God's instrument for the evangelization of any country has been the missionary. Paul, the missionary to the nations, showed the church the pattern which to follow. When Paul founded a church, he did not place a foreign missionary in charge of the gathering but chose a qualified man (or men) from that congregation to do the shepherding. He himself preached in the larger cities and then showed the converts in these places that they were responsible for the evangelization of the surrounding regions. "For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth; so that we have no need to speak anything" (1 Thessalonians 1:8). After the establishment of the church, Paul revisited them and then asked or appointed someone (a "foreign" helper) to visit these new church communities in the future in order to acknowledge their fervent, faithful testimonies and assist in any problems that may have arisen in practice or polity. "But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learned of your condition" (Philippians 2:19).
Both foreign and national missionaries have a particular function in the evangelization of the world. Neither the foreign missionary nor the national missionary should consider themselves superior one to the other, for "God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him… that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another" (I Corinthians 12:18, 25).
The foreign missionary occupies a unique position in God's missionary program, for he has the privilege of cooperating with national missionaries — men and women chosen by the Lord to reach their own peoples. In order to accomplish this particular ministry, the foreign missionary must be one of spiritual maturity and possess a deep burning love for souls. "For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare" (Philippians 2:20). He must be alert to secure, train, and place national workers in responsible positions for the evangelization of their native people. "And the things which you have heard from me… these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2).
The foreign missionary has a special ministry in making known to his home constituency the spiritual needs of the field. When his heart is truly burdened by God's Spirit, he is able to lay that spiritual burden upon the people at home in such a way that they become the Lord's instruments to supply the spiritual and financial support needed to advance the gospel. "But I have received everything in full… having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:18). The foreign missionary has also the great responsibility of informing God's people at home that the national worker is worthy of their support.
The method of some missionary organizations has been to keep the work in the hands of the foreign missionary; they have been reluctant for various reasons to turn it over to the nationals. In some cases, of course, the nationals have not been ready for such responsibility. The general opinion is that the foreign worker is more qualified to hold the reins of leadership, yet history confirms that every nation has been able to produce worthy, spiritual leaders from among its own people. If the church of God had established more Bible training centers to prepare the national workers, if it had given them more responsibility in the Lord's work and provided more financial support, the accomplishments of world evangelization would be far more apparent and advanced.
Mission boards and churches are deeply concerned today over the tremendous sums required to send foreign missionaries to their fields of service. These sums include the high cost of support, the large sums required for furloughs and the great losses due to foreign missionary failures. Therefore, many believers ask today, "How can my missionary dollar go further?" The answer is quite clear. Support the national workers, as well as the foreign missionary. The church ought not to make any distinction. Consider the following advantages in supporting national missionaries.
1. The national missionary already lives on the field and generally has a home and other items required for ministry. Being a citizen of the country in which he labors, the national worker cannot be compelled by a change of government or international quarrels to leave the country. Although governmental decrees may limit his ministry, he remains in the country to direct souls to Christ and to strengthen believers in the faith.
2. The national missionary is accustomed to the food, climate, and living conditions of his country. Time to adjust to living conditions or learn a new language is not necessary. In some cases the national worker can speak two or three languages. This ability enables him to travel freely and to minister to his people in various sections of the country, as well as neighboring countries.
3. The national missionary usually understands the national background, politics, and other conditions of his country. Therefore, he more easily avoids giving offence to the authorities and the people in various situations.
4. The national missionary is usually regarded more favorably by government officials and the populace generally than a foreign missionary. Although he may meet opposition on religious grounds, yet he is not discriminated like a foreigner. Owing to nationalism and increasing government restrictions, the national missionary has greater perspective to develop the indigenous church. Most of all, the national missionary eventually can be supported by his own local church body, as it grows to a level of self sufficiency. The funds then can be transferred to a "new" missionary in a "new" field.
As countries continue to change, the church must make adjustments in their missionary endeavors both at home and upon the mission field. Believers truly concerned for the cause of Christ must recognize the necessity of a healthy home base, so that missionaries and money can continue to flow to the mission field. That novices in many cases have been sent to foreign fields is a great pity; their presence has harmed the cause of Christ. Those men and women who have been fruitful in the salvation of souls at home should be considered the best candidates for missionary service abroad. Therefore, in order to fulfill the Great Commission, may the church continue to support foreign missionaries, as well as national missionaries, who are called by God to serve!