Three Reasons You Should Never Say “Reverse Mission.”

It has to be said now that “reverse mission” is not the most appropriate term for the rising presence of African Christians and missionaries in Europe and North America. While the term has gained popularity among some schools of missional thought, and has been used extensively since the turn of the millenium, there is now a growing sense of unease around its use. Of course, it is evident that some aspects of global migration trends have changed, as seen in the rise of non-Western populations in the post-colonial West. However, mission has not reversed even though missionaries are now able to move from African to the West.

Mission is mission, no matter where it originates. This is simple. Migration trends have reversed, somehow. But mission continues to move forward. Of course, the non-Western Christian presence in the West will have some missionary impact on Western culture, but this is not reversal of mission. It is mission just being itself, no matter where it originates.

Reverse mission has emerged with the rise of African Christians in the West. The term “reverse mission” has been attached to African Christian presence in the West. And it is rarely used for Asian Christians or Latin American Christians. This is a serious anomaly, especially in the eyes of African Christians. Of course, we know that African Christians have been involved in mission in the West starting right at the birth of Christianity. People like John Mark, Apollos, Luke the Niger, all of them mentioned in the Book of Acts were from North Africa. Later, Tertullian, Augustine, Athanasius, and others were African Christians who had impact on Christianity in the West. Theirs was not reverse mission, neither is our today. [Some are quick to say, “but they were from North Africa, or Roman Africa.” However they may try to make these Africans look Western, the truth remains they were Africans, and contemporary Africans have the right to claim them as African and to follow in their footsteps].

Reverse mission plays into the colonial mentality that shaped a great deal of the Western missionary movement of the past two centuries. Christianity has many centres around the world today. The West is no longer the sole normative centre of Christianity. Westerners are recipient of mission now just like anywhere else in the world, and there is nothing abnormal about it. Colonialism and mission should not have worked together in the first place.

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