Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: indigenous churches

What is an indigenous church?

An indigenous church is one that has been planted in a new environment, taken root and grows and thrives without outside support. People in the community do not see a cultural barrier between themselves and members of the church and conclude that any differences between them and the members of this church are due to their spiritual beliefs. The faith remains true to its roots, unmixed with local spiritual beliefs and practices, but lifestyle and culture have adapted to the new environment.

The three self principle
These principles of an indigenous church in another land or culture were first described 150 years ago by a Christian missionary. I was a little put off at first because Communist China has appropriated the three self label for what is essentially a state-controlled church. But I haven’t found a better way to describe the working of an indigenous church.

1) Self-governing. The faith has taken root in the new location and local leaders can be trusted to replace the missionaries. They are grounded in the faith and following the lead of the Holy Spirit. From now on the local church will make its own decisions with an understanding of the local culture that a missionary can never quite attain.

2) Self-supporting. Members are giving sacrificially to their church and it is able to meet its own needs. Outside financial support, except in cases of dire emergency, will undermine the local church and damage relations between them and the churches in other countries.

3) Self-propagating. This church will extend its ministry in its local area and beyond without outside help. If we wish to spread the gospel around the world we need to establish churches that will then start other churches.

The Great Commission says “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The Greek word that is here translated teach is the verb form of the noun that means disciple. Thus, Jesus is telling us to go and make disciples in all nations. It is not enough to baptize new converts, they need to be discipled: taught, mentored, and encouraged so that they are equipped to help disciple others. “. . . the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).

Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water

Geswende Bamogo was already an old man when the Christian Service International workers came to his village in 1977 to drill a well. The well was dry, but the old papa saw something in these men that became a spring of living water in his life. He visited often, learning all he could about their faith.

Two years later, the CSI workers left Upper Volta, but they gave Papa Bamogo the flannel graph materials they had used for teaching the Bible. He made good use of those materials, telling the stories to others and sharing the convictions in his heart.

Twenty-one years after the CSI workers had left, Papa Bamogo and a few others prayed for the return of members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite to teach them more fully the way of salvation. A few weeks later, visitors came to see him, investigating if the church should return to this country, now known as Burkina Faso. He was overjoyed and soon there were mission workers in the country.

December 8, 2001, Geswende Bamogo was baptized at Tandaaga. There were five more baptisms the following year and another six the year after that, including our aged brother’s wife. These baptisms were the fruit of one old man’s efforts to share his faith, later aided by North American missionaries.

Geswende Bamogo was at least 105 years old when he died in July of 2005. The congregation at Tandaaga is small, but it is growing, both in faith and numbers. In 2012 Souleymane Bamogo was ordained as the first minister of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in Burkina Faso.

There are no missionaries anymore at Tandaaga, the congregation is indigenous. There are missionaries at three other locations in Burkina Faso, with a few members in each place.

The need for missionaries is as great today as it has ever been. The need is just as great here in North America as it is in Africa. Yet there is a limit to what a missionary can accomplish. It is only when local people become rooted and grounded in the faith and begin to live it, teach it and preach it, that we can have confidence that the faith has been planted in this location and will endure.

Brotherhood aid

The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite began mission work in the Philippines about thirty years ago (I couldn’t find an exact date).  A number of small congregations have been established and ministers and deacons have been ordained.  While the numerical growth has not been rapid, there has been real spiritual growth in the members and the leadership.  Last year the General Mission Board approached the Filipino church with the question of whether they felt ready for the Mission Board to withdraw from the country.

There was some trepidation at first, but the conviction grew that the church in the Philippines was ready to become indigenous.  However, the ministers and deacons requested that there could be revival meetings for themselves before they were left to shoulder this responsibility.  In response to this request, a minister from Nigeria and another from the USA came and all the Filipino ministers and deacons, with their wives, gathered in a central location for several days of preaching and fellowship.

This opened the way and in the early months of this year the remaining missionary families began saying their good-byes and disposing of mission property.  By spring the Filipino church was on its own.

This fall two disasters occurred, first an earthquake on one of the islands, then the typhoon that hit the island of Leyte, causing damage beyond the financial resources  of the local membership.  Fifty homes of our Filipino brothers and sisters have been destroyed, plus ten chapels.  The damage is so extensive that the ability of these brethren to earn a livelihood has been compromised.

The Filipino brethren formed a committee to guide and supervise the rebuilding of members’ homes.  Several North American brethren, acting as liaison to the North American churches, have participated in the planning.  The work has begun and a collection was announced today, probably in most all of our North American congregations, for funds to assist this work.

It was observed that houses built of hardwood stood up the best in the storm, so the new houses will have concrete block foundations and the framing will be of Canadian Douglas Fir, which is readily available in the Philippines.

Though this project involves only brethren working to help each other replace destroyed homes, the church is involved in other aid work.  Filipino brethren are helping in cleanup work and the humanitarian aid agency of the North American church is also at  work (their mandate is to help the general populace and not to favour church members).

A tale of two missions

Missionaries were sent forth into a poor country where few people knew of the salvation made possible through the blood of Jesus shed at Calvary.  They went with much zeal and enthusiasm and had no trouble finding people who wanted to hear the gospel.  Before long they had gathered many converts.  In fact, it seemed the hunger for the gospel was beyond their ability to satisfy.  A call went back to the home church for more missionaries to go to other areas of this country where people were crying to hear the gospel story.

This was a poor country with so many needs.  Farming methods were primitive, jobs were scarce, most people were illiterate, they could not afford health care.  So the missionaries asked the home church to help these poor people.  They bought land and established model farms to teach better faming methods, they helped poor people start farming, they built schools and health care facilities, set up a printing press to produce Christian literature in the language of the country.  Some members found employment in these facilities, which were run pretty much according to the standards of the missionaries’ home country.

The mission flourished, small congregations were established in many places, eventually a few ministers were ordained and the number of members increased rapidly.  Sometimes the work of the ministry seemed too much for the meagre resources of the minister, so the mission provided financial help.

After many years, a disturbing trend began to be noticed.  Baptisms were as numerous as ever, but now the number of people leaving the church was greater than the number coming in.  Dozens of missionaries were in locations across the country and they all laboured valiantly to prevent the losses.  Yet people continued to leave.  Eventually the truth began to sink in; the material help being given was undermining the goal of creating a self-sustaining indigenous church.  People had grown accustomed to being helped by the foreign missionaries and had no idea that they really should be helping each other.  Everything that needed to be done was done by the missionaries or under their supervision.

Missionaries went to another country, even poorer than the first.  They understood that they were sent to bring the gospel, not the attitudes and  way of life of their home country.  As congregations began to develop, the members were encouraged to help each other.  If there were needs that were beyond their ability, the missionary might give a little money to the church and let the local leaders determine how to use it.  The missionary left it up to the members to decide whether converts were ready for baptism.  When a convert meeting was held, the members questioned the converts much more closely than the missionary had.  Sometimes the missionary had been confident that an individual was ready for baptism, but the members felt it would be best to wait a little longer.  The missionary soon realized they were aware of something in this person’s life that he had missed.

The home church felt compassion for the poverty of this country and began material aid projects.  Well drilling and other projects were done for the benefit of the whole community.  Food aid, when it was needed, was distributed without favouring the members.  The church grew in numbers, ministers and deacons were ordained and the missionaries withdrew from those congregations.  The congregations established their own mission committee and sent out their own missionaries with the little means that they could scrape together.  Eventually the foreign mission board withdrew altogether from the country, recognizing the maturity of the native church.  There are still occasions where missionaries come from another country, but they are supported by their home congregation and work under the direction of the native mission committee.

Sometimes a minister from this country will be called to go to a congregation in the countries where the missionaries came from in the beginning to preach in revival meetings.  It is evident that they have the same faith, the same vision and the same spiritual maturity as the brothers and sisters in other countries.

As for the first country mentioned, there are not nearly as many missionaries anymore, the church continued to shrink until only the truly committed Christians were left.  It has slowly begun to grow again, this time on the initiative of the native brethren rather than the patronage of the foreign mission board.

[This tale is a composite of the history of mission activities in many lands.  I have condensed it to two countries for the sake of making a point.  It could perhaps be called an allegory.  There is no country where missionaries have done everything wrong and no country where they have done everything right.  We have learned that no lasting benefit is provided by rushing in to help with our superior resources and knowledge and thereby rob the local people of the ability to help themselves and each other.  We are learning also that it is possible to do mission work in settings where our resources and knowledge are not superior to those of the local people.]

%d bloggers like this: