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Reverse Mission: A Sign of Arrogance or Gratitude?

Conversations are ongoing about “reverse mission,” as some are arguing that the term should be dropped because it sounds arrogant and divisive.
In responding to those who reasoned that it sounds or appears arrogant, I would suggest that a proper understanding of reverse mission actually reveals the opposite of arrogance.

The term is suggesting and acknowledging that those of us coming to do mission in Britain are spiritual children and blessings of former missionary endeavors to other parts of the world.

Our missionary activity to the West is understood in gratitude and humility of what European missionaries went through in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean to bring the gospel to our ancestors.

Scholars and commentators view differently European missionary efforts to other parts of the world.

Some see it as a failure that did more harm than good, especially when we think about the slave trade, colonialism and imperialism.

Others have romanticized and exaggerated the successes to the extent that they see no failure at all.

I belong to neither camp, as I am aware that the European missionary effort to Africa is a mixed picture of success and failure.

Therefore, I want to share some of the successes of European mission that have resulted in reverse mission efforts today because I have criticized in other contexts negative, failed mission efforts of the past.

In Africa, the founder of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pa Josiah Akindayomi (1909-80), was converted in an Anglican church in Nigeria in 1927 before founding RCCG in 1952.

RCCG is one of the African churches sending missionaries and planting churches in Britain today.

Since their first church plant in 1988, they have planted 700 churches and are one of the fastest growing churches in Britain.

One of the first Anglican churches in Nigeria was planted in Abeokuta, Ogun state in 1846-47.

The piece of land granted to the Church Mission Society for this church was given by the family of Olu Aibola, who is currently a British minister.

Abiola’s family has deep roots in the Anglican Church, and Olu is an ordained Anglican minister.

When he came to the United Kingdom from Nigeria in the 1960s, he was told that he would do well to fellowship in a black Pentecostal church rather than worshipping in an Anglican church.

As a result, he founded Aladura International Church in London in 1970 and remains proud of his Anglican heritage despite this early rejection.

My own story as a missionary in this country is also grounded in the missionary endeavors of British Christianity in Africa.

In 1937, the Apostolic Church of Great Britain sent S.G. Elton to Nigeria, who arrived after a major revival in southwest Nigeria and helped consolidate the revival by discipling the converts.

His greatest influence in Nigerian Christianity was mentoring the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa (1938-98), founder of the Church of God Mission International.

Elton is today regarded as the grandfather of Nigerian Pentecostalism while Idahosa is seen as the father of Nigerian Pentecostalism.

Elton introduced Pentecostal distinctives to many Nigerian youths, who were then in universities, colleges of education and polytechnics.

Many of them are now the Pentecostal ministers in Nigeria; one of them is my pastor in Nigeria, Solomon Adebara.

I became a Christian under Adebara’s ministry at Fountain of Grace Chapel in 1995 and came to the U.K. to plant a church in 2004.

In the case of Asia, Bible colleges in Wales are being partly sponsored by Asian pastors and missionaries whose generosity stems from a deep sense of gratitude and recognition that their spiritual journeys begin with the pioneering Welsh missionary efforts.

In 2012, the SaRang Community Church in Seoul, South Korea, started a partnership with the Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST) in Bridgend. 

The investment is resulting in scholarships to students and funding for church-planting projects in the valleys of southern Wales.

In the case of South America, pastors and missionaries coming to the U.K. from Brazil, Peru and Ecuador can trace their spiritual heritage to European missionary activities in their country.

For example, the grandfather of Rodrigo Assis Da Silva was led to Christ in Santos, São Paulo, Brazil, by a Baptist missionary in 1947 and was later baptized by an English missionary, David Mein, in 1953.

In 2007, Da Silva came to Wales as a missionary and later served as an assistant pastor in a Baptist church in London before becoming the senior pastor of Bethel International Baptist Church in Frankfurt, Germany.

These stories demonstrate that reverse mission results from the successes of European missions. Therefore, those engaged in reverse mission are coming from a place of recognition and gratitude rather than arrogance.

Israel Olofinjana is the minister of Woolwich Central Baptist Church in South East London and the director of the Centre for Missionary from the Majority World. He is Nigerian, coming from a Pentecostal background, blogs at IsraelOlofinjana, and is the author of several books, including “Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in Britain.” A longer version of this article first appeared on The Baptist Times of Great Britain website and is used with permission.