It was never God’s plan for Christian converts to remain forever dependent on apostles or missionaries who brought the gospel to them from afar. Those taught by the apostles were to teach others, who were to teach still others, extending the living chain of Christian discipleship down through time (2 Tim. 2:2). Maturity in Christ is the constant goal, in self-sustaining faith communities whose direction, power and growth comes from Jesus the universal and ever-living head (Eph. 1:15-23; 4:14-16). Such faith-communities are authenticated by their reception of the gospel (1 Thes. 1:5, 9-10; 2:13), their patient suffering (Phil. 1:27-30; 1 Thes. 1:6-7; 2:14) and their own sounding forth (literally “echoing out”) to their neighbors the good news of Jesus Christ that has come to them (1 Thes. 1:8).
Satan is crafty, however, and he always seeks to distort God’s good work. Sometimes he attacks new converts, sometimes those who traveled from distant lands to bring the gospel to them. Faithful foreign missionaries will be first to say that unfaithful ones sometimes seek their own glory and personal agenda, exploit their converts and advance sectarian or denominational goals above the cause of Christ. Unfaithful foreign missionaries sometimes manifest a condescending spirit to those they should serve instead. Misguided sponsors and supporters of foreign missionaries sometime think in imperialistic terms about underprivileged peoples and operate out of an attitude of spiritual neo-colonialism. Such attitudes are contrary to the spirit of Christ and both hinder and dishonor his cause. They also are inconsistent with the realities of history. The gospel did not originate with the West. Jesus was neither British nor American.
On the other hand, converts in underdeveloped countries are particularly susceptible to the enticements of foreign financial support, sometimes “shopping” among foreign missions agencies or denominations for the most lucrative relationship. The existence of some unfaithful missionaries should never blind us to the far greater number of faithful, dedicated men and women who leave the comforts of family and homeland to share Christ in difficult places. Nor should the vulnerabilities or misdeeds of some unfaithful converts keep us from acknowledging and appreciating those many other converts throughout the world who by openly trusting in Jesus invite personal, social and financial ruin and sometimes risk earthly life itself.