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Reverse Mission: the spiritual children of western missionaries

There is confusion surrounding the term "reverse mission", with some arguing that it sounds arrogant and divisive, writes Israel Olofinjana. But we can only talk about it because dedicated missionary efforts were made in Africa, Asia and South America 

Cross shadow300Conversations and discussions are still ongoing about reverse mission. Some of these conversations are centred on whether the term reverse mission is a useful positive language to use. Some are arguing that the term reverse mission should be dropped in favour of other descriptions such as mission from the global south, cross-cultural mission (this is assuming it is doing that) or global mission. Part of the reason for people wanting to drop the term reverse mission is because some have articulated that it sounds arrogant and divisive; others are arguing that it is not happening in reality.

In responding to those who reasoned that it sounds or appear arrogant, I would like to answer them briefly. A proper understanding of reverse mission actually reveals the opposite of arrogance, because it is simply suggesting and acknowledging that those of us coming to do mission in Britain from the Majority World are spiritual children, and blessings of former missionary endeavours to other parts of the world. Our missionary activity to the West is understood in gratitude and humility of what European missionaries went through in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean to bring the Gospel to our ancestors.

Scholars and commentators view differently European missionary efforts to other parts of the world. Some see it as a failure because it is argued that it did more harm than good, especially when we think about the slave trade, colonialism and imperialism. Others on the other hand have romanticised and exaggerated the successes to the extent that they see no failure at all. I belong to neither camp as I am aware that the European missionary effort to Africa is a mixed picture of success and failure.

In this article, I want to indulge a bit in some of the successes of European mission to other parts of the world as someone who has in other places been one of the critics of European missions in the majority World. One of the successes of European missionary enterprise to other parts of the world is reverse mission. Here are examples to illustrate this. In the case of Africa, unknown to many is the fact that the founder of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pa Josiah Akindayomi (1909-1980) was converted in an Anglican church in Nigeria in 1927 before he founded RCCG in 1952. RCCG today is one of the African churches that is sending missionaries and planting churches in Britain. Since their first church plant in the UK in 1988 today they can boast of about 700 church plants in the UK. They can also be regarded as one of the fastest growing churches in Britain.

One of the first Anglican Churches in Nigeria was planted in Abeokuta (city under the rock), Ogun state in 1846/47. The piece of land granted to the CMS mission for this church plant was given by Father Olu Abiola’s family. Father Abiola’s family are deeply Anglican and prided themselves on this history. Father Abiola is an ordained Anglican minister from Nigeria; therefore when he came to the UK in the 1960s and was told by an Anglican minister that he would do well to fellowship in a black Pentecostal church rather than worshipping in an Anglican Church he was deeply upset. Not giving up, he founded Aladura International Church in London in 1970. Although sad because he was rejected by his Anglican roots, Father Abiola is still proud of his Anglican heritage!

My own story as a missionary in this country is also grounded in the missionary endeavours of British Christianity in Africa. In 1937, the Apostolic church of Great Britain, one of the Classic Pentecostal churches, sent S.G. Elton to Nigeria. Elton arrived at the aftermath of major revival in the south-western part of Nigeria. He helped consolidate the revival by discipling the converts from the it, but by far his greatest influence in Nigerian Christianity was mentoring the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa (1938-1998), founder of the church of God Mission International.

Elton is today regarded as the grandfather of Nigerian Pentecostalism, while Idahosa is seen as the father of Nigerian Pentecostalism. This is because Elton introduced Pentecostal distinctives such as fivefold ministry giftings, speaking in tongues, spiritual warfare and so on to many Nigerian youths who were then in Universities, Colleges of Education and Polytechnics. Many of them are now the Pentecostal ministers in Nigeria and one of them is my pastor in Nigeria, the Rev Solomon Adebara, who was influenced by some of the teachings of Elton. I became a Christian under Rev Adebara’s ministry, Fountain of Grace Chapel in 1995 and came to the UK to plant a church in 2004.

In the case of Asia, it is interesting what is currently taking place in Wales as Bible colleges are being partly sponsored by Asian pastors and missionaries whose generosity stems from a deep sense of gratitude and recognition that their spiritual journey begins with the pioneering Welsh missionary efforts.

In 2012, the SaRang Community Church in Seoul, South Korea started a partnership with the Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST) in Bridgend. The investment is resulting in scholarships to students and funding for church planting projects in the valleys of south Wales (the church planting initiative is known as Valleys Commandos). The reason for this generosity is rooted in an obscure story of Robert Jermain Thomas, a young missionary from Abergavenny in Wales who was on board of an American ship in 1866 working as an interpreter. The ship was attacked by Korean troops and eventually saw Thomas murdered, but before he was killed, he managed to throw Gospel tracts and Bibles to the shore near Pyongyang and also cried out: “Jesus, Jesus”  Some Koreans regard him as the person that brought Christianity to their land. In addition, Korean Christians were also influenced in 1907 by the Welsh revival of 1904/05 which resulted in church growth.

Another of such Asian-Welsh partnership is the buying of the former Bible College of Wales (founded in 1927 by Rees Howells) by Pastor Yanh Took Yoong, founder of the Conerstone network of churches in Singapore. The reason for Pastor Yoong buying this College that has trained the likes of Reinhard Bonnke, founder of Christ For all Nations (CfAN), Rev Dr Paul Jinadu, founder of New Covenant Church and Bryn Jones, one of the House Church leaders in Britain, was the recognition that the Welsh revival was foundational to his spiritual journey. The new venture will continue the training and equip people for ministry as it used to do along the vision of its founder. A church will also be planted and prayer and intercessory ministry will be essential to the work.

In the case of South America, there are pastors and missionaries who are coming from Brazil, Peru and Ecuador who can trace their spiritual heritage to European missionary activities in their country. One of such is Rev Rodrigo Assis Da Silva, Senior Pastor of Bethel International Baptist church in Frankfurt Germany. His grandfather Joao Joaquim da Silva was led to Christ by a Baptist missionary in 1947. He was later baptised by an English missionary, David Mein, in 1953, who was the son of the great missionary John Mein. In 2007, Rodrigo came to Wales as a missionary and later served as an assistant pastor in a Baptist church in London.

All the above stories one way or the other demonstrate that the story of reverse mission is also the story of some of the successes of European missions in other parts of the world, and therefore are coming from a place of recognition and gratitude rather than arrogance.

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 1659The Revd Israel Olofinjana is the minister of Woolwich Central Baptist Church and Director of the Centre For Missionaries from the Majority World

He blogs and is the author of Turning the Tables on Mission


The work of a Baptist minister is set to deepen understanding of missionaries from the Global South - or 'reverse missionaries' -  in the United Kingdom

The theology of reverse mission

Picture: RGB Stock/Cross with shadow/Colin Brough
Israel Olofinjana, 24/04/2014
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