America has Become a Mission Field
For some years now I have been advocating that for various reasons having to do with secularism, consumerism, materialism, individualism, and Christian accommodation to these aspects of American culture, America itself should now be viewed as a mission field. Now it is most definitely so. Christian missionaries from all over the world, especially the Global South (but also including some countries in the Northern Hemisphere), are flooding the U.S. with the clear and stated goal of re-evangelizing the very country that sent their countries missionaries years ago.
One outstanding example of this new trend came to my attention just recently. I invited a noted religion scholar from Great Britain to speak to my class—about “evangelicalism.” He is an evangelical and I asked him how evangelicalism in America looks to British evangelicals (of whom there are about 2 million). His answer: “very odd.” I think he was being generous.
This scholar spoke about his current research focusing on African Christianity and mentioned a particular relatively young Christian movement/denomination born in Africa that is flooding the U.S. with missionaries. The group is the Redeemed Church of God in North America founded in Nigeria in 1952. Although I knew one of my students is of Nigerian descent I was surprised, as we all were, when he spoke up and mentioned that his parents are missionaries to the U.S. from that particular Nigerian-born and headquartered denomination.
Later I asked the student if he could tell me how many congregations in the U.S. belong to the Redeemed Church of God in North America. He did his research through his parents and came back to me with the answer: 700. That’s astounding.
I happen to know this is not an isolated example; many passionately evangelical Christian groups born in non-European, non-North American countries that were considered “mission fields” by North Americans and Europeans a century and less ago are literally flooding large American cities with high immigrant populations but spreading out from those to evangelize native-born Americans—including many who consider themselves Christians.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
A few years ago I was invited to speak at a Russian-Ukrainian mega-church in the Northwest region of the U.S. There I found representatives from many Russian-Ukrainian churches who came to hear me speak and interact with me. Although these churches have no headquarters they do have informal and fraternal relations with each other. There are many all over Northern California, Oregon and Washington and they are growing—drawing in native-born U.S. people because of their passion for the gospel and determination not to become Americanized in negative ways (viz., adopting consumerism, materialism, and individualism).
Korean Christians are sending out missionaries by the hundreds, if not thousands, to other Asian countries but also to the U.S. I am aware of a large, growing and flourishing Ethiopian evangelical mega-church in a major American city I often visit. Evangelical churches in Kenya take “mission trips” with both young and old to the U.S. Chinese Christians from various Asian countries are streaming into Canada and the U.S. and bringing a distinctive brand of Christianity here.
Because of our American Christian accommodations to secularism, materialism, consumerism and individualism we are increasingly being viewed as a new mission field by descendants of those our ancestors evangelized many years ago. On the other hand, some of these non-Western Christian groups are truly indigenous, never having had any direct connection with American missionaries to their countries. God has been at work among many African people, for example, for centuries without the “benefit” of American missionaries.
I applaud this re-evangelization of the United States and hope it is happening in Europe and Australia and other so-called “Western, developed nations.” That is not to say, of course, that I agree with everything these new missionaries are teaching a preaching; it is only to say that I believe we North American Christians have by-and-large fallen into a nominal state of Christianity that is more American than Christian (which means not really Christian).
One thing these new missionaries are bringing with them is an emphasis on the supernatural—real belief in a real but invisible world of spiritual “powers and principalities” and in spiritual warfare. One of the groups holds frequent all-night prayer vigils to aid God and angels in their war against Satan and his minions. They are bringing to us a worldview more consistent with that of the biblical authors than with our naturalistic one.
I, for one, welcome these new missionaries—not uncritically but with open arms nevertheless.
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