- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Karyn Zaayenga gave up the comforts of America to teach English at a small church she helped found in Japan, ending each language class with a short "Bible time."
"I call both places home," says the career missionary from Springfield, who is stateside for a break before another four years with the Evangelical Alliance Mission in Oita, Japan.
Kevin Fox, who teaches history at Cardozo High School in the District, gave two years of his life helping Franciscans in Papua New Guinea. There, he fought off malaria and befriended youths in thatched huts who asked about Hollywood movies.
"My family wasn't too in favor of it, but they came around," says Mr. Fox, 30, a Catholic who taught at St. Fidelis College in Madang, a coastal city in the island nation north of Australia.
"I wanted to go where the culture was totally different," he says. "After I returned, the culture shock finally hit me when I went to Bloomingdale's, where my mother sells fur coats."
While rumors of war, political turmoil and terrorism make it harder than ever for some U.S. missionaries overseas, tens of thousands of Americans still carry on the work.
Missionary zeal has sent American Christians overseas since before the Civil War, when they would pack their belongings in wooden coffins.
Today, an estimated 35,000 to 60,000 U.S. citizens each year follow in their footsteps, the vast majority being "short-termers" volunteers who serve a few weeks or two years, as Mr. Fox had done.
But the backbone of missions continues to be a few thousand career workers such as Miss Zaayenga, 37, who began as a volunteer and in 1998 became a full-time missionary. She has learned Japanese and helped plant a tiny church in a nation that is less than 1 percent Christian.
"I will keep going back as long as the Lord wants me to," said Miss Zaayenga, who has a graduate degree in English and attended Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham. "I wanted to make my life valuable to God."
Her monthly salary is provided by a consortium of her home congregation, Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, and three other Virginia churches. And her mission group, which is based in Wheaton, Ill., with about 100 people worldwide, is just one of about 750 such organizations in the United States.
She has begun a ministry for singles, and while earning money and growing an audience with her English classes, continues to offer a 10-minute Bible study at the end of each one-hour session. "We don't push it on anyone," she said. "Many of the children have not heard of Jesus before."
Reaching the world
Missionary groups today divide the world into three parts, beginning with the "nominal" Christian West. Next, there are nations such as Japan that have heard the Gospel for centuries.
The final third are an estimated 10,000 "people groups," or 2.1 billion humans, who for reasons of language or geography have never heard about the Christ of Christmas. And reaching them, missionaries say, involves crossing physical, political and linguistic barriers.
The work is difficult, and is why nearly eight in 10 missionaries prefer to work in Christian societies. An estimated 8 percent of all Christian missionaries reach tribal groups, 6 percent reach Muslims and 2 percent reach Chinese folk religionists.
"It takes years for our people to prepare for the language and the culture, and then it takes even more time to try to find a way into some of these settings," says David Zelenak, spokesman for New Tribes Mission, based in Sanford, Fla.
"It's a highly skilled occupation," says Mr. Zelenak, who had been a missionary in Venezuela for nine years. "You have to truly function in a culture."
The group has 3,000 missionaries, many of them couples, working in 30 nations, 19 of them with "isolated people groups."
The new missionary approach, he said, is unlike that of the British Empire or early American missions, in which missionaries went where they were told.
"We treat them as adults who can chose what they want," Mr. Zelenak says.
"People still believe in missionary work enough to want to go," he says. "That's something in a person's temperament. If they don't want a challenge, they don't want to be a missionary."
Missionary martyrs
The cases of killed missionaries are few nowadays, but the stories of risk are well known.
In the early 1990s, three men working for New Tribes Mission in Panama were kidnapped for a $5 million ransom by a Colombian guerrilla group, and were killed in 1996. The mission agency has a no-ransom policy.
Peruvian authorities, working to stop drug smugglers in 2001, accidentally shot down a missionary airplane. Piloting is a common missionary vocation in hard-to-reach regions of the world.
Three years ago, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two children were burned alive in their jeep by an extremist Hindu mob in India.
In the Philippines in May 2001, Islamic radicals took New Tribe workers Martin and Gracia Burnham hostage. The group, Abu Sayyaf, killed Mr. Martin during a police raid in June.
Last month, Christian and Missionary Alliance worker Bonnie Witherall was gunned down in Sidon, Lebanon, where she ran a pregnancy clinic. Local Muslim clerics had criticized the medical center for spreading Christianity.
A happier ending came for missionaries Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, a native of Fairfax, who were sent by a Texas church to work in Afghanistan for Christian Aid, a relief group.
The Taliban regime jailed them in August 2001 on charges of distributing Christian literature, but they were liberated by U.S. Special Forces who entered Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.
'Words when necessary'
The new emphasis on lay, part-time missionary work also has grown in the Catholic Church, which was a pioneer of missions in Asia, Africa and Latin America by sending priests, nuns and other members of religious orders.
In 1990, the Franciscan Mission Service of North America began recruiting lay workers, said its co-director Megeen White, who served in Africa after being moved by the Ethiopian famine in 1984.
"I wanted to do something for people in need, and had a religious conversion around that," she says.
The Franciscan group sponsors about 40 people abroad, she said, usually on a six-year term. "We try to match skills to needs," she says. They follow the dictum of Saint Francis: "Preach the Gospel always, and use words when necessary."
That involves an interreligious approach. "Our goal is to build bridges across culture and faiths, and economic levels," she says.
Mr. Fox, who earned his education degree at a Catholic University before going abroad, was sent by a different Franciscan group. He agrees with an interfaith view of missions.
"I wasn't there to demonize their primal beliefs," he says of Papua New Guinea, which is 95 percent Christian but with a lot of indigenous beliefs mixed in. "I was there to teach and give them hope for their future."
Of the 3,426 U.S. Catholics doing mission work abroad, nearly half are in Latin America and the Caribbean. Most of the rest are in Africa and Asia, according to the U.S. Catholic Mission Association.
While in 1960 the ratio of lay missionaries to those in religious orders was about 1-in-36, today it is about 1-in-4.
One of the greatest mission fields has been China, and Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders are focusing there in a $125 million goal for donations to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
"As I stand here at the Great Wall, I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task in China," the Rev. Morris Chapman, a top SBC leader, said in a report this month of his visit to Asia. The report quotes Lottie Moon, a missionary to China a century ago: "How many more souls are to pass into eternity without having heard the name of Jesus?"
A century later, that is not the only question facing modern missionaries, said the Rev. Paul E. Mc-Kaughan, a Presbyterian Church in America missionary who spent 14 years in Brazil.
"Not too long ago, evangelicals said our primary duty is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ," says Mr. McKaughan, director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies.
"Now, there's a realization that the proclamation has to be holistic," he said. "It has to involve how you live and serve. Where the Gospel is proclaimed faithfully, there is a social implication."
Missions and marriage
Chris and Claudia Ingram, with their three children, have been Southern Baptist missionaries in Uruguay for 15 years. With his specialty in agriculture, and hers in Christian education, they operate a "human need" farm project with a church at its center.
"The goal is to reach out," says Mrs. Ingram, who is on furlough in North Carolina with her family before they return in February. "Women and children are easier, but we love to get whole families involved."
She and her husband had talked about mission work in their college days, and after marriage took the leap. "We felt directed that this was our call," she says.
She said the mission agency gives generous financial support, though budgets are getting tighter these days. "There's a lot more accountability now," she says. "You have to have a five-year plan. There's more paperwork."
The Southern Baptist Convention boasts 30,000 volunteers and 5,500 core missionaries, but just 387 are listed as being career workers. For last year, they measured mission success by a reported 395,000 new adult baptisms and 5,775 new churches.
SBC missions spokesman Mark Kelly said short-term volunteering has mushroomed, but it is a different generation now looking over the career option.
"For us baby boomers, it's harder to make the big commitment, at least initially," he says. Still, he says, "Younger people have no reservations about the extreme conditions."
Howard Heiner, head of the United Methodist Missionary Association, served 24 years in Latin America and briefly in Africa, and he welcomes the new trend in short-term volunteers, especially among well-to-do Americans.
"This short-term has become a strong arm of missions," says Mr. Heiner, a former Montana lumber executive who, with his wife, felt the mission career call in a home church. "It has not been a planned phenomenon."
The United Methodist Church estimates that it annually costs $45,000 to support one full-time missionary abroad, more than twice the cost 25 years ago. The missions program lost 103 staff last year because just 4 percent of churches contribute to the cause.
Still, the United Methodists have 2,100 mission personnel serving in 74 countries. They take their goals to be preaching and conversion, starting churches, alleviating suffering, and promoting peace and justice.
"You preach the Gospel in a lot of ways," Mr. Heiner says. "These are dangerous times, but they are more dangerous at this moment." At times like these, he says, long-term missionaries are valuable for having a global perspective and keeping friendly contacts in the field.
"We are in an world era when all U.S. citizens are under suspicion," he says.
Changing perspective
Because of their world exposure, missionaries speak of their children as "third culture" people who can empathize with more than just the American cultural experience. "Our three daughters consider themselves third culture," Mrs. Ingram says. "In many ways, so are my husband and I. Our worldview changes."
It's not a matter of a confused patriotism, missionaries say, but rather an empathy for parts of the world confused about American motives.
Missionaries are only a small share of Americans traveling overseas. The largest block of Americans abroad are tourists and businessmen, a total of 33 million last year with nearly half traveling to Europe and Canada, a third to Mexico and Latin America, and most of the rest to Asia. Next in size are the 250,000 U.S. military personal stationed around the world.
Michael Pocock, chairman of the World Missions and Intercultural Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, said the global mood makes it even more important for modern missionaries to avoid an imperial approach.
The alternative is to serve and establish local, indigenous, self-running churches.
"We are trying to avoid a lot of mistakes made in the past," he says. "There is no intent in directing or controlling. The idea is that everybody is perfectly capable." About 150 of the seminary's 1,600 students are focused on "cross-cultural ministry" and the character-building of a mission worker, he said.
For many of them, the awakening came when an interest in the world intersected with text in Matthew 28:19. "It was a new thing to see the commandment of Jesus to 'Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,'" Mr. Pocock says.
During summer break, about 100 students join the mission field. Over Christmas break, 10 of them traveled afar to help young churches. "They are in Asia, but I'd prefer not to say exactly where," Mr. Pocock says.

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