Friday, October 31, 2008

Revolution in World Missions by K. P. Yohannan

It has taken me a very long time to finish this book, but I determined I would complete it before reading any more fiction or book club selections. It was recommended to me by some people at church earlier this year, but I did not necessarily find it to be as compelling as others had.

K. P. Yohannan has an inspiring testimony of salvation and evangelistic work in his native land of India, which he shares in the opening chapters of Revolution In World Missions. When he came to America for education, he was led by the Lord to start Gospel for Asia, a mission organization that supports and partners with native missionaries in India and other Asian nations. As of 2002, they were managing the support for 14,000 native missionaries, many of whom are able to start a great number of churches in villages that were previously unreached or resistant to the gospel.

The author does make some good points. First, the author's case for the effectiveness of native missionaries in Asia and Third World countries is very valid. This is a widely recognized trend in missions today, and I know of many mission agencies and missionaries who are quite happy to work themselves out of a job, so to speak, to turn over their ministries to nationals. Second, the author makes an excellent point related to giving to mission work: "You have to learn to let your money go [when you give to a missionary], because it is not your money but God's" (190). This is a hard lesson for many Christians to learn. While some measure of accountability is certainly necessary and good, the individual believer and churches who support missionaries need to remember that God gives the increase and faithful stewardship involves faith in God to use our gifts for the furtherance of His kingdom through the means of frail human instruments, the missionaries who have answered His call.

Although I agree wholeheartedly with the native missionary movement, I feel that Yohannan has perhaps overstepped the bounds of reason in making his point. At times, the book gives the impression of being an infomercial for Gospel for Asia. While there is certainly nothing wrong with promoting a ministry in which one believes, it should not be done at the expense of other ministries or by making generalizations or creating double standards to elevate one's ideals. Unfortunately, there is a polemical tone to this book that is not consistent with the Gospel the author ultimately wants to see expanded.

Throughout the book, Yohannan criticizes other mission agencies and missionaries who engage in social outreaches as a means of spreading the Gospel. He implies that most, if not all Western missionaries come overseas with latent ideas of colonialism and substitute social work for evangelism and church planting. In one chapter, he cites an unnamed "Christian leader [who] said that if the Church had spent as much time on preaching the Gospel as it did on hospitals, orphanages, schools and rest homes - needful though they were - the Bamboo Curtain would not exist today" (115). Yet in the very next chapter, he explains how successful Gospel for Asia has been with "Bridge of Hope, our children's outreach program, [which] is designed to rescue thousands of children in Asia from a life of poverty and hopelessness by giving them an education and introducing them to the love of God. Through this effort, churches are planted and entire communities are set on a course toward spiritual transformation as well as social development" (121). It simply seems arrogant to advance one's own social outreaches as superior to that of other mission agencies, especially since the fruit of some labors may not be immediately apparent and it must be remembered that God, not particular methods or ministries, is who gives the increase.

Elsewhere, Yohannan asserts that the native missionary movement is "the only hope for these unreached nations" (143), but later he criticizes the Western Church for the "arrogant attitude of 'our way is the only way'" (191). To be sure, the Western Church does need to realize that the Gospel must not be cloaked in American Christianity and church planting should be culturally relevant. But isn't Yohannan severely limiting the resources and means through which God can work to assert that one method is the "only hope" for evangelizing Asia? Is he not merely substituting another version of "our way is the only way"? His criticisms of other missionaries and mission methods are hardly balanced by a single page (217) in a Question/Answer section that mentions the continuing (and very limited) role of Western/American missionaries in Asia. Unfortunately, Revolution In World Missions is characterized by these types of sweeping generalizations and inconsistent reasoning, which seems to discredit the message and ministry of Gospel for Asia more than establish it. Such an "either/or" mentality makes our God very small. He can work through both native missionaries and Western missionaries, and each of them can be equally called by Him to serve in Asia or around the world.

Christians certainly need to hear Yohannan's message of sacrificial giving, for the affluence of most American Christians could and should be shared to advance the Gospel around the world. We need to be challenged out of our comfortable complacency to give our resources for Kingdom work not merely to buy another toy or convenience. My only concern is that Yohannan's passion for the ministry of Gospel for Asia has somewhat blinded him to the numerous ways in which God can work to accomplish His plan for the world.

1 comment:

Sandy Lynn said...

Your review was very balanced and mature. Thank you for voicing your opinions so considerately.

I've had a chance to interview K.P. about 10 years ago. Yes, back when he wrote "Revolution", he had quite the bone to pick with American Christians and missionaries.

On the flip side, his criticisms of American Christian spending and such were echoed by a boyfriend who later went back home to become a native Pastor.

Many overseas struggle with the immense wealth here that we take for granted; clean drinking water, sewage sanitation, garbage pickup, consistent electricity, ambulance service. My native pastor friend told me I wouldn't be able to handle his home country, where homeless people commonly defecate in the street and other heart-breaking things.

Another native Indian relayed a story of how his mother passed away from a heart attack at 50. If there had been ambulance service, she most likely would've survived.

Maybe this is where your friends' urgency originated from; realizing for the first time there is an entire world out there that we are affecting with our daily choices.