A new wave of missionaries

30 Aug, 2017 | International
Simon Marijani
Fisherman working with their nets in Lake Tanganyika.
Mission work in the Global South** has both historical and biblical foundations. While a post-colonial historical narrative has long overshadowed the biblical understanding of the Great Commission by churches in the Global South, a new movement in Africa, Asia and Latin America has introduced a new era in missions.

No longer unreached

OM’s ministry started in 1957 with a few young students in Mexico. The focus soon shifted towards Europe, the Middle East and India. Yet OM would later make a comeback in 1978 to Catholic Latin America, where only four per cent of the population identified as evangelicals.

OM’s ships expended great effort reaching people in Latin America while creating missions awareness. The first mission conference in Latin America was conducted by OM on board Doulos; a former OM leader would later became director of COMIBAM, one of the most important regional mission networks. Today, Latin America is a significant mission force, with 20 per cent of the population identifying as evangelical.

For 10 years, OM has worked in Talamanca, Costa Rica, to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to its indigenous people afflicted by witchcraft, alcoholism, abuse and violence. Linda Villanueva, daughter of a partnering church’s pastor, is the first missionary sent out from Talamanca. In March 2016, Linda and 33 OM staff and volunteers ministered in Ahuachapán, El Salvador. “To be a missionary isn’t easy,” said Linda, “but if God calls you to it, He will give you the strength to continue. I would like to work with youth in my community…to see them come to Jesus. I will be ready to serve and support the Lord’s work wherever He wants.”

Relaunching the canoes

The church in Papua New Guinea (PNG) was planted by Western missionaries arriving by canoes in the early 1800s and slowly spread from the coast inland. At that time, Christians there believed that “they were the last to receive the good news,” said Kepo Kure, OM’s country leader. They referred to themselves as “the end of the world”, meaning that everyone else knew about Christ.

OM’s work in PNG began in 1991 with the vision to mobilise churches for missions, and to train and send Papua New Guineans in partnership with churches to the unreached. “We are working to change their worldview,” Kepo explained. “[We need] to relaunch the canoes from PNG out again!

“The gospel influenced my culture,” he continued. “Missionaries helped change our cultural cruelties to what we are now”—a Christian nation, where 50 per cent of the 7.5 million inhabitants are believers. “PNG received missionaries—and we still do today—and through them the church grew and matured,” Kepo said. “It’s our turn to take the gospel to other places that have not heard.”

OM trains and equips people for ministry, partnering with almost 30 churches to prayerfully and financially support workers sent out all over the world.

Stepping out in faith

OM in Africa aspires to transform 350 communities amongst least-reached people groups by 2025. To do this, OM seeks to motivate, prepare and send 5,000+ new workers to and from the African continent. Already, a wave of young passionate Africans has stepped out in faith, overcoming stereotypes and challenges.

Where the church in most areas previously understood missions to be a Western idea involving expensive mission centers, schools and hospitals, it now understands that missions is about building people’s lives and influencing change in the community. “It took us two years to convince pastors in Mozambique that they can be missionaries,” recalled Francois Vosloo, former leader of OM’s work in Africa. “Two things that the missionaries to Africa did not teach were to give and to go—largely because of poverty.”

OM has sent six young Zimbabweans to serve on board Logos Hope, in addition to several other Zimbabweans sent to Central Asia and North Africa; a dozen more serve in Zimbabwe, mobilising churches and sharing hope amongst least-reached communities.

Peter*, from Ghana, leads the work of OM there. Along with a dozen fellow Ghanaian missionaries, they rescue trafficked women and reach out to Muslims and university students. Michael* and his wife from South Africa lead a regional ministry, while Bupe*, a survivor of slavery as a young woman, now teaches sewing to at-risk women and girls. Her work has influenced her church to join in missions.

Overcoming challenges

A number of obstacles to fully unlocking the missions potential from the Global South remain. “We need an alternative, self-sustainable, entrepreneurial mission model that will revolutionise missions in this century,” said OM International Associate Director Peter Tarantal. “We need models relevant to the Global South Church.”

OM East Asia Pacific Area Leader Mike Hey underlined, “It is important for OM to discover fresh ways to help the church in China, Nepal, the Philippines and elsewhere in the region to see vibrant communities of Christ followers.”

A significant catalyst for the missionary movement is the distinctive international character of OM teams, comprised of national workers with a strong knowledge of local context, and foreign workers with a missional heritage that allows for cross pollination of ideas and experience.

In 2013, OM also established the Global South Initiative, a five-year project to reach the least-reached through resourcing the Global South Church to achieve financial sustainability in business models. Since 2014, GSI has been involved in 38 projects with a direct impact on 60 OM fields and ministries. By 2025, GSI aims to see 7,000 new missionaries from the Global South impacting 500 communities among the least reached.

*Name changed

**The Global South includes Central and Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Near East, all of Africa, Central Asia and all of Asia except Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

Simon Marijani joined OM in 2008. As a journalist, he’s passionate about using research, media and testimonies about God to excite and challenge believers to get involved in world missions. He’s married to Kumbie and serves as the communications officer of OM Zimbabwe, whose focus is to mobilise the local church to send workers to make disciples of all nations. 

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OM exists to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached.

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