Help Wanted

...but do we really need more missionaries? (from Issue #505)

…but do we really need more missionaries?

It’s no secret. The number of people applying to serve with us as full-time missionaries these days isn’t huge.

Should we be worried? NCEM is a faith mission — we trust the Lord for sufficient workers, for finances for them, and for success in our labours. We believe God is sovereign and will provide what is needed.

We also believe that it’s through God’s people — who choose how they invest their time and resources — that the world will be reached for Christ.

So shouldn’t we be concerned? Maybe behind this trend of fewer missionary applicants (which is affecting more missions than just ours) are misunderstandings and doubts. Perhaps the following questions — and our attempt to respond briefly — will give us clearer vision of what the Lord may desire among Canada’s Indigenous Peoples in the 21st century.

Are you sure missionaries are still needed?

Our short answer is “yes” (sorry if you were expecting some suspense). As long as there are Native people in Canada needing the Gospel and not able to receive it in a way they understand, our answer will be, “Yes, more help is needed.”

Let’s not let terminology sidetrack us. We don’t really have to call them “missionaries” (that word isn’t in the Bible, and still gives images of white people), but we will because, literally, it means “sent ones,” and that’s what we are. We need Great Commission workers — people from various ethnic backgrounds who are serious about Christ’s command to spread the Gospel.

We know of scores of Native communities that have no evangelical church. Some receive occasional visits from outreach teams, and some reserves and communities not even that. We get phone calls (usually in response to our Tribal Trails television program) from people who say they are the only born again Christian believer in their area.

But hasn’t NCEM been sending missionaries for over 60 years?

Yes, we have … and Canada is very big. Some areas have been evangelized more than others. Some areas remain resistant to the Gospel. Today, especially in places that have been visited by evangelists, there’s a great need for discipling. “There is confusion because of a lack of Bible teaching,” one of our field directors noted a few years ago, and that’s still the case.

“But when the confusion is taken care of, life begins to change for the people,” he added. Unfortunately, we don’t have near enough workers. “Can you imagine the helplessness I feel when someone asks if we can send someone to teach them, and I have no one to send.”

Can’t Native believers do the job?

Helping First Nations believers to reach their own people is a priority in NCEM. But Native Christian leaders with an informed national perspective say that nonNative missionaries are still needed in many places. Thankfully, in increased numbers of places, Native churches have been planted. In many locations where missionary endeavor continues, today it is more of a partnership, as Native church leadership is being developed.

However, particularly in Canada’s northwest among the Athabascan peoples, and in Maritime regions, we see it still very much as pioneer work. There are very few evangelical churches, and Native believers are few and far between. Across Canada, in areas that may be thought of as evangelized, there are still many overlooked reserves and settlements.

Presently there are a number of Aboriginal people serving in NCEM. One of them, Gilbert Bekkatla, has shared at the Talking Circle (an annual national gathering of evangelical Native and missionary leaders) his strong conviction that there is still a great need for front-line missionary workers, regardless of race.

Yes, I believe we need to reach Native people, but is a long-established mission like NCEM still the way to do it?

As a Mission, we certainly don’t claim to do everything right every time. And when we say we need more workers, it’s not because we think NCEM has to be “big.” Really, we need workers so we can contribute to the task.

We’re not in competition with other missions. Officially we work in cooperation with 10 other interdenominational missions and, informally, with many more churches and organizations.

We know there are many other churches and individuals across Canada reaching out to First Nations with the Gospel — and we pray for their success. After all, if they succeed, then we succeed … because we’re all working towards the same goal.

As a long-established mission we do need to keep looking for new and more effective ways to reach people. But we don’t apologize for hanging onto a method exemplified by Jesus Himself. In John 20:21 He said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” To effectively reach people we need to live among them, just as Jesus did.

All your Mission seems to do is “preach” to people. Why don’t you do more to “help” them?

In our ministry we see physical, social needs, and more. And our missionaries do help individuals in practical ways. We appreciate organizations seeking to help Native people in these specific areas, but we believe that true and lasting positive change comes from changed hearts.

Also, we need to mention here our concern that nowadays, even in some evangelical circles, there’s the thinking that First Nations may not be lost without Christ. We hold to Scripture’s teaching that there is salvation in no one other than God’s Son.

Our church sends out short-term mission teams each summer. Isn’t that enough?

We believe short-term endeavours have their place — and we have our own summer opportunities. Some serve with us short-term in our Bible camps. But we also see, and First Nations leaders concur, that building trust and seeing change doesn’t often happen fast in Native settings. Missionaries who can stay long-term are needed.

We understand why team outreaches are popular. They can be effective, too, but even in our short-term outreaches we need to build on something highly valued by Native people — relationships with them that go much longer than a few weeks.

Why not use “tent-maker” missionaries?

We do have professional associates. They are educators, health workers, pilots and business people who partner with our missionaries to help reach Native people for Christ. We appreciate each one, and can use more of them.

They can often relate to local Native people in ways a full-time missionary can’t. But “tent-makers” will tell you that, after fulfilling their employment obligations, their time and energy is limited. We’ll still need full-time missionaries to see churches planted and leaders developed.

Why do I need a mission? If I want to be a full-time missionary, can’t my local church alone send me?

That could work fine. After all, biblically it should be our home churches who will send and support us. On the other hand, can we expect a local church to have enough information about where and how best to serve? Can it provide orientation and training based on lessons learned from years of experience in Native ministries?

At NCEM we see the benefits of serving as a team. And our leadership takes individual missionary’s interests and abilities seriously.

… and God is still in control?

He’s the Lord of the Harvest (Matt. 9:38, etc.). Like we said at the start, God is sovereign — even as many different missions, churches and individuals take various approaches to building His Kingdom among First Peoples. We know God’s heart longs to see every First Nations person find salvation and fulfillment in Him. He may use ways that no one has yet dreamed of. Let’s all be prayerfully considering how He may want to use each one of us!

“There’s so many reserves yet that don’t have any missionaries. There’s a great need. There’s so many people that are seeking, yet I am just one of few who can reach very few.” — Venus Cote (Saulteaux missionary)

“If, in cooperation with the existing First Nations church, we rise to the challenge of discipling the next generation of First Nations believers, we could possibly see a missionary force come into existence which could well reach the world. To see this vision become reality we need more staff in NCEM — people who are humble, well trained in the Scriptures, and have the ability to effectively minister cross-culturally.” — George Hertwig (Western-Field Director)

“We have a people group that is isolated and not integrated with society. They are strangers and outcasts in their own land; they are a people who need directed, focused attention.” — Art Wanuch, NCEM Board (Cree/Metis)

“Many in the evangelical Church are not seeking to serve in full-time ministry. Jesus saw the need and served in unconditional love. A believer needs discipling and companionship from other believers. If those comfortable in their church had to experience what a believer experiences in an isolated Aboriginal community, they could not sit back in indifference.” — Gilbert Bekkatla (Denesuline missionary)

“Increasingly we are able to work alongside Native believers, who have great passion and zeal for the Lord. They are often the first to let us know that they want our help and encouragement. The needs are as great as ever.” — Ken Mahood (former Central-Field Director)

“We still need missionaries. Our ministries could be much more effective if done by a team, rather than by a single worker or couple. In the Maritimes we have new opportunities to team up with churches wanting to reach First Nations in their areas. We also need more professionals working and ministering in northern communities.” — Allan Giesbrecht (Northeastern-Field Director)

“I would encourage you … to get involved in a short-term experience … by contacting a mission agency that is working with Native American people. It would give you a great opportunity to see the needs of the people, and the Lord will enlarge your heart.” — Tom Claus (Mohawk, founder of CHIEF)

Adapted from our Northern Lights magazine (Issue #505). Note: some of the locations and involvements of our missionaries may have changed since the original publishing of this article.