Over the past few weeks, we’ve been watching a mini-series on the BBC called “Reverse Missionaries”. Unfortunately it seems to have disappeared from the iPlayer, but the basic premise was that three people from countries which were influenced by British missionaries (Jamaica, Malawi, and India) have returned to the places where those respective missionaries were from to try and return the favour. So, for example, in the second episode a pastor from Blantyre in Malawi returned to Blantyre in Scotland, to a church which was struggling, and tried to engage with the local community in the same way that David Livingstone (who was from Blantyre in Glasgow) did in Malawi.
Anyway, I have to say that I found the whole series very encouraging. Each of the churches that the reverse missionaries came to I think were ‘evangelical’ theologically, but in most cases had perhaps lost some of the desire for evangelism. In each case, the numbers at the church had dropped off significantly and there were very few young people there.
What the reverse missionaries did was go out into the community, meet people, and bring them into the church community. I think my favourite was the first episode, where a Jamaican pastor came to a small town in Gloucestershire and by the end of the two weeks had managed to get a football team going, brought in a few new people to the church, and generally made an impact!
Obviously, all of the reverse missionaries were not very British – I think I (and probably most British people) would generally not be very confident with going up to someone in the street and talking to them cold. But what struck me was that, in general, people were actually very receptive.
There are a couple of things I took from watching the series:
- The gospel is the answer to what people are looking for. This is something which I knew on an intellectual level, but it’s great to see it actually happening in the real world. The first episode showed someone hurting; he needed to know that there was a purpose in his suffering and a promise of release. The second episode showed a woman who had lost her husband; she needed to know the promise of resurrection and eternal life. The third episode showed a divided community; what they needed to know was “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
- The things that the reverse missionaries did were not magical, or only doable by an elite few – all they did was care for people, and try to reach out to them with the message of the good news. Now clearly they were gifted with people, which is something I’m not, but at the same time reaching out to people with the message of the good news isn’t rocket science. Sure, there will be different ways of doing it depending on context, but the important thing is not to become insular. I think the churches featured had all become somewhat inward looking, and that’s the worst thing that can happen to a church.
In general, in the midst of what’s been going on with secular society, HOTS and the like – it’s nice to be reminded (in an understated, unassuming way) that the good news is still good news, and that God is still working.