldview questions of Africans as they are becoming, not simply as they were.

The vital lesson in all this is beautifully simple: each local context demands that we approach it with fresh eyes, ready to see it for what it is, not what we remember from another context. Local stories are unique; local mission strategies, too, must be unique—even in Africa.

I close with a few words from a project manager, a foreigner, living in another city in Angola. He was asked to do a radio interview about Africa “in general,” but when time and again his down-to-earth Angola-specific responses did not live up to the preconceived notions of the interviewers, “they cut me short and decided instead to interview someone in Cameroon, where they must have a much better idea of what Africa really is.”65

May God grant us the ever-renewed vision to see what Africa really is and the ever-increasing wisdom to reach Africa with the word of his saving grace!

Danny Reese delights in the maturation of God’s church on the continent of Africa, the continent that witnessed both his physical birth and his spiritual birth. He lives with his wife and daughters in Huambo, Angola, serving as part of the Angola Mission Team ( Danny holds an MDiv from Harding School of Theology. You may contact him at


Alliance for Vulnerable Mission.

Andrade, Filomena, Paulo de Carvalho, and Gabriela Cohen. “A Life of Improvisation! Displaced People in Malanje and Benguela.” In Communities and Reconstruction in Angola: The Prospects for Reconstruction in Angola from the Community Perspective, edited by Paul Robson, translated by Mark Gimson, 119–61. Development Workshop Occasional Paper 1. Guelph, Canada: Development Workshop, 2001.

“Angola-Gate: Relations between Angola and France Remain Troubled.” The Economist (19 November 2008),

“Angola’s Eduardo Dos Santos Offers Help to Portugal.” BBC News (11 November 2011),

Barrett, David B., George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson, eds. World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World, 2nd ed. Vol. 1, The World by Countries: Religionists, Churches, Ministries. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Bender, Gerald J., and P. Stanley Yoder. “Whites in Angola on the Eve of Independence: The Politics of Numbers.” Africa Today 21, no. 4 (Fall 1974): 23–37.

Birmingham, David. Empire in Africa: Angola and Its Neighbors. Ohio University Research in International Studies, Africa Series 84. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2006.

Development Workshop, Centre for Environment & Human Settlements, and One World Action. Terra: Urban Land Reform in Post-War Angola: Research, Advocacy and Policy Development. Development Workshop Occasional Paper 5. Luanda, Angola: Development Workshop, 2005.

Dicionário Plural da Língua Portuguesa. Luanda, Angola: Plural Editores, 2008.

Gal-Or, Jenny, and Eran Gal-Or. Electric Trees: Reflections of Angola. Lewes, England: Sylph Editions, 2009.

Harries, Jim. “The Need for Indigenous Languages and Resources in Mission to Africa in Light of the Presence of Monism/Witchcraft.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 51–67.

________. Vulnerable Mission: Insights into Christian Mission to Africa from a Position of Vulnerability. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2011.

Henderson, Lawrence W. The Church in Angola: A River of Many Currents. Cleveland: Pilgrim, 1992.

Hodges, Tony. Angola: Anatomy of an Oil State, 2nd ed. African Issues. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004.

James, W. Martin. Historical Dictionary of Angola, new ed. Historical Dictionaries of Africa 92. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2004.

Johnson, Scott. “China’s African Misadventures.” Newsweek (3 December 2007), 46–47.

Maranz, David E. African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa. Publications in Ethnography 37. Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2001.

Mbiti, John S. African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heinemann, 1969.

McKinzie, Greg. “Vulnerable Mission: Questions from a Latin American Context.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 110–33.

Mendelsohn, John, and Beat Weber. An Atlas and Profile of Huambo: Its Environment and People. Development Workshop Occasional Paper 10. Luanda, Angola: Development Workshop, forthcoming in 2013.

Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence. New York: PublicAffairs, 2005.

Ogot, Bethwell A., and William Robert Ochieng’, eds. Decolonization & Independence in Kenya, 1940–93. Eastern African Studies. London: J. Currey, 1995.

Oyebade, Adebayo O. Culture and Customs of Angola. Culture and Customs of Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007.

Pacheco, Fernando. “Rural Communities in Huambo.” In Communities and Reconstruction in Angola: The Prospects for Reconstruction in Angola from the Community Perspective, edited by Paul Robson, translated by Mark Gimson, 51–117. Development Workshop Occasional Paper 1. Guelph, Canada: Development Workshop, 2001.

Parrinder, Geoffrey. African Traditional Religion, 3rd ed. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1976.

Robson, Paul. “Communities and Community Institutions in Luanda.” In Communities and Reconstruction in Angola: The Prospects for Reconstruction in Angola from the Community Perspective, edited by Paul Robson, translated by Mark Gimson, 163–81. Development Workshop Occasional Paper 1. Guelph, Canada: Development Workshop, 2001.

Robson, Paul, and Sandra Roque. “Here in the City There Is Nothing Left Over for Lending a Hand”: In Search of Solidarity and Collective Action in Peri-Urban Areas in Angola. Development Workshop Occasional Paper 2. Guelph, Canada: Development Workshop, 2001.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. “World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision.” New York: United Nations, 2011.

________. “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision: Highlights.” New York: United Nations, 2012.

Van der Winden, Bob, ed. A Family of the Musseque. Oxford: WorldView, 1996.

Vines, Alex. Angola Unravels: The Rise and Fall of the Lusaka Peace Process. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999.

1 See, e.g., the subtitle of Harries’s influential volume, Vulnerable Mission: Insights into Christian Mission to Africa from a Position of Vulnerability (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2011). Indeed, even as the VM movement gains worldwide momentum, Harries continues to write specifically about Africa, as is apparent from a perusal of his articles at

3 E.g., the substantive collection of VM articles concerning the Chaco in Argentina (, Gene Daniels’s contributions on Kyrgyzstan (, and the articles in the current issue of Missio Dei from Paul Yonggap Jeong of Korea and Jean Johnson of Cambodia. Stan Nussbaum stands as a prominent representative of the tendency in VM circles to write concerning the Majority World, effortlessly drawing examples from mission works of great geographical diversity without regard for contextual differences.

4 A similar concern is evident in Greg McKinzie, “Vulnerable Mission: Questions from a Latin American Context,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 110–33.

5 Harries, Vulnerable Mission, xiv. Having read several of Harries’s other articles, I judge that the articles in this 2011 compendium well represent his larger corpus.

6 McKinzie, 111–12.

7 E.g., Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 57, fn 2; and 164, where he admits the possibility that there may be exceptions to his broad brush strokes of sub-Saharan Africa.

8 John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (London: Heinemann, 1969); Geoffrey Parrinder, African Traditional Religion, 3rd ed. (Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1976). In relation to his own local context Harries recognizes the danger of this generalizing tendency, e.g., when he sides with indigenous Luo scholar Okot p’Bitek regarding the traditional Luo conception of God over against the more common generalization represented by Mbiti and by Ghanaian Kwame Bediako. Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 4, 9; Jim Harries, “The Need for Indigenous Languages and Resources in Mission to Africa in Light of the Presence of Monism/Witchcraft,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 59.

9 For the purposes of this paper, an introduction to Angola and our mission work can be only cursory. However, it may still be sufficient to enable the reader to grasp the import of the need for contextualization of VM approaches.

10 W. Martin James, Historical Dictionary of Angola, new ed., Historical Dictionaries of Africa 92 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2004), xxv–xxvi.

11 Gerald J. Bender and P. Stanley Yoder, “Whites in Angola on the Eve of Independence: The Politics of Numbers,” Africa Today 21, no. 4 (Fall 1974): 31.

12 Bethwell A. Ogot and William Robert Ochieng’, eds., Decolonization & Independence in Kenya, 1940–93, Eastern African Studies (London: J. Currey, 1995), 113.

13 David Birmingham, Empire in Africa: Angola and Its Neighbors, Ohio University Research in International Studies, Africa Series 84 (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2006), 8.

14 Martin Meredith, The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence (New York: PublicAffairs, 2005), 90.

15 I use the terms tribe and tribal neither in a pejorative manner nor a romanticized manner, and I do not intend for them to have primitive, rural, or pre-colonial connotations. Rather, I use the terms to denote ethnolinguistic groupings based on common ancestry.

16 James, xliv, highlights that this destructive trend toward nationwide identity had its deep roots in Portuguese military domination of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: “The Portuguese unknowingly laid the foundations of Angolan nationalism. By dismembering the great kingdoms, the Portuguese allowed the inhabitants to slowly begin to view themselves not as some part of an ethnolinguistic group but as belonging to a greater entity: Angola.”

17 Tony Hodges, Angola: Anatomy of an Oil State, 2nd ed., African Issues (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004), 22.

18 Filomena Andrade, Paulo de Carvalho, and Gabriela Cohen, “A Life of Improvisation! Displaced People in Malanje and Benguela,” in Communities and Reconstruction in Angola: The Prospects for Reconstruction in Angola from the Community Perspective, ed. Paul Robson, trans. Mark Gimson, Development Workshop Occasional Paper 1 (Guelph, Canada: Development Workshop, 2001), 135.

19 Bob van der Winden, ed., A Family of the Musseque (Oxford: WorldView, 1996), 74, calls this the “third and largest wave” of migrants to Luanda. However, the last and most brutal phase of the war (1998–2002, after his publication) produced many more internal permanent refugees, at least another 1,000,000 (Development Workshop, Centre for Environment & Human Settlements, and One World Action, Terra: Urban Land Reform in Post-War Angola: Research, Advocacy and Policy Development, Development Workshop Occasional Paper 5 [Luanda, Angola: Development Workshop, 2005], 68).

20 Hodges, 22.

21 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, “World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision” (New York: United Nations, 2011), In contrast, Kenya is 22% urban. A brief glance at the list of nations reveals that the region of eastern Africa maintains the lowest statistics of urbanization on the continent. Rural Kenya is not “typical” of Africa.

22 Lawrence W. Henderson, The Church in Angola: A River of Many Currents (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 1992), 137, 296–99.

23 Hodges, 25; emphasis added.

24 David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson, eds., World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World, 2nd ed., vol. 1, The World by Countries: Religionists, Churches, Ministries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 62. About two-thirds of Christian adherents in Angola are Catholic.

25 Our non-use of Western resources has two notable exceptions: we own 4×4 vehicles which we use in ministry, and we have instituted the Bibles for Angolans program, in which individual Christians in America donate funds to buy Bibles for individual Angolan believers (see These exceptions will be discussed below.

26 Population estimates in Angola are at best educated guesses; a complete census has not been executed since 1970. This population estimate for the city of Huambo comes from 2008 data and trends in John Mendelsohn and Beat Weber, An Atlas and Profile of Huambo: Its Environment and People, Development Workshop Occasional Paper 10 (Luanda, Angola: Development Workshop, forthcoming in 2013), 62.

27 The term peri-urban denotes the areas surrounding the city center that appeared at a startling pace as internally displaced peoples (IDPs) settled chaotically during the wars. These areas are certainly not rural: people are crowded in at urban densities, virtually no space remains for subsistence farming, and urban social dynamics predominate. But neither are they urban: there is in many cases a complete lack of urban infrastructure and services such as roads, schools, electricity, or piped water. See Paul Robson and Sandra Roque, “Here in the City There Is Nothing Left Over for Lending a Hand”: In Search of Solidarity and Collective Action in Peri-Urban Areas in Angola, Development Workshop Occasional Paper 2 (Guelph, Canada: Development Workshop, 2001), 10–11. In Angola, the peri-urban population forms a distinct third segment of society. This is in contrast with the norm in other developing countries, where peri-urban areas form “a spatial continuum between the traditional concepts of urban and rural.” There is a distinct cognitive and lifestyle disconnect between rural and peri-urban populations in Angola.

28 According to Mendelsohn and Weber, 62, we share this peri-urban bairro setting with 89% of Huambo’s population. Only 11% live in “formal housing.”

29 Like Harries, I will ground most of my comments about the reality of African life on personal experience, even though I cannot claim the decades-long exposure that he can. My own experience in Africa began early—I was born in South Africa—and encompasses visits to churches and mission works in twelve sub-Saharan nations.

30 Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 164.

31 Ibid., 17, 68, 95, 121, 127, 146, 156, 251.

32 I joined as a Bible teacher in this church plant soon after it was started, but the majority of members that I introduce here became part of the church before my arrival. Others that have joined since then are family and friends of existing members, reached through existing relational networks. Thus it will not do to claim that my white presence has significantly skewed the survey population.

33 Ovimbundu are the people who speak Umbundu. Huambo is traditional Ovimbundu territory.

34 I am painting only one side of the picture. Umbundu is also widely used in the bairros of Huambo, especially among women. It is fairly easy to find a few women in the market who do not speak Portuguese, typically those who travel in from rural areas to sell their goods. In rural areas, Umbundu predominates, but Portuguese is also very widely spoken. In contrast, the city center of Huambo uses Portuguese almost exclusively. Someone who speaks only Umbundu would not be able to accomplish basic tasks in the city center. I am not trying to say that Bantu languages have been ousted from Angola, but rather that Portuguese has been grafted in and has become an inextricable part of Angolan life.

In Luanda, the national capital, where a third of Angola’s population resides, the situation is even starker: “In Luanda Portuguese is used almost universally, at home and in the street, although people have sometimes introduced words from the local languages as well as recently created terms.” Robson and Roque, 82.

35 Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 156; emphasis added. See also his similar reasoning on p. 250, where he thinks about the possibility of “a big wall . . . to keep Westerners out.” In effect, the civil war was that big wall. For 27 years the Western world abandoned Angola—except for supplying it with armaments—and precious few foreigners dared to live in Angola during that time (with the notable exception of the South African and Cuban military forces during the early years of the war). Doubtless this isolation provided major impetus for the Africanization of Portuguese. However, from what I can deduce in conversation with Angolans, the process of Africanization was well under way before the civil war. From the picture that Birmingham, 8, relates, it seems that the Africanization of Portuguese truly began among the Angolan mestiço urban elite that dominated Luanda during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.

36 Many, many more Angolan Portuguese words could be listed. See, e.g., the list of 249 terms at,, and Moreover, these terms and many more are legitimized by their inclusion in Portuguese dictionaries by major publishers such as the Porto Editora publishing group, whose Dicionário Plural da Língua Portuguesa includes more than 1,500 “Africanisms”; see

It is also worth noting that Angolan Portuguese should be categorized neither as a pidgin nor as a creole. It is true Portuguese, conforming to the international Portuguese Acordo Ortográfico of 1945, but with expanded vocabulary and the particularities of contextual usage so familiar to Harries and other students of linguistic pragmatics.

37 It was not my white presence that influenced their choice of language. For the most part, they could not have cared less that I was there—it was not my business. Several times I wandered off to do other things, but the conversation continued in Portuguese.

38 Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 169–70.

39 On my use of the terms tribe and tribal see fn. 15.

40 Robson and Roque, 58.

41 Ibid., 82.

42 Ibid.

43 Adebayo O. Oyebade, Culture and Customs of Angola, Culture and Customs of Africa (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007), 29–30, 43–45.

44 In a recent conversation I asked several Ovimbundu friends of differing ages what impact the ancestors continue to have on life. They generally agreed that during the first year after a family member’s death, the spirit remains influential—for better or worse—in family affairs. But the ceremony at year’s end liberates that spirit, and it ceases to have any impact on life. I pressed them, suggesting that surely people might still pray to the ancestors for protection, etc. Their response was unanimous as they laughed at me: “Friend, that was a long, long time ago. Perhaps our great-grandparents did that, but not today!”

45 Paul Robson, “Communities and Community Institutions in Luanda,” in Communities and Reconstruction, 170; Robson and Roque, 36–37, 81. It is this social segment, defined by a refugee story and not by ethnicity, that birthed the ICA movement with which we work.

46 This is the conclusion of Robson and Roque, 130–41; Van der Winden, 113–14; Robson, 178; Andrade, de Carvalho, and Cohen, 143. Fernando Pacheco, “Rural Communities in Huambo,” in Communities and Reconstruction, 97–98, 110, makes clear that this vital role of churches began in the rural areas, though it has gained importance in the peri-urban context.

47 Birmingham, 99, points out that similar identity revolutions took place among the Kimbundu people three centuries earlier.

48 Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 163.

49 Ibid., 164. Harries is here explaining his own non-pejorative use of the terms black and African.

50 Ibid., 169.

51 Ibid., 180; cf. 169.

52 Ibid., 70, 173 (national level); 171 (institutional level); 85 (communal level); 169 (personal level). In these discussions, he repeatedly describes the cultural and intercultural dynamics which make it virtually impossible for African leaders to refuse offers of international aid, even if that aid will harm the community in the long run.

53 A wealth of diamond mines also contributes to the national status as “rich boy on the block.”

54 Regarding the US, I refer to the abrupt switch in allegiances in the early 1990s from overt and covert UNITA support to solid MPLA relations. Regarding France I refer to the infamous Angola-Gate scandal; see “Angola-Gate: Relations between Angola and France Remain Troubled,” The Economist (19 November 2008), Regarding armaments, I refer to the steady flow of Eastern European arms into Angola during the latter stages of the civil war, despite the limitations set by the Lusaka Protocol; see Alex Vines, Angola Unravels: The Rise and Fall of the Lusaka Peace Process (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), 103–6.

55 China’s multi-billion-dollar oil-backed loans are the bread and butter of Angola’s infrastructure program. See e.g. Scott Johnson, “China’s African Misadventures,” Newsweek (3 December 2007), 46–47.

56 “Angola’s Eduardo Dos Santos Offers Help to Portugal,” BBC News (11 November 2011),

57 Perhaps the best accessible explanation of African patronage is found in David E. Maranz, African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa, Publications in Ethnography 37 (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2001), 125–42. Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 152 agrees with Maranz that all friendship relationships in Africa have an element of financial dependency. In this context, therefore, our attempt to uphold VM principles has resulted in our friendships being somewhat stultified, incomplete. Angolans do not have a reference point from which to understand our stinginess. Surely, they think, if anyone of means can help the church financially, the missionaries would be the first to jump at that chance! They are not looking to us as sources of Western wealth, but as sources of patron-friend wealth.

58 These dynamics opened the door for us to make one exception to our no-foreign-resources strategy: the Bibles for Angolans program. Donating Bibles has provided us a small-scale method to exhibit generosity without creating dependency. Bibles are readily available in Angola for those who wish to purchase them, and the cost is not out of the range of most Angolans. We place Bibles in the hands of believers, or almost believers, who would not choose to purchase one, and the act of generosity has in many cases already spurred people on to a greater personal appreciate for the Word of God. In a few cases the recipients have, after months of Bible study, chosen to give their lives to Christ in baptism. We believe the prize is worth the strategic risk.

59 This is, in short, the reason we chose to purchase 4×4 vehicles for use in our mission work.

60 Examples are the Kilenge, Kwandu, Kuvale, and Ngendelengo peoples in Namibe province and the Dhimba, Tchavikwa, and Hakaona peoples in Cunene province. These small and isolated groups are unreached in the true sense. My thanks to Linda Jordan for bringing them to my attention.

61 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision: Highlights” (New York: United Nations, 2012), 11,

62 Ibid., 1.

63 Ibid., 12.

64 Gabon, Djibouti, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa, Republic of Congo, Cape Verde, Botswana, Angola, Gambia, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria. UN Population Division, “World Population Prospects,”

65 Jenny Gal-Or and Eran Gal-Or, Electric Trees: Reflections of Angola (Lewes, England: Sylph Editions, 2009), 9–10.

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The Need for Indigenous Languages and Resources in Mission to Africa in Light of the Presence of Monism/Witchcraft

Globally speaking, we seem to be in an endless cycle. The West has grasped the means of being materially productive that has resulted in its amassing wealth. Africa in the meantime engages monism, which perpetuates poverty but demands equality. The interaction of the West that seeks to alleviate the poverty of Africa, in ignoring its root causes, perpetuates it. The fact that the same interaction empowers Western languages gives African people distorted economic signals. It is in the economic interest of many African people to rote-learn foreign wisdom that makes little sense while neglecting locally rooted intelligence and disregarding efforts at countering African monism.

“The missionaries’ aim was to develop Christian communities that were self-supporting.”2


The above quote by Grace Wamue demonstrates that attempts by Western missionaries to ensure that their projects in Africa are self-supporting are not new. Yet, dependency continues to plague the African church. This article attempts to ask and answer the question as to why this is the case. It goes on to suggest remedies to this situation.

The traditional approach to development projects is for Westerners to set up a system that should be economically viable, on the assumption that it will continue to be managed in the way that they advocate. Yet it has proved difficult for Africans to continue doing things in the way that missionaries did. This can be explained, at least in part, by considering African people’s proclivity to monistic as against dualistic thinking and philosophy. Because for many African people, the physical and the spiritual are not distinct and easily distinguishable categories, they are inclined to run entities set up on the basis of a material rationality according to more familiar (to them) spiritual-physical lines of reasoning. The West’s response to this practice has been to ignore it, assuming, as John Locke taught, that Africans are a blank slate onto which new things are being written. Unfortunately (or fortunately) previous understandings have continued to “interfere” with new inputs.

This article equates monism with witchcraft. Monism, the presupposition that all physical/material causation is also spiritual (and all spiritual causation is also material), is found to be very widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. Because at least in some parts of Africa “gods” are anthropocentric,3 it follows that misfortune always arises from or through a human agent. The human agent may be someone who is already dead, or an adverse orientation of the heart of another living person. Because the spirits of dead people work through the hearts of living people, the spirits of the dead empower witchcraft fears.4 I take witchcraft as being fear of the power of untoward feelings in the hearts of others, especially feelings of envy.5

The above relationships in African thinking are often concealed through the widespread and widely acclaimed practice in Africa whereby formal communication is in European languages. With the increase in globalized communication, African people are under increasing pressure to use these European languages in the same way that Europeans use them, regardless of their own understanding of what is going on around them. Thus, while the traditional worldview is propagated through widespread but informal uses of African languages, the same is concealed from formal contexts, which are the ones that are mostly in view to Westerners. Vulnerable mission, the use of local languages in ministry, is therefore advocated as necessary for a Western missionary to be truly “informed.” Vulnerable mission as here defined also includes the use of local resources in ministry. Such use of local resources frees African people from the need always to please their missionary as a donating foreign patron. Vulnerable mission is not optional. Local ministry really must be done using locally available languages and resources. The question is whether a foreign Western missionary can or is prepared to build on the local.

Following the Scriptures

The search for equality that currently dominates international relations, even in so far as it is rooted in biblical principles of equality, is not the whole picture presented in the Bible. A case can be made for charitable, material giving to those less well off, but a biblical case can also be made for the communication of a spiritual message that need not be underpinned by material resource provision. This is a message that is fundamental to the Scriptures, to the biblical worldview, and to God’s purpose for mankind. The call to Christian service in the Scriptures is not to persevere in service to God for as long as this proves to be materially rewarding. It is not one that puts material prosperity on par with one’s spiritual standing with God. It is not one in which God’s prophet pays people to do God’s will, or of obliging people to be followers of Jesus in furtherance of their own economic interests. Neither is it one of forcing people to proclaim “correct” theology in a particular language, while their innate and heartfelt understanding remains a vast distance away from such orthodoxy.

When Christ sent out his missionaries, he sent them as lambs amongst wolves, and he gave them specific instructions not to take a “purse or bag or sandals” (Luke 10:3–4).6 The instructions are repeated elsewhere (Luke 9:3; Matt 10:9; Mark 6:8–9). The reason Jesus gave these instructions has not in recent times been clearly understood. Many missiologists have passed over them, ignoring them or considering them to have been superseded (cf. Luke 22:35–36). The Alliance for Vulnerable Mission (AVM) is seeking to revive these forgotten original principles of Christian missionary service.7 They are not exclusive—there may be a place for carrying a bag, but there may be a place equally for leaving it at home.

The principle of the use of local languages also has biblical support in the Pentecost event (Acts 2:6–12) and in Luke’s testimony of Paul (Acts 22:1–2). Again, I am not attempting to be absolutist. It would have been obvious to people in biblical times that it was advantageous to use a language in ministry that their listeners understood; something that Paul and Barnabas failed to do at their cost as recorded in Acts 14:8–20.


The statement, “the missionaries’ aim was to develop Christian communities that were economically self-supporting” struck me as incongruous and shocking, because it came from 1890.8 Having served in East Africa since 1988,9 I was amazed to find that concern to have been extant so long ago. I had mistakenly thought perhaps it became a concern to a more recent generation of missionaries. It is easy to blame prior generations for their bungles and to assume that we are more enlightened today. But I had to think, are we merely repeating past mistakes?

The approaches to helping people become self-supporting on the part of Western missionaries have doubtless had certain things in common in these last 120 years. One of those things is optimism—an implicit faith that the goal is possible. That faith has at times ebbed. I have witnessed a number of missionaries’ optimism being gradually worn away as years of field service have mounted. Indeed, it seems that the longer an observant and astute missionary serves, the lower his or her optimism regarding the chances of achieving project sustainability becomes. One problem with such a decline in optimism is that people at both ends, African and Western, do not like it. Those who lack optimism seem to share in the sin of the spies sent to report on the promised land, who discouraged the Israelites from taking the land that they could, with God’s help, have taken (Num 13).10

A love of optimists seems to be a deeply ingrained human trait. Hence people consistently love the politician whose forecast when running up to the election is highly positive. People often prefer an optimistic half-truth to a discouraging full-truth! Optimistic half-truths can indeed spur people into action, but what if (as in the case of mission and development in Africa) optimistic half-truths tend to favour foreigners and “fat cats” while leaving the masses struggling? Could it be helpful to consider this situation more carefully? For example, should we be more optimistic about African people’s ability to pass off witchcraft beliefs as irrelevant in “this day and age”? Concern for the plight of child witches11 seems in recent years to have helped to spark a renewed unease regarding problematic issues in African culture.12 “Religious” aspects of the culture of Nigerian peoples have recently been identified as evil, rather than as merely opium of the people.13 “Witchcraft” is the English term that continues to be widely used to encapsulate a set of apparently very contrary beliefs that are widespread on the African continent.14

I have pointed elsewhere to the problems that can arise in the course of translation into English.15 Labeling African phenomena with English terms invariably gives them baggage that is not necessarily rooted in the phenomena themselves. This is the case when it comes to witchcraft. The term is in contemporary times rarely used by people in the native English-speaking world to describe themselves. It is a term that implicitly raises the question of whether Africa is behind the times and should just stop “believing in”16 something that the native English-speaking world left behind long ago.

Without going into the linguistic debate in much more detail here, I do want to search for an escape from the somewhat arbitrary constraints in understanding imposed by Western ideas about the witchcraft that African people, supposedly erroneously, “believe in.” My “escape” is that instead of witchcraft, I want to talk of monism, and sometimes of envy. Monism I take as being an alternative to the dualism (in which the physical/material is taken as being different from the spiritual) which is widespread in Western nations. The increasingly popular Western explanatory system is dualistic; Westerners ever more frequently understand events in physical or material terms. This notion of what is real dismisses causative agents such as gods, spirits, curses, and omens. Monistic explanatory systems instead perceive a variety of causes that invariably include spiritual ones.17

In substituting the term monism (and at times, envy) for that of witchcraft, I hope we will find a little more room for maneuver in our consideration of “the problems of Africa” than has often been the case. Instead of means of overcoming witchcraft—which suggests rather gruesome practices like drowning, poisoning, or burning people, the obstacle to “development” is rather more philosophical in nature: monism. I also intend my use of monism to critique a tendency in some recent scholarship to value monism. I refer here to advocates of holistic mission, Tearfund’s use of the term umoja (“oneness” from Swahili) to describe their strategies for promoting self-sustaining development in the Majority World, and so on.18 (Some confusion seems to have arisen through the widespread use of English in which the words holy, holistic, and whole sound much the same.) I am not denying that there may be value in holistic approaches to situations, communities, or problems, but I would suggest that there is a dualism inherent both in the gospel and in Western society, and that this dualism is in both cases essential. The root of the essential dualism in the gospel is the distinction between God and the world. The essential dualism that I refer to in Western society is between the spiritual and the physical/material. The fact that these two are related reflects the Christian roots of Western dualism, though dualism arises also as a result of philosophical realism.19

If we assume that monistic thinking is contrary in various ways to human wellbeing, and for Christian believers that it incorporates theological error, the question arises as to how it can best be changed so that dualism comes to the fore. The preferred option in Western thinking seems to be to follow the teaching of John Locke, in so far as Locke considered the human mind to resemble a tabula rasa onto which information is drawn. According to him, the whole of understanding arises from physical stimuli made to the human senses.20 Such is the model of education that has been applied from the West to the majority world. It assumes that if educational inputs to the people of Africa are the same as those given to Western people, then African people will have as a result the same capabilities as Western people. There are two important, closely related assumptions that underlie this thinking:

  1. That whatever Western people (children) already have as they enter the school system that enables them to benefit from the education they are given, African people also have the same.
  2. That African people do not have anything in their understanding that can interfere with their ability to appropriate Western education in the way that Westerners appropriate it.

Unfortunately, we seem to hit a problem here quite quickly in terms of language of use. Education in Africa is largely carried out using Western languages. When languages are understood as needing to be integrally linked to particular Western cultures so as to function effectively, then this is something that African people do not have. African languages/cultures meanwhile are something that Western people do not have but African people do have. The presence of these languages/cultures “interfere” with African people’s engagement with Western education, for example through the way in which they affect how Western languages are understood.

It is very difficult to justify the assumption that a child entering school is a blank slate,21 not least because the home life of children prior to entering school, which surely is strongly formative of their character, differs between cultures, nations, tribes, and linguistic communities. Linguistically one can consider the implicit and explicit translations that must be going on as a child learns in English at school while using another language at home. In much of Africa a foundational monistic outlook on life is already in place before a child begins to acquire formal schooling. It is difficult for a child, or an adult for that matter, to break out of the kinds of strictures placed upon them by the monistic community within which they live and relate to others, even as they engage in Western education.

The dominant wisdom demonstrated in educational policy practice seems to be that the best way to provide an escape from the strictures of monistic thinking is to ignore them and to trust that they will go away. Hence educational systems (including theological education systems) being designed for and taken up by African people are no different from those in the West. This applies increasingly as advances in communication technology that enable globalization take hold. Globalisation enables the spread of provincialisms by people who think that their provincialisms are universal.22

That people are ignoring vast differences between themselves and others for the sake of some kind of superficial global uniformity ought to strike us as incredible. It would be helpful to adopt a thoughtful approach instead of ignoring contextual complexity. Popular educational wisdom states that learning should begin where someone is and then take them to where they are not. Contemporary educational systems in much of Africa, in assuming people to be “at the same place as the West” ignore cultural differences between Africa and the West.

If the educational system in Africa is so ineffective, then why is it so popular and so widespread? The answer in short is subsidy. The educational system in much of Africa is not homegrown, nor is its adoption motivated by what it can achieve or help people to achieve within the society receiving it. Were the latter the case, then Africans would educate their children using familiar languages. On the contrary, the perceived value of Western education in parts of Africa is in the links it provides to the wider world of European language-speaking peoples. The reason these links are so prominent and so critical to African communities is because English (perhaps more than other European languages) is the dominant language through which numerous varieties of charity and aid are distributed. Those with good English get this aid and get to control it, whereas those without good English are subject to the whim of those who get it. The power in English is not in the way it assists a community to help itself but the way it makes communities dependent on outside charity.

Such an educational system can severely restrict the development of a community: it forces students into great expense in terms of both time and finance to acquire the language of education, before being able to acquire the education in that language. It results in education being not from known to unknown, but from unknown to unknown. As a result the use of an African language is essential for education in Africa to be truly effective. There is a strong case to be made in favour of every people’s total education to be in their mother tongue.23 Even failing this, I believe there is still a compelling case that any African language used in education in Africa should be seen as a better prospect than the European languages that are widely used at present.

Some scholars may consider that the great advantage of the use of English in Africa is that it enables access to written resources and provides a lingua franca for the continent. Kwesi Prah powerfully critiques this view.24 Few scholars seem to ask themselves why it appears that every African language has failed to be the medium of enlightened advanced education. A question that should follow is, what are the implications of the fact that an African language apparently cannot be the medium of “modern” education? Could it be that there are qualities of African languages that render them incompatible with modern education? If such qualities exist, then how can learning a European language in itself enable a people to overcome such qualities? Presumably the content of African languages arises from the content of African lives. Does learning of another language “magically” result in a change in way of life? Or is the widespread use of English making people dependent on what they do not understand because it is not a part of who they are? If we had examples of non-European languages “succeeding,” then perhaps we could say that the choice of a European language for an African student is a free or arbitrary choice. As it is, if it is a choice at all, then it is a choice that largely precludes taking the African person’s own context seriously. This default option for African students handicaps them for the rest of their lives.25

For example, consider the contrast between monism and dualism. English is “at home” in dualistic communities. When used by dualistic people, it can be extremely productive, because the way it is used fits the contours of life of the people concerned. But if used by a monistic people, it loses its moorings. Its implicit categories are no longer the right ones. It serves a monistic people very poorly. This is the case unless they adapt English so as to use it in their way. Such “adaptation” of English defeats the original intention—that English be a means of easing communication with the wealthy and powerful international community and a means of achieving development and prosperity on Western lines.

In the globalizing world it is becoming more and more difficult for different peoples to use English as they like. There are too many people who are trying to align English with international standards for adaptation to happen easily. The main hope of many monistic people around the world is, in fact, to use English in the way that it “should be,” even when such use clashes with their way of life and makes little sense to them. English use has to be an imitation and cannot arise from understanding. That is, English has to be rote-learned, as is a large proportion of the African educational curriculum. Still, accusations of corruption in economic and other practices abound. As a result, the use of subsidy to promote English and other non-African languages in Africa may be crippling the continent.

Economics, God, and African Leadership

Dambisa Moyo has probably become the most internationally renowned economist from Zambia. Her book Dead Aid speaks loudly and boldly against “charitable” practices that are “the silent killer of growth.”26

To her the dependence of Africa on foreign aid is clear, gross, and wrong.27 Her statements regarding this dependence have intrigued me: “foreign aid . . . continues . . . to be the predominant source of financial resources for much of the continent.”28 Just how dependent is the continent on foreign aid? The answer must of course depend on the definition one will take of terms such as “aid” and “dependence.” What exactly qualifies as aid? What criterion is used for aid to be considered foreign?

A broad definition of aid is necessary in order to understand dependence comprehensively. Foreign control of the economy contributes to the aid-related dependence that Moyo discusses. Remittances sent by relatives from overseas into local communities, which official statistics do not take into account, should also be included in a comprehensive definition of aid. Moreover, we must account for the way that the impact of aid multiplies within the local economy. The gross receipts of aid are tremendous by themselves, yet this number alone does not reflect the depth of dependency that such income creates.29

What impact does aid money have? Some try to minimise its apparent impact by emphasising how small it is in relation to GDP figures. Subjectively speaking—as a member of a rural African village community (admittedly a village targeted by the Millennium Villages Project, but the same could really be said even before MVP came)—it seems that foreign donor funds are constantly in view. It would seem that locally available resources quickly get used up in immediate home needs, whereas it is donor money that is used to fund whatever takes people beyond the level of basic self-sufficiency and household survival. If Moyo is right, then the degree of dependency of many African communities is very large indeed. The withdrawal of aid could certainly result in a severe catastrophe, yet the current system seems to be increasing this kind of dependency.

My reason for delving into this area of economics is not to belittle or to put down African people who would like to believe that they are doing better than I am indicating. It is to point to a massive concern that is crying out for attention. This concern links in to our discussion of dualism and monism. Could it be that deeply implicit and widely spread monism is preventing African people from grasping what is necessary in order to develop their economies along the same lines as others in the rest of the world? If this is the case, then we are face to face with an enormous and critical question: how to help people to grasp principles of dualism without which the onslaught of poverty intertwined with dependency will persist.

The perception that what Africa needs is science and technology is not new in the West. Unfortunately, attempts at transmission of scientific/technological principles have been rooted in the presupposition of dualism, onto which to latch scientific insights. The question of how to “convert” a people from being monistic in their worldview to the adoption of a partially30 dualistic worldview looms large. What strikes me as perhaps the most interesting with respect to this worldview question is how we are challenging the secular agenda with what has traditionally been mission/Christian territory. By discussing monism instead of just material poverty, and then conversion as a description of “needed change,” religious faith has become the central issue for socio-economic development.31 Religious faith after all, in its engagement with heart and affection, contributes presuppositional foundations on which other things, including secularism, come to build.32

The shift from monism to dualism has a lot to do with monotheism or a “high view of God.” If some Africans do not have a traditional understanding of a high God,33 then that absence can help to explain why it has been so difficult for them to acquire a dualistic worldview. Fennella Cannell makes a clear case for Christianity as source of dualism.34 The key, then, to Africa’s social/economic development, lies in the appropriation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.35 That gospel must not be merely the prosperity gospel or the gospel that concentrates on driving out demons which seems to be the variant encouraged by today’s “aid culture,” but which can leave the monistic worldview intact. I refer here especially to Pentecostalism, that (including charismatics) claims one quarter of the world’s Christians,36 but as James K. A. Smith concedes, easily becomes compromised to primal worldviews.37

Before looking at the missionary strategy that reflects the nature of God as high God, I want to make a few further comments regarding how historically a transition from monism to dualism has been enabled. This was a transition occurring during the fourteenth- to sixteenth-century Italian renaissance. In the course of this Renaissance monotheistic Christian belief was almost universally presupposed.38 In the seventeenth Century, according to Anthony Balcomb, “the main objection that arose against the belief [in magic] was [not science but] . . . that it threatened the idea of a transcendent omnipotent creator who could impose his will by divine fiat in the created order”.39 It is possible that the Greek discovery of dualism was connected to links between Greek culture and knowledge of the true God derived from Moses.40 Did Max Weber not also hint that economic advances in Europe were as much to do with “extreme faith” in Protestantism as with technological innovativeness?41 In fact movements of faith have often motivated masses of people in ways unequalled by either political revolution or “merely” social innovation.42

These observations challenge us to reconsider a lot of contemporary missions’ strategy. Why have missions produced dependent churches addicted to the prosperity gospel? In short, Western missions’ strategies have frequently presupposed the existence of dualism in the populations they have reached. For example, they have assumed that African people will understand that the resources provided by the Western mission body to support the spreading of the gospel are not the gospel. It has been very difficult, if not impossible, for many African people to grasp this. The challenge for the next generation of believers is how to spread the gospel without making the African church dependent on a dualism that it does not have, outside resources that it cannot control, and outside languages that it cannot own?

The West has been attempting to have African church leaders play a key part in the leadership of Western (-resourced and -language) mission efforts. Yet, we need to ask ourselves, How can African church leaders be expected to guide strategies to reach their own people that are rooted in misguided foreign assumptions? Instead of attempting to incorporate Africans into mission by educating them in Western languages and presupposing that they have a dualistic understanding that they do not, the challenge is now for Westerners to adjust their mission strategies to align with African realities. The lead, after God, must come from Africa. This requires the use of African languages as they are used by African people in Africa.43

African people leading Western mission efforts are invariably responding to an intricate and complex context of their own about which Westerners know relatively little. That context, including pressures from extended family and monistic presuppositions has almost invariably compelled the African to maximise the use of Western languages and to maximise foreign income in mission—to perpetuate dependence and the prosperity gospel. New mission efforts guided by the vulnerable mission principles of reliance on local resources and local languages must go beyond drawing on these “native informers.” Informers need to be allowed to speak more freely than is often the case. Listening to them in their own languages and ensuring that the economic equation not be loaded strongly in favour of their compliance enables such freedom. Such is what we are calling vulnerable mission.

Vulnerable Mission

We can define vulnerable mission as mission (or development intervention) by Westerners in the majority world that is carried out using local resources and languages. Instead of relying on “educated” foreign nationals to guide Western missionaries, Western missionaries and development workers must themselves become experts at intercultural communication. This requires that they become immersed in the languages and traditions of the people they are reaching. A vulnerable missionary will become dependent on locals and not on Western donors for the success of their endeavours. They will not so much devise “strategy” as they will respond in a Christ-centred way to the “strategies” of local African or other Majority World believers. Such can enable vulnerable mission to achieve a truly indigenous theology; something which money-laden strategists using Western languages have failed to accomplish for decades.

The carrying out of vulnerable mission depends on achieving the cooperation of nationals. Nationals have become increasingly accustomed to responding to proffered finance and other benefits. How Western missionaries will be welcomed if they do not have such to offer remains to be seen. The obligation is now, in the absence of the option of buying access, on the Westerner to adjust to the non-Western context. Will they be able to meet this challenge?

The new mission that emerges from vulnerable strategies on the part of Westerners opens numerous arenas full of challenge. Allow me to outline these by way of answering some of the critics of vulnerable mission strategies.

Some say that vulnerable mission is a way of denying African people access to Western languages or to funds. Yet, is a church pastor in the USA who is inviting young people to talk about God denying them access to education in mathematics? That pastor has not gone to the school to burn the mathematics textbooks; he has simply chosen to offer people something other than mathematics; so also for vulnerable missionaries with respect to English and donor funds.

My own prediction is that a VM will get the kind of stark view of “life” in African (Majority World) communities that has often been missed by contemporary missionaries. As the view becomes stark and clear, so will previously barely perceived challenges. Typically in Africa the major challenge is how to deal with the monism we are considering, which has in the West become known as witchcraft; something largely ignored by the current Western missionary force. The critics have long said that witchcraft does not “exist.” Recently, its impact has become more visible. Vulnerable mission provides an alternative to the perhaps much more common secular critique of monism.44

The rise in the visibility of African witchcraft in recent years has been notable. Stepping Stones Nigeria in particular has invested heavily in making the problem of child witches better known.45 Unfortunately, their work suffers the weakness of treating witchcraft as if it is an appendage to life in Africa that they can excise, rather than recognising it for what it is—an expression of the African worldview. Nevertheless the actions of Stepping Stones and others46 in drawing our attention to this issue can be considered progress. It is an improvement on those who perceive Africa’s problems to be only in the material realm—the position of many big players in the field of development, such as the Millennium Development Project, who are forced to be secular in orientation.

It is time for Westerners intervening in Africa to concede that beliefs related to monism are not there “objectively” waiting to be analysed using English as if they are in a laboratory. Treating beliefs in this way is like studying the habits of fish through first laying them out in the sun on a concrete surface. Monistic/witchcraft beliefs affect Africans’ communication about themselves and their communities. When talking with African people about witchcraft, even if the conversation is in English, one is not only discussing witchcraft, but one is also using witchcraft categories, and in that sense engaging in witchcraft, whether one knows it or not. In the course of discussion an African speaker may well be wary of the way what he says could implicate him in witchcraft attacks, and so on. Such topics are effectively tackled using African languages.

Envy is not given a great deal of prominence in many secular discussions today, despite the prominence of envy in Africa. The Western approach, rooted in objectivity, excludes such human sentiments as envy from view. Seen from the African side, the history of the interaction between Western and African people is intricately connected to issues concerning envy. This could be very evident to those who take a broader look at relationships between the West and Africa. Envy is the powerhouse of a lot of the evil associated with witchcraft (i.e., monistic beliefs).

Whether African communities can escape the clutches of envy/jealousy is a very important question. I take envy as a synonym for witchcraft. If they can do so, then in a sense they have already overcome one of the terrors of witchcraft. Such beliefs (i.e., fear of witchcraft) are very difficult to overcome, but if African communities cannot overcome their orientation to envy, then it will be hard to make progress on other fronts. Envy constantly curtails alternative options of mutual cooperation between community members. If each one has set out from the beginning to make sure that others not get ahead,47 regress is easier than progress. Envy easily disregards victims—if my focus is on how to close the gap between myself and others I consider to be better off than I, then I may have little energy left to consider someone else who is worse off.48 Africa cannot “be developed” by others without its own people’s active participation, yet envy undermines the possibility of that participation.

David Maranz articulates one outcome of envy: in many African communities, those who are better off have an innate and unquestioned obligation to give.49 (They are required to “give” so as to avoid the consequences of the envy (i.e., witchcraft) of others should they not do so.) What the receiver gives in return is a kind of servitude and verbal public praise. In terms of relationships between the wealthy West and Africa, this means that according to many Africans the West is required to keep giving and giving to Africa until material equality is reached. Such an equation includes relatively little consideration for the need to impart material productivity to Africa, because in the African view of the world much overlap between spiritual and “material productivity” looks different than it does in the West.

The flip side of Africa’s demands is of course the West’s willingness to give. The evidence demonstrates that the African approach to imbalances in wealth is proving enormously successful—to the tune of $1 trillion given to the continent in foreign aid over the last 50 years.50 Africa’s pleas for help would have accomplished nothing if no one was listening, but those who are listening are also responding generously. The sum total of reasons as to why the so-called international community responds as generously as it does to appeals for help from Africa is too large a topic for us here.

Summary and Conclusion

While the Bible may advocate equality, it does not insist that spiritual messages be accompanied by material charity. The Bible points us towards the advantages of the use of mother tongues.

Western missionaries have long recognised the need for African churches and communities to be self-supporting. African monism has hindered the achievement of that goal. Western experts have ignored monism, but contrary to their hopes, its persistence has revealed the shallowness of their aspirations for how Africa should develop. A necessary component to the overcoming of the ignorance of Westerners in Africa is a considered response to and not an ignoring of what is there, including monism and its products. Because monism will not simply go away, Western missionaries must carefully address it, which requires the use of African language(s) in church, leadership, and education.

Africa’s dependency on outside aid is massive. Empowering the continent’s people requires an appreciation of dualism, which has historically often come to a more monistic people by means of religious conversion—a kind of conversion which, contrary to popular opinion, has barely occurred in Africa. Because leading people from monism to dualism is different from the West’s education and leadership practices that operate within the boundaries of dualism, the best approach to African leaders ought to include an attempt to gain understanding from their perspective. The responsibility is on the West to communicate and interact interculturally.

To share the gospel and not Western culture remains an acute challenge to Western Christian missionaries. The rising visibility of witchcraft in Africa even in secular circles demonstrates an awareness of aspects of monism until recently deemed irrelevant by strict dualists. The way forward must be in a vulnerable approach to mission, that intends to overcome the intensity of envy associated with monism to foster belief in God as high God and to move away from the current widespread African Christian faith that hopes intently in this-worldly success.

Jim Harries (PhD) served for three years amongst the Kaonde people in Zambia. Since 1993 he has lived in a Luo village in western Kenya. In that time he has been teaching Theological Education by Extension at Yala Theological Centre and Siaya Theological Centre in western Kenya. He lectures part time at Kima International School of Theology. He has learned the languages of the Kaonde, Luo, and Swahili people. Harries is the chairman of the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission and serves as adjunct faculty at William Carey International University and Global University, both in the USA. He can be contacted at


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1 This essay is an adaptation of a lecture presented at the Abilene Christian University “Global Conference on Vulnerable Mission,” March 7–10, 2012.

2 Grace Nyatugah Wamue, “The Use of European Traditions in the Study of Religion in Africa: East African Perspectives,” in European Traditions in the Study of Religion in Africa, ed. Frieder Ludwig and Afe Adogame, Series of the African Association for the Study of Religions (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2004), 366, of Western missionaries to East Africa in the period beginning in 1890.

3 Joseph G. Healey, A Fifth Gospel: The Experience of Black Christian Values (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1981), 146.

4 Jim Harries, “Pragmatic Theory Applied to Christian Mission in Africa: With Special Reference to Luo Responses to ‘Bad’ in Gem, Kenya” (PhD thesis, University of Birmingham, 2007), 210,

5 Jim Harries, “Witchcraft, Envy, Development, and Christian Mission in Africa,” Missiology: An International Review 40, no. 2 (April 2012): 129–39.

6 All Scripture quotations, unless specified otherwise, are from the New International Version.

8 Wamue, 366.

9 Jim Harries, “Meeting the Indigenous Church: A Personal Account of an African Missionary Journey” (unpublished manuscript, 2009),

10 I have pointed elsewhere to the dependence on providence often found in endeavours by Westerners in the Majority World that does not apply to their activities when “at home.” See Jim Harries, “Providence and Power Structures in Mission and Development Initiatives from the West to the Rest: A Critique of Current Practice,” Evangelical Review of Theology 32, no. 2 (April 2008): 156–65.

11 See Stepping Stones Nigeria, “Child ‘Witches,’ ” The Issues,

12 Such consideration of the problems of Africa as being unique has been variously oppressed in the course of history, as also explained by Bethwell A. Ogot, Reintroducing Man into the African World: Selected Essays 1961–1980 (Kisumu, Kenya: Anyange Press, 1999). Okot p’Bitek, Religion of the Central Luo (Nairobi, Kenya: East African Literature Bureau, 1971), 10–58, attempted to undermine reports of Europeans about African communities.

13 As suggested by Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right,” trans. Annette Jolin and Joseph O’Malley, Cambridge Studies in the History and Theory of Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 131. I include place quotation marks around the term “religious” because I consider use of this category with reference to African ways of life usually to be a false imposition.

14 Gerrie ter Haar, Imagining Evil: Witchcraft Beliefs and Accusations in Contemporary Africa, Religion in Contemporary Africa (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2007).

15 E.g., see Jim Harries, Vulnerable Mission: Insights into Christian Mission to Africa From a Position of Vulnerability (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2011), 239–55.

16 I take a term such as “believing in” as coming from recent relatively cerebral Western Christianity. For the African witchcraft is likely to be simply a part of the way things are, rather than something to be “believed in” or “not believed in.”

17 Such a category as “spiritual causes” is of course rooted in dualism and so does not make sense for monists.

18 Tearfund International Learning Zone, “Umoja,” Churches,

19 The realist believes “that the objects of our senses are real or exist in their own right quite independent of their being known to, perceived by, or related to mind.” Harold H. Titus, Marilyn S. Smith, and Richard T. Nolan, Living Issues in Philsophy, 9th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 283. Such belief clearly sets up a dualism of things that are real as against those that are “not real.”

20Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s. v. “John Locke (1632–1704),” accessed August 13, 2011,

21Tabula rasa,” see discussion on Locke above. This thinking would need to assume that the upbringing and home-life of African children is identical to, or at least functionally the equivalent to, that of Western native English-speaking children.

22 Samuel M. Tshehla, “ ‘Can Anything Good Come Out of Africa?’: Reflections of a South African Mosotho Reader of the Bible,” Journal of African Christian Thought 5, no. 1 (2002): 23.

23 Kwesi Kwaa Prah, “The Burden of English in Africa: From Colonialism to Neo-Colonialism,” (keynote address presented to the Department of English: 5th International Conference on the theme: Mapping Africa in the English-Speaking World, University of Botswana, Francistown, Botswana, June 2–4, 2009),

24 Ibid., 5.

25 Stating that an African language ought to be the medium of instruction is of course not to say that European languages should not be taught as subjects. To teach European and other African languages as subjects is highly recommended. Research suggests that African students become more competent in English if it is taught as a subject, rather than when it is the language of instruction.

26 Dambisa Moyo, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), 48.

27 Ibid., 36.

28 Ibid., 25.

29 For example, a certain amount of foreign money subsidizes the primary school sector of a country. Some of that money will go to pay teachers. The teachers will buy food from a shop. This will enable shopkeepers to acquire produce from farmers, who will in turn purchase other products from the shops, so that the shopkeepers as well as the teachers will become owners of bicycles. The use of bicycles will enable certain young men to enter into the bicycle repair business, which will mean that their wives will have the money with which to purchase artificial hair and to pay someone to apply it and so on. At which point is money-flow no longer considered to be due to foreign aid? Another example: the presence of numerous outside agencies providing all kinds of aid, all requiring efficient communication systems, results in large profits for mobile phone companies that are in turn taxed by African governments for their own spending. That government income, which seems to be internally produced, arises only slightly indirectly from foreign aid. Just how dependent then are African economies on foreign aid?

30 I do not think it is possible, and certainly it is not “healthy,” to be entirely dualistic.

31 This paragraph raises many questions, which I cannot address in this short article. I refer my readers to some of my other writings, such as those found at

32 James K. A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 5, 59.

33 As says Okot, 41–58; contra John S. Mbiti, Introduction to African Religion, 2nd ed., African Writers (London: Heinemann, 1991), 45–59, and Kwame Bediako, “Biblical Exegesis in the African Context—The Factor and Impact of Translated Scriptures,” Journal of African Christian Thought 6, no. 1 (June 2003): 21.

34 Fennella Cannell, “The Christianity of Anthropology,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11, no. 2 (June 2005): 338, 350–51; Fennella Cannell, “The Anthropology of Christianity,” in The Anthropology of Christianity, ed. Fennella Cannell (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 14.

35 I do not here go into the area of comparative religions, and whether “the key” may rather be in Buddhism, Islam, etc., for reasons that go beyond the scope of this article. I point my reader to Cannell, “Anthropology of Christianity,” 1, 2, 16, 21, and Talal Asad, “The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category,” in A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, ed. Michael Lambeck, Wiley-Blackwell Anthologies in Social and Cultural Anthropology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2002), 122. Both of these authors give singular credit to Christianity for the emergence of categories associated with modern dualism.

36 See The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Global Christianity,” Christian, Religious Affiliation, Topics,

37 Smith, 41.

38 Bambang Sugiharto, “Radical Consequences of the Primacy of Experience in the Hermeneutics of Culture,” in Communication across Cultures: The Hermeneutics of Cultures and Religions in a Global Age, ed. Chibueze C. Udeani et al., Seminars: Culture and Values, vol. 26 (Washington, DC: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2008), 94.

39 Anthony Balcomb, “The Great Comeback of God(s): Theological Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-Secular World,” Missionalia: Southern African Journal of Mission Studies 38, no. 3 (November 2010): 418.

40 John R. Salverda, “Moses, Hermes and Io,” Ancient/Classical History,,

41 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Scribner, 1958).

42 The reader can note that the English I use here is implicitly dualistic in that I make a distinction between the religious and the non-religious (e.g., the “merely social”) that is an invention of Western society. This is not an argument that arises from the widespread African worldview, in which these are not distinct.

43 There would be less point in using an African language in a Western way. The point of the argument presented here is that mission policy for Africa must emerge as a result of the impact of God’s Word on the African milieu.

44 Note that in this article we are considering witchcraft to be largely synonymous with the terms monism and envy.

45 See fn. 11.

46 See also Tony Kail, Cry from the Bush: A Christian Response to Africa’s Epidemic of Witch Hunts, Child Witches and Deadly Exorcisms (Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011).

47 See for example Kwesi Kwaa Prah, The African Nation: The State of the Nation, CASAS Book Series 44 (Cape Town: Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society, 2006), 153.

48 The various implications for communication of a society rooted in envy are too wide for me to explore more fully here. See Harries, “Witchcraft.”

49 Maranz, 150.

50 Moyo, xviii.

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Vulnerable Mission vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology

The goals of mainstream mission and missiology have gone widely unmet. The Alliance for Vulnerable Mission (AVM) proposes better methods for reaching those goals. The AVM has advocated the methods of local languages and local resources. This article expands the vulnerable mission methodology to include local thinking style. In particular, Western missionaries need to use oral thinking styles rather than the analytical thinking style that creates dependency in oral societies. Missionaries must decide whether to supplement local methods with foreign “strength” or to accept the vulnerability of using only local methods.

As a missiologist who has observed a lot of missions and churches in a lot of countries for a lot of years, I want to try to position “vulnerable mission” against the broader backdrop of trends in missiology and mission practice today.2 My hope is to help the rest of the mission world connect more easily with what we are talking about in this conversation, so that fruitfulness and glory to God may connect more commonly in mission practice just as they connect in John 15:8.

Underlying the paper is my personal conviction that we in the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission have a theme that ought to resonate with a lot more mission scholars and practitioners than our current circle. What could or should we be saying that we are not saying clearly enough to find more people who are already doing or desiring something akin to VM, no matter what label they put on it?3 In this paper I will try to answer my own question, and I invite you to answer it even better.

I will compare and contrast the theory and practice of mission in three areas: the goal of mission, the methods of mission, and the big question that Western missions face today. Along the way I will relate VM to the three trends or camps of mission with which we overlap most—partnership, self-sufficiency (overcoming dependence), and orality (storying). This brief exercise will require some sweeping generalizations that readers may wish to challenge.4

The Goal of Mission

If we look at the Edinburgh 1910 missions conference and its coordinated planning to turn this into a Christian planet by planting churches everywhere, the methods appear to have worked even beyond the planners’ dreams a century ago. Churches have been planted across huge stretches of previously unevangelized territory.5

But if we look at Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods book from 1912, we have to ask, “What kind of churches?” The goal in Allen’s terms was self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating churches.6 For our purposes, and to save us getting bogged down in the long debate about the adequacy of that famous Three-Self Formula, let me use three more recent and roughly parallel terms: contextualized, sustainable, and missional. These are very prominent in missiological writing in the last 40, 20, and 10 years respectively, and it seems almost everybody writing about mission now takes them for granted as three marks to look for in a healthy church.

But what is the state of the church globally? The harvest does not match the three-part goal very well. For the vast majority of the world, believers and unbelievers alike, Christianity appears to be more culturally foreign, money-driven, and confusing than contextualized, sustainable, and missional.

Allen’s goal Current buzz words about goal Frequent results
Self-governing Contextualized Foreign
Self-supporting Sustainable Money-driven
Self-propagating Missional Confusing

I am not saying that twentieth-century mission was a waste or a failure or that the global church is a basket case, needing rescue by us as if we are the enlightened part of the world. But I am saying that we have not yet arrived at well-contextualized, sustainable, missional churches (even in the West), because if we had, the missiologists would have quit talking about these things. They would be losing their jobs for being behind the times, writing another book about contextualization. They keep their teaching positions because they are focusing the next generation on the things churches do not yet have but that missiologists think churches should try to get.

In case you need any reminders that the church has not yet arrived at sound mission practice, here are three very painful ones I have recently encountered, all indicating that the bull-in-the-china-shop approach to missions is alive and kicking:

  • Steven Ybarrola concludes a 2008 article by sadly noting, “It was twenty-six years ago that I was first exposed to this application [of anthropology to mission work, that is, of contextualization] at the U.S. Center for World Mission. However, in my experience . . . I still find this perspective to be largely lacking.”7
  • Two weeks ago I was requested to answer a few survey questions for a researcher, one of which was, “The multi-language translating software can be used to translate foreign languages. The use of SMS, multimedia, internet, and satellite services can enable followers of Jesus Christ to communicate the gospel with non-believers, whose language is different, more efficiently and effectively than a missionary physically going to a nation in which the native language is different.” I’ll admit that I checked “strongly disagree,” but only because there was no option that said, “violently disagree.”8
  • Three weeks ago a missions pastor friend of mine returned from a trip where he heard a veteran missionary say, “Satan has taken full advantage of the short-term missions movement in [his Asian country]. We would be so far ahead of where we are if no teams had ever come.”9

To sum up, VM does not propose different goals than mainstream mission and missiology.10 We are arguing that the mainstream methods of reaching those goals are not achieving them very well. The contextualized, sustainable, missional church is not here yet.

Better Methods of Reaching the Agreed Goal, Including Oral Thinking Style

As someone has said, “Stupid is not doing stupid things. It is doing the same things and expecting a different result.” Let’s apply that to mission.

The biggest shift in mission from Western countries in the last twenty years is a massive increase in short-term trips and short-term workers (a year or less). In a sense, this is a new “method,” but in a deeper sense, it is the same old method of the colonial era, putting monocultural, ethnocentric people into cross-cultural settings.

In a way it is worse, because now that quick trips are possible and affordable, the trippers have no time to grow out of their ethnocentrism and no clue about why they should. They stick to the methods that ethnocentric people can use, even though these fly in the face of the goals of mainstream missiology. They rely on English or a personal translator, they operate as “haves” among “have nots,” and they cannot begin to imagine doing mission with an oral approach to life rather than an analytical approach.

Missiologists and most advocates of partnership in mission know this kind of mission activity will not reach the goals of mission, so they make some major improvements to the ethnocentric model, such as advocating that Westerners do things with people instead of for people. They promote these better methods even among short-termers whenever possible.11

Goal Partnership methods Short-term mission methods
Contextualized English or local language English only
Sustainable Prime the pump, or top up local resources Provide from outside
Missional Simplify the message Operate analytically without realizing it at all

VM takes the whole thing one step further, though none of us are claiming that VM methods are the silver bullet that will solve everything with one shot.

Goal VM methods Partnership methods
Contextualized Local language English or local
Sustainable Local resources Prime the pump, or top up local resources
Missional Local thinking style Simplify the message

VM has been very explicit about the first two methods (local language and resources) and has not yet said much about the third, that is, local thinking style. We have assumed that oral thinking style is naturally built into local languages and resources, but I believe it might be helpful to raise it to the status of a third defining mark of VM.

What is a “local thinking style”? In the broadest strokes, there are basically two styles—oral thinking and analytical thinking. Various labels have been used for these two styles.12 I am indebted to John Walsh for the following explanation which greatly helped me on this point: “When people routinely assume that the opposite of orality is literacy, they are making only a superficial contrast. The real contrast is not oral vs. literate. It is oral vs. analytical.”13 In other words, an oral style is a story or narrative or holistic style of thinking as opposed to a conceptual style that breaks everything down into pieces and then connects the pieces. Oral thinkers apprehend whole ideas; analytical thinkers comprehend them one piece at a time.

Again in very broad strokes, the preferred local thinking style is analytical in the West and oral in the Global South, though oral thinking is growing quickly among younger Westerners and analytical thinking is widespread among people with a lot of Western education, regardless of their home culture. The aspect of this relevant to our discussion is that the vast majority of mission today is undertaken by analytical thinkers working in contexts where oral thinking is the preferred local style.

Let’s return then to the earlier comment about doing mission with “an oral approach to life.” This hit me like a bombshell while I was giving some guest lectures in a Central Asian seminary a few years ago. I was talking about Bosch’s overview of paradigms of mission throughout church history14 and the question was asked, “What is a paradigm?” My on-the-spot attempts to answer did not shed any light for the questioner. In later reflection I realized that a paradigm is a tool that an analytical thinker uses to compare two or more systems. Non-analytical (oral) thinkers do not use that tool because they never undertake that task. They simply do not look at their worlds that way.

Further, I realized that every lecture by a foreigner and every book in that seminary library (except the biographies) was structured for analytical thinkers and was basically lost on the oral ones. I understood why a Scottish faculty member at the school had said, “We try to get them to answer the questions on an exam but often all they do is give testimonies.” The entire seminary system was set up to turn oral thinkers into analytical thinkers rather than to capitalize on their natural strengths as oral thinkers.

Whether that illustration was helpful or not, here is the abstract description of the problem. Outside money is often used for mission methods such as building a seminary or paying a salary for a church planting pastor, which are seen as the best or only means to the desired goal, such as a strong church or a successful outreach plan. There may be several Xs in a chain; for example, Bible schools (X1) are seen as the means to theological orthodoxy (X2) and spiritual maturity of pastors (X3), good study habits using good study tools (X4), and quality sermons (X5)—in order to reach the goal of mature believers and a mature church.

But the vision of the “mature” church may have been flawed in the beginning because it assumed that genuine disciples are analytical thinkers and their leaders must use analytical methods to help them grow. Look at the financial implications of this ethnocentric assumption.

Biases That Go with Assuming a Mature Church Must Be an Analytical Church

  1. Professionalization—the leaders are the best analysts; laity tag along.
  2. That kind of leader needs special schooling for analyzing the Bible.
  3. A congregation must be big enough to support a professional pastor.
  4. That size of congregation will need a building.
  5. The building, the schooling, and the pastor all require major funding.

Alternative Model If a Mature Church Can Be an Oral-Thinking Church

  1. The laity can be involved in developing the theology of the group.
  2. Special schooling not required for leaders; they can be apprenticed.
  3. Congregations can thrive and sub-divide though too small to support a pastor.
  4. Buildings are optional.
  5. Little or no funding required.

It boggles the mind to think how much Western mission effort and funding have gone into things the alternative model does not need at all. It also makes one wonder how many of today’s Western missionaries are missing golden opportunities for fruitful witness that they could seize if they could adapt to an oral thinking style. Here are a few examples, which have a few advocates but in my experience are usually regarded as quirky interests of a tiny minority.

  • Ethnomusicology. Music shapes the faith and life of emerging churches more than anything else. How can it be a sidelight of mission? A network of Christian ethnomusicologists is encouraging wider use of the kind of Christian music development that happened spontaneously in the VM churches.15 Let this become a mainstream pursuit. Cultural outsiders cannot do the composing and choreography but they may legitimize it for the local composers, give a little guidance for it, and act as cheerleaders while the new music emerges.
  • Proverbs. Proverbs are distilled oral thinking, masterful carriers of profound truth. How can these be incidental to preaching and witness? Why not routinely build them into mission work. For example, here is an ethnographic project for a one- or two-month short-term experience for a college student: “Write a paper of five pages or less that answers this question: What are ten local proverbs that every missionary who comes to this place should learn on arrival, and what would they know about the local people if they really grasped these proverbs?”16
  • Festivals. How can festivals be so neglected? They are communal events celebrating the great acts of God in the biblical story, intriguingly and graciously open to outside observers, involving music and drama, processions, symbols, colors, and many layers of meaning.17 Westerners are festival-deaf and festival-blind, but the rest of the world is fluent in festival. I would love to see us change the dominant paradigm for mission from a war to a festival, so that we automatically think of ourselves more as carriers of joy than agents of force. Might the festival be so effective that it would have an even greater impact on both evangelism and discipleship than sermons do?

A shift to an oral thinking style would also go a long way toward helping us understand and utilize the shift that N. T. Wright, Dallas Willard, and Scot McKnight are calling for—the recovery of the biblical “gospel of the kingdom” as opposed to an exclusive focus on the “gospel of salvation.” I cannot summarize that here. I only want to note that the “gospel of salvation” (our standard way of preaching and teaching the gospel in the West) is an analytical gospel, that is, it breaks the gospel into concepts and pieces, while the gospel of the kingdom is a narrative and is much more intelligible to oral thinkers.18

Emphasis on local thinking style would reinforce the other two marks, relate VM to the familiar Three-Self Formula, and point us toward another emerging mission network (the International Orality Network) as a naturally ally of VM.19 It would also align VM squarely with the healthy trend in missiology to attend to thinking style as an aspect of worldview. This is greatly needed because the message has not got through to many mission practitioners and even mission agency leaders yet.They do not comprehend the orality issue and do not assume it as a core aspect of mission strategy in nearly the same way they assume contextualization and sustainability.

Perhaps most importantly of all, emphasis on local thinking style would make our vulnerability more obvious to us than the other two marks. As Mary Lederleitner said in her paper, “It is always hard for people with a lot of money and education to learn from those with less.”20 But our money will not help us become oral thinkers, and our education, since it is so analytical, will actually hurt us.

The instant we try to shift from analytical to oral thinking, we know we are off our turf and out of our depth. Local oral thinkers are the experts, and we are in kindergarten, so we have to let them lead and learn from them as they do. When we ask them how to write a song, quote a proverb, hold a festival, or explain the gospel in an oral way, we know we don’t know!

This is a huge challenge, almost incomprehensibly different than our analytical ways. I ran into it as I worked with oral thinkers in Lesotho a generation ago, and I tried to explain it to my American supporters this way: “Teaching the Bible in Lesotho means teaching parts of the Bible we don’t often read (like Hebrews) to teach truths we don’t understand (like purification) to meet needs we don’t feel (like body-soul cleansing) by using methods we don’t like (like memorization).”

Once I taught a two-day course on worldview at a YWAM training base in England and included some of this material on thinking styles. At the end a Swedish student commented, “Now I see not only why I felt lost for most of the six months I served in Tanzania. I can see for the first time just how lost I really was!”

If missionaries among oral peoples tried from the beginning to shift to oral thinking, they would find out much sooner “just how lost they really are.” Then they would slow down, invest much less money and energy in poor (i.e., analytically based) mission strategies and programs, and do much less damage before they started doing some good.

The Huge Methodological Choice for Western Missions Today

If VM methods—local language, local resources, local thinking style—are so much better than others, where are they working? It is a fair question. If Jim Harries has come up with such a valuable theory, why has his own VM approach to theological training not yet caught fire in Western Kenya, spread across Kenya and even to other countries? Where’s the beef in the VM theory?

The answer is hiding in plain sight, and it is a lot bigger than Jim or any of the rest of us. Arguably the three most fruitful mission movements in the entire twentieth century were three that operated almost entirely on VM principles. (I realize these do not fit with Jim’s definition of VM as an issue of Westerners working in the Majority World, but bear with me.) The three movements are African indigenous churches, Chinese house churches, and (to a lesser extent) the charismatic movement in Latin America. Mainstream mission thinkers and leaders are fully aware of all three and generally admire them, yet they seem not to have grasped the implications of their fruitfulness. Consider this:

The AICs [African Instituted Churches] have shown how much mission can be done for free. It takes no money to retell the story of the calling of the founder or to tell people about one’s own walk with God. It takes no money to pray for someone to be healed. It takes no money to sing and dance or to write a new song that praises God. It takes no money to receive dreams or prophetic revelations from God. It takes no money for each member of a congregation to stand up and speak in a service. It takes no money to be freed from alcoholism, wife-beating, jealousy and witchcraft. It takes no money to become an honest, hard-working employee.21

The massive success of VM is not just a twentieth-century phenomenon. In our new century in India, Mongolia, the Philippines, and across the Muslim World, things are beginning to happen that look very similar to Africa 100 years ago and China 50 years ago. And the movements are typically working on VM principles because they have no other options.

If it is true that in the twentiety century God spread his kingdom most widely by VM methods, and if it is true that he seems poised to do the same thing in the remaining “neglected corners” of the earth in the twenty-first century, then we in Western missions need to ask ourselves one huge question, perhaps the biggest question facing Western churches, the Western mission establishment, and the next generation of Western missionaries: Complement or copy? To what extent does God want us to use our strengths (methods and resources) to complement the groups and churches who are using VM by necessity, and to what extent does he want us to copy their VM methods ourselves by choice, leaving our “strengths” on the sideline?

Complementing seems to be the obvious choice if we are thinking of the global church as a body where different members have different functions. For example, groups like Gospel for Asia promote mission by combining the money of the West with the manpower of the East. There are many more nuanced variations on this model, which is the premise for all forms of partnership. But in light of Paul Yonggap Jeong’s paper in the present issue, we have to recognize that every attempt to complement is an attempt to do mission from a position of strength. We want our strength to complement their effort in some area where they are weak.

VM is pointing out that the body is not working like it should when one member acts like Saul trying to help another “weaker” member, David, by offering some armor. That is interference not body life. It comes from the kind of well-intentioned thinking that says, “We are stronger than you, you need what we can provide, we are willing to help you, so accept it as God’s provision for you through us.”

Sometimes this thinking is true; God is providing by this route, but perhaps not nearly as often as we think. I believe a great deal of what is interfering with the carrying out of the Great Commission today—the foreignness, the money-centeredness, the fuzziness of the message—is largely the result of many Davids accepting Saul’s armor and trying to fight while they wear it.

We in the wealthy countries have to become much more self-critical. Are our strengths really strengths? Is David’s weakness really weakness? It all depends on what the Lord of the mission wants to do and how he wants to do it. If we assume that our money and technology, which look like strengths from a human perspective, are what God is most likely to use to get his mission done and to bring glory to himself, won’t we forget to check with Jesus, the general director of the mission, whether he actually wants to use our money and technology in each particular case?

Are we not overlooking 1 Corinthians 1 as the default setting for mission—God using the weak to confound the strong? Are we not relegating that “weak” and vulnerable method of mission to those who are too poor to be able to afford to do mission the way we do it?22 Are we not assuming that people do mission from a position of strength if they can and from a position of weakness if they must?

Three Requests for Readers

While we consider the mega-issues of oral thinking style and “complement or copy,” there are three very down-to-earth activities I would love to see readers engage in. I am doing them already and benefiting, but I am only one person. We need to multiply this.

  1. Getting more perspectives on VM from Majority World people whose contact with the West has not persuaded them to approach mission like Westerners (we’ve been confining the dialogue mostly to Westerners). For me this happens mainly through ongoing communication with a house church pastor in Central Asia.
  2. Discovering where and how VM overlaps with other movements and trends in the mission world, particularly “partnership” and “orality” (we’ve been describing ourselves mostly in isolation or in contrast to others). For me this means staying in touch with the COSIM and ION networks.23
  3. Finding and sharing more success stories about VM in practice (we’ve been refining the VM theory, and I’m still mostly doing that in this paper). For me this means promoting Thomas Oduro’s book Mission in an African Way.


There is broad consensus among the overseas churches I am familiar with, missionaries, and mission scholars that the Western missionary movement has not produced the desired amount of the desired fruit, and that the shift to emphasis on short-term mission is not helping much if at all. There is widespread work on method improvement, especially among advocates of partnership.

VM takes things a step further, advocating much greater reliance on local language and resources than we currently see. I am proposing that we also advocate a much greater reliance on oral thinking as opposed to analytical thinking.

There is a very difficult choice for the next generation of Western Christians. Should they complement the “weak” VM of the Majority World church with their strength, or should they forego their strength and copy the VM that the Majority World uses by necessity?

If God is in this, then we need to widen the VM circle and connect with others among whom he is also stirring. It is his mission, and it ought to be done in his way(s), which we can find in consultation with others he guides.

And here is the heart of the matter for VM. If missionaries and mission agencies are so interested in bringing more glory to God,24 why would we not cut back on the mission methods that are failing to bring much glory to him? Why not replace them with a more vulnerable strategy, one that for its inspiration harks back to the cross, the resurrection, and Pentecost instead of the conquest of the Promised Land? Why not pay the prices of vulnerable mission and bring to God the glory that vulnerable mission in his name brings?

Dr. Stan Nussbaum is Staff Missiologist of GMI Research Services and Adjunct Professor at Wheaton College. He has also taught the Breakthrough course at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in Connecticut, at the World Link Graduate Center in Portland, and (including earlier versions) in England, Korea, Malaysia, India, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Congo (Dem. Rep.), and Nigeria.


Bosch, David J. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series 16. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991.

Butler, Phill. Well Connected: Releasing Power, Restoring Hope through Kingdom Partnerships. Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2005.

Christian Storytelling Network.

Coalition on the Support of Indigenous Ministries.

Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In around the World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002.

Hiebert, Paul G. Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.

The International Council of Ethnodoxologists.

International Orality Network.

Johnstone, Patrick. The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities. Colorado Springs: Biblica, 2011.

Krabill, James R., ed. Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2013.

The Lausanne Movement. “The Lausanne Standards: Affirmations and Agreements for Giving and Receiving Money in Mission.” Documents.

Lederleitner, Mary T. Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010.

Lingenfelter, Sherwood G., and Marvin K. Mayers. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

McKnight, Scot. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Nussbaum, Stan. American Cultural Baggage: How to Recognize and Deal with It. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005.

________. “Vulnerable Mission Strategies.” Global Missiology 10, no. 2 (2013):

________. Waking Up to the Messiah. Morton, IL: Enculturation Books, 2011.

Oduro, Thomas, Hennie Pretorius, Stan Nussbaum, and Bryan Born. Mission in an African Way: A Practical Introduction to African Instituted Churches and Their Sense of Mission. Marturia series. Wellington, South Africa: BybelMedia, 2008.

Rickett, Daniel. Making Your Partnership Work: A Guide for Ministry Leaders. Enumclaw, WA: WinePress, 2002.

Standards of Excellence in Short Term Missions. “The 7 Standards.”

Vulnerable Mission.

Winter, Ralph, and Steven Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. 4th ed. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009.

Ybarrola, Steven J. “Avoiding the Ugly Missionary: Anthropology and Short-Term Missions.” In Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing it Right!, edited by Robert Priest, 101–119. Evangelical Missiological Society Series 16. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2008.

1 This essay is an adaptation of a lecture presented at the Abilene Christian University “Global Conference on Vulnerable Mission,” March 7–10, 2012.

2 See Vulnerable mission (VM) as defined by the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission has two trademark emphases: the use of local languages and local resources in mission and development. Its primary focus is on mission strategy and mission practice, especially the gap between these and mission theory. The VM concept has been developed primarily by Alliance chairman Dr. Jim Harries, a British missionary in Western Kenya. It is of most relevance in similar contexts where (1) mission (or development) is being done in a poorer country than the country or countries where the foreigners are based and (2) missionaries are not already “vulnerable” in the sense of being open to legal and/or physical attack once their purpose is known. Wider implications will be discussed later in this article.

3 Do not read too much pessimism into the question. We are finding some very important connections represented by all of you, and Jim Harries’s new books certainly give people much new information to chew on and debate, but we are still asking ourselves what we could do better.

4 Some of these are dealt with in a later version of this paper, revised for presentation to graduate and post-graduate students at a seminary. See Stan Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies,” Global Missiology 10, no. 2 (2013): The current version was designed more for undergraduates and mission practitioners.

5 This is beautifully documented in Patrick Johnstone’s new work, The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities (Colorado Springs: Biblica, 2011).

6 Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (London: R. Scott, 1912).

7 Steven J. Ybarrola, “Avoiding the Ugly Missionary: Anthropology and Short-Term Missions,” in Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing it Right!, ed. Robert Priest, Evangelical Missiological Society Series 16 (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2008), 101–119.

8 My experience with translation software is that really ordinary conversations are difficult enough, let alone communicating the gospel into a culture I have no feel for. I recall one message where the software translated a Russian speaker’s greeting as, “Hello, expensive brother!” After pondering what kind of an insult my friend intended by this greeting, I eventually figured out that “expensive” was the software’s way of translating “dear.” But it didn’t give me much confidence in the rest of the message.

9 This is not to deny that short-term trips can be mutually beneficial if they follow strict “Standards of Excellence in Short Term Mission” guidelines referred to in fn. 11. The anecdote above only illustrates that as of this writing, the problems are still dire in spite of efforts to mitigate them.

10 We are with the missiologists at this point, battling against the popular temptation to define “better world” as “more like the wealthy part of the world.”

11 For “Standards of Excellence in Short Term Missions,” see For excellent summaries on partnership principles, see Mary T. Lederleitner, Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010); The Lausanne Movement, “The Lausanne Standards: Affirmations and Agreements for Giving and Receiving Money in Mission,” Documents,; Phill Butler, Well Connected: Releasing Power, Restoring Hope through Kingdom Partnerships (Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2005); and Daniel Rickett, Making Your Partnership Work: A Guide for Ministry Leaders (Enumclaw, WA: WinePress, 2002).

12 For example, Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 51–64, describe “holistic/dichotomistic thinking;” Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In around the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002), 142–49, sketches “categorical/holistic thinking”; and Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), ch. 2, deals with different kinds of logic. (My thanks to Missio Dei editor, Greg McKinzie, for these helpful references after the conference.) Jim Harries speaks of the issue most often as “monistic/dualistic thinking.”

13 John Walsh, an astute practitioner of orality (, explained this to me in a memorable personal conversation in October 2011.

14 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology Series 16 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991).

15 The International Council of Ethnodoxologists,, states: “We facilitate online networking and provide resources for the development of culturally appropriate Christian worship, utilizing insights from ethnomusicology, missiology, worship studies and the arts.” See also James R. Krabill, ed., Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2013).

16 An entire cultural profile can be sketched using proverbs as points for a “connect the dots” approach. This is what I have done on American culture in the book American Cultural Baggage: How to Recognize and Deal with It (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005).

17 I am currently making a personal attempt on this one, which you can see in my book Waking Up to the Messiah (Morton, IL: Enculturation Books, 2011). The book sketches an annual cycle of festivals that together tell the whole story of Scripture. A two-page diagram of the cycle is downloadable at

18 They are not “two gospels” but two ways of presenting and explaining the gospel. McKnight clearly shows that the gospel of the kingdom is summarized in the same biblical passage that the gospel of salvation advocates claim as theirs, 1 Cor 15:1–3. See Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 40–43.

20 Mary Lederleitner, unpublished paper presented at the Abilene Christian University “Global Conference on Vulnerable Mission,” March 7–10, 2012.

21 Thomas Oduro, et al., Mission in an African Way: A Practical Introduction to African Instituted Churches and Their Sense of Mission, Marturia series (Wellington, South Africa: BybelMedia, 2008), 159–60.

22 We may note that 1 Cor 1 does not entirely exclude the strong from mission. Not many strong are called (1:26), but a few are. I don’t think that means that the church really needs to thank God for those few strong ones and build its whole approach to mission around them and their strengths. I think it means rather that God’s preferred way and most common way of getting his mission done is the surprising way, through apparently weak people and groups. He does weave a few “strong” people into the tapestry but they are not the ones holding everything together.

23 COSIM is the Coalition on the Support of Indigenous Ministries ( In spite of its name, it is not about funding of indigenous ministries but partnering with them in a variety of ways. ION is the International Orality Network (

24 Thanks to the influence of writers like John Piper and programs like the Perspectives course, there is increased attention to the connection of mission and the glory of God. Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne, eds., Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed. (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009); see especially Hawthorne’s article on pp. 49–63 and Piper’s on pp. 64–69.