Archive for Saturday, August 23, 2008

Faith Forum: Do developed countries need missionaries?

August 23, 2008


Support not limited to developing nations

Judy Roitman, guiding teacher, Kansas Zen Center, 1423 N.Y.:

Developed countries? Missionaries? The old stereotypes don't apply. Didn't like the American Episcopal Church's stand on gay clergy? African bishops were happy to provide spiritual counsel and support. Battered by Katrina? Taiwanese Buddhists showed up to help. Confused by what spiritual path to follow? All kinds of people are reaching out to you trying to show you the way, wherever you live, both inside and outside whatever religion you, however tenuously, are following.

Being Jewish, I have a wariness of folks who come at me unsolicited to tell me what faith to practice and how to do it. I know there are people who are so filled with whatever spirit it is that fills them that they can't help trying to bring everyone into their fold. I just don't find them inspiring.

But my friend Lucy's father's best friend is a Christian who really believes Acts 3:6: "In the name of Jesus Christ, arise and walk." So he invented an incredibly cheap "personal energy transport" for the disabled, and started a ministry to distribute these to the poorest of the poor. (You can find out more at Now that's the kind of missionary the world needs, and this Jew and Buddhist is very happy to give money to his cause.

Did I just conflate the notions of mission and ministry? Yes, because the most persuasive argument that a particular religion is (or is not) worth paying attention to is how its practitioners live their lives. Whether we distribute wheelchairs half a world away or listen attentively to a friend in trouble, we can all be that kind of missionary, and that's the kind of missionary the whole world needs.

- Send e-mail to Judy Roitman at

People everywhere need missionaries

The Rev. Gary Teske, senior pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H.:

If developed countries don't need missionaries, neither do the so-called undeveloped (how about "differently developed") countries.

If the differently developed countries of the world need missionaries, then so do the developed countries. The real question is, do people need missionaries? And my answer is "yes!"

However, my answer probably assumes a different definition for a missionary than that which commonly comes to mind when people hear that word. If by missionary you mean someone who goes forth as one who is civilized to the uncivilized, one who is superior to the inferior, to colonize and westernize (or maybe easternize?) in the name of some religion, than no, no one needs that.

But if by missionary you mean people who are compelled by the love of God to go for the sake of being good news, being a good Samaritan, being Christ to neighbors who suffer from the afflictions that are unique to their respective developed and differently-developed contexts, then yes, those kinds of missionaries are desperately needed everywhere. People from less affluent cultures can help people like many of us to see the downside of our addiction to materialism and consumerism.

I'll never forget an old Papua New Guinean tribal leader's reaction after I told him that our water came from a pipe in the wall and we had to pay for it; that we had to buy our food, buy the fire to cook it, pay for the paths we walked on and even pay for our houses even when we owned them. His wide-eyed response was, "You poor people! I feel so sorry for you!" We need missionaries like that, who remind us that our affluence is not a sign of superiority but can just as easily be a burden from which we need deliverance.

- Send e-mail to Gary Teske at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.