January 28, 2022 | View All Stories

The Case for Native Missions (Part 1)

Jesus Calls the First Native Missionary — Mark 5:1–20

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. – Mark 5:1–2

After a long and storm-filled night crossing the Sea of Galilee, Jesus and His disciples make land in the Gentile region of the Decapolis, or the Ten Cities. It is likely still dark as they arrive when suddenly they encounter a demon-possessed man living among the tombs near the lake.

The Case for Native Missions Part 1 - ANM Blog - Stock Photo
View of the Sea of Galilee (stock photo)

According to the text, the man’s demon possession has given him incredible physical strength so that he could break his shackles and no one could subdue him. The people living near there have done their best to avoid him, leaving him to his misery and madness among the tombs. According to Mark’s Gospel, he was indeed a miserable sight, crying out day and night, and cutting himself with stones (v. 5). Jesus’ disciples must have asked themselves, “Why have we come here?”

But, as usual, Jesus has a plan and a purpose for all His actions. Jesus commands the demons to leave the man (v. 8). They cower before the authority of Jesus and beg Him to send them into a large herd of about 2,000 pigs feeding on the hillside. With the permission of Jesus, the demons enter the pigs, who then rush down the steep bank and drown in the sea (vv. 11–13).

Now some have estimated that 2,000 pigs would be worth up to $500,000 in today’s economy. These pigs were almost certainly the entire wealth of the nearby villages. It is told that a group of African tribal leaders, upon hearing this story for the first time, carefully considered its meaning before concluding that one person’s soul must be worth at least the entire wealth of a village. And Jesus sets an even greater value on the human soul.

In our text, the people in the town and countryside heard about what Jesus had done and came out to see for themselves. When they witnessed the formerly demon-possessed man sitting calmly, clothed, and in his right mind, and heard the reports about the pigs drowned in the sea, they were afraid and begged Jesus to leave the region (vv. 14–17). 

First, the demons beg, then the villagers beg, and finally the man himself begs to be allowed to go with Jesus and His disciples as they leave.  But Jesus says “No!” to the man’s request. Why?

Jesus tells the man, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 19). According to Mark, that is exactly what the man did. He proclaimed throughout all ten Gentile cities how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled (v. 20)!

The First Recorded Gentile Missionary

This formerly demon-possessed man is a native (indigenous) missionary to his own people, to his own friends and family. And it was Jesus who commissioned him!

There are other biblical examples of native missionaries: the Samaritan woman at the well, for example, in chapter four of John’s Gospel. Without this woman, Jesus and His disciples would not have been welcomed into her village. No one would have wanted to hear anything that Jesus had to say. After all, Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with each other. As a result of her testimony, Jesus spent two days teaching in that town. Because of His words, many more Samaritans became believers (John 4:39–41). 

To date, God has called ANM to advocate for, equip, and encourage hundreds of native ministries in 112 countries. These ministries represent more than 13,000 missionary workers on the front lines in some of the most challenging mission fields on earth. ANM believes that these native ministries are God’s sovereign provision, or means, for this season. 

God has always used means to accomplish His purposes on earth. William Carey is widely considered to have been the Father of Modern Missions. When his call to missions was rejected by the church authorities of his day, he responded with the aptly titled book, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.

Long before William Carey, Reformation leader John Calvin wrote regarding the use of means, “It is enough for us to bear this only in mind, that the gospel does not fall like rain from the clouds, but is brought by the hands of men wherever it is sent from above.”

In Part 2 of this article, I will suggest three points that I believe make the case for the native approach to missions today.  

This is the first of a two-part series adapted from a message initially written to be delivered by ANM Co-Founder Bo Barredo. You can read Part 2 here.

Looking for specific ways to pray for missions this year? Download your free copy of “21 Ways to Advance God’s Kingdom Through Prayer.”

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Eric is ANM's International Communications Director.

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