History of Nazarene world evangelism outreach

"God is summoning millions of believers to serve as senders with the same zeal and consecration of life purpose as front-line missionaries"
  - Ralph Winter

Information on Nazarene missions around the world

by Howard Culbertson, professor of missions, Southern Nazarene University

     Historian Kenneth Scott Latourette calls the 1800's "The Great Century" of missionary outreach. Well, actually, he puts the beginning of his "Great Century" in 1792 when William Carey organized the Baptist Missionary Society in England. [ more info ]
     Up to that point, the mainstream movements of Protestantism had done little in the way of world evangelism. Some of that was due to the Early Reformers view that sharing the gospel with one's near neighbors was enough. Some missions historians, such as Gordon Olsen, have noted a lack of missionary interest by the early Reformers (including Martin Luther himself) as "The Great Omission."1
     Lutheran scholar Thomas Coates has written: "Luther's expositions of great missionary passages as Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15 are usually devoid of any missionary emphasis. . . Luther's concept of missions dealt primarily with the correction of unchristian conditions prevailing within Christendom at his time."2
     Then, in the little more than 100 years that followed William Carey's going to India in 1793, Christianity moved from being a European/American religion to being a global one.
     The Church of the Nazarene was born at the end of that "Great Century." Did that timing have anything to do with the missionary ethos of the Church of the Nazarene and its zeal to fulfill the Great Commission? I think it does. I think it's more than a coincidence that a denomination born in that era of tremendous Protestant missionary expansion is today one of the largest missionary-sending denominations.
     As several smaller movements were coalescing or coming together to become the Church of the Nazarene, two global visionaries emerged to nurture and shape the missionary vision and strategy of the new denomination. They were both from the Pentecostal Church of America group in the East: H. F. Reynolds and Susan Fitkin. [ Fitkin's biography   Fitkin's call to missions ]
     In 1908 three "holiness" movements united in Pilot Point, Texas to form what has become the Church of the Nazarene. That new denomination did not have to start a global outreach program. It already had one going. All three of those groups had overseas missionary work with the East (Pentecostal Churches of America) and the South (Holiness Church of Christ) being the most active.
To top of page     At the time of that 1908 union the big name for Nazarene missions was already on the field. The previous year, 1907, Harmon Schmelzenbach had left what would become Southern Nazarene University to go to Africa. There he would remain -- without a furlough -- until he came home to speak to the 1928 General Assembly. After the assembly, though he was in frail health, he insisted on returning to Africa. There, he died the following year. [ Schmelzenbach biography ]
H.F. Reynolds, Nazarene missions leader

H.F. Reynolds

Susan Fitkin, Nazarene global missions mobilizer

Susan Fitkin

     In 1908 H.F. Reynolds (from the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America in the East) emerged as the denomination's missionary outreach administrator. He took on the task of integrating the work of the three groups into one movement. H.F. Reynolds also became one of the General Superintendents. Though his filling of those dual roles was a heavy workload, the passion for world evangelism which Reynolds brought to his position as General Superintendent may have been what assured that world missions in the Church of the Nazarene did not become a neglected stepchild relegated to a corner.
     In 1913-14 H.F. Reynolds made an around the world trip. For an entire year he was away from the U.S., visiting every Nazarene mission field. That trip set a precedent. Thus, today we would think it strange if Nazarene General Superintendents were not going on overseas trips to visit mission fields.
     Susan Fitkin also came from that group in the Northeast. Early in life she felt a call to missions. She assumed the Lord wanted her overseas and applied to a mission board. They turned her down for health reasons. She didn't become bitter, but turned her energy instead to being a missions proponent, promoter and mobilizer. In 1899 Susan Fitkin organized the Women's Foreign Missionary Auxiliary for the group of holiness churches in the Northeast. When the Church of the Nazarene in 1915 got around to officially organizing an auxiliary to promote missions and raise financial and prayer support, they turned to Susan Fitkin to lead it. She led that organization for the next three decades. That organization's presidency has never been a paid position. In fact, Susan Fitkin used a lot of her personal money for travel and even to fund missions projects overseas.
     In 1923 the denomination moved to a centralized budget system (called General Budget for decades and now the World Evangelism Fund). Using one cooperative fund signaled an end to some administrative chaos and endless fund raising appeals to local churches from a variety of competing "general boards." That was a significant move that would keep the denomination stabilized and on track through the Great Depression.
     Through those Great Depression years, the world missions administrative leader (as distinct from the promotion and publicity role of what is now the NMI) was J. G. Morrison. During those lean financial times, he repeatedly begged Nazarenes: "Can't you do just a little bit more?"
     Early on, Nazarenes fell in love with great slogans and challenging goals. During the war-torn 1940s, C. Warren Jones popularized the reach toward "a million for missions:" the giving of a million dollars for missions in one year.
     The end of World War II signaled some dramatic new things for Nazarene missions. The General Assembly heard its first "native" speaker. The year was 1948; the city was St. Louis; and the speaker was Alfredo Del Rosso, itinerant holiness evangelist from Italy. [ more info ] Del Rosso's presence was dramatic in that it signaled a giant step forward in a process in which Nazarene church leaders in other countries would eventually be recognized as equal partners. [ Missionary stories from Italy ]
     During World War II some Nazarene missionaries were imprisoned by the Japanese in China. One of those prisoners, Mary Scott, came home after the war to become General NMI secretary (this was the paid position which Nina Gunter now fills as "general director").
     In the U.S. a saturation church-planting mentality took early Nazarenes into county after county. In fact, today there are Nazarene churches in more than 80% of the U.S. counties, a far greater penetration that many denominations several times our size. Overseas, that same drive has taken us to country after country. That movement into new areas accelerated through the 60's, 70's and 80's and exploded in the 1990's. By the 2001 Nazarene General Assembly, the denomination was working in 138 countries or world areas. We say "world area" because we count places like the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Puerto Rico as separate from France and from the U.S. even though they are not separate countries.
To top of page     By the 1970's, the internationalization of church government began taking on clear outlines. That process had its beginning, however, more than a half a century prior to that. Back in the 1920's the decision was made that General Superintendents would preside at all district assemblies. The people who made that decision may not have realized what the outcome would eventually look like, but with that decision they put all districts worldwide on the same footing. In a time when colonial powers ruled the world, this decision was one in the opposite direction.
Jerald Johnson arriving in Korea     Under Dr. Jerald Johnson's leadership in the 1970's, the denomination adopted a four-step process by which districts could become "regular" (the designation given to districts in the U.S.). The first missions area district to achieve this label was in Guatemala. Japan probably should have been the first. They had applied to become a regular district in the 1930's, but the denomination's General Board was caught off guard then. They did not know what to do with a "mission field" district that wanted to send delegates to the General Assembly.
     The development of Regional Offices in the 1980's has shifted a great deal of decision making from our headquarters in Kansas City to offices in places like Argentina, Guatemala, the Philippines, and South Africa. Such decentralization has enabled us to administratively deal with the rapid pace of entering new countries (and probably has even fostered that). [ map of Nazarene world regions ]
     We Nazarenes are in an audacious undertaking. Except for Roman Catholicism, no other denomination is trying to be a truly international one. Almost everyone else is opting for a loose federation of national churches rather than the tight-knit international model which we and the Roman Catholic are using.

  • Will we succeed? I don't know.
  • What will we look like in another 25 years or so? I don't know.
  • Will our General Assembly remain the giant family gathering it has been as U.S. delegates slip into the minority? I don't know.
  • How will Americans react if we eventually elect a non-English speaking General Superintendent who needs an interpreter to conduct district assemblies in the U.S.A.? I don't know.

     The Church of the Nazarene today has congregations in more than 140 countries. We have worked hard to keep from creating financial dependencies and that hasn't been easy.
     Generally, funding from our World Evangelism Fund is directed toward start-ups and one-time projects. In the last twenty-five years we have moved completely away from subsidizing pastors' salaries on mission fields. We may help a church with land purchase. We do help with building construction. In countries where there has been some kind of pastoral pension program established, we may help with matching funds. We may provide pastoral training programs at extremely low cost. We may help with travel costs to conferences of various kinds. We may help with medical emergencies. We may help with evangelistic campaigns such as JESUS film showings. Most of these things, as you can see, are one-time, grant-like expenditures rather than regular, ongoing subsidies.
     We do insist that all local Nazarene churches everywhere contribute to our global World Evangelism Fund. This is set at about 5.5% of their total local church income and is the same percentage world-wide. In some countries that doesn't amount to very much money in terms of U.S. dollars, but it does help get their eyes off of local survival and on to the global harvest field to which God is calling all of us.
     We have tried to find ways to give people an incentive to fund their own programs locally. One of those is by treating them as equal partners and giving them a voice and opportunities for service in our governmental structure. We have set up 4 stages or levels through which districts (groupings of churches) pass as they move toward full self-support. At each level there is increased authority and voice in the international structure.
     We have also developed a multi-national missionary force. Some of the best motivators in terms of developing local incentive have been four or five missionary couples Argentina now serving in several countries of the world.
     Another thing that has been helpful to us has been the de-centralizing of our organization. Almost all funding decisions, missionary deployment and other similar decisions are now made in regional offices -- located in the Philippines, Guatemala, Ecuador, the Caribbean, Switzerland and South Africa -- rather than in our home office in the U.S. I think this also keeps people from focusing on the U.S. as the source of their help.
     We haven't found the perfect formula. I've been a field missionary and I know the struggles we have in getting some local leaders to focus on God rather than on the American dollar. However, we have been successful in some places. I am really proud, for example, of the Haitian Nazarenes on the island of La Gonave. That island is the poorest place in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Yet, a few years ago our district of 35 churches on that island went totally self-supporting. Since that time they've grown to 50 churches!
     Their growth really reflects what has happened to us worldwide since we moved away from subsidizing local churches. We've seen more aggressive evangelism and much greater spiritual maturity as those subsidies have been phased out.
     Not long ago retired missionary Bill Porter spoke to one of my classes at Southern Nazarene University. Among the changes he said he has seen in Nazarene missions is that our decisions are no longer driven by money. He said that he remembered times when finances were the key factor in deciding when the Church of the Nazarene would enter a new country. Now, he says, when an opportunity presents itself, we move and expect God to provide the resources from somewhere. That's a good move, isn't it? It's a healthy move. It's a great day to be involved in fulfilling the Great Commission. Ends of the earth, look out! Here we come.

Footnotes

1C. Gordon Olsen. What in the world is God doing? The essentials of global missions. Cedar Knolls, NJ: Global Gospel Publishers, 1989, p. 110.

2Thomas Coates. "Were the Reformers mission-minded?" Concordia Theological Monthly, 40:9, p. 604.

Brief Nazarene denominational history

The Church of the Nazarene was born when a number of small associations of churches banded together . . . [ read more ]

SNU missions course materials and syllabi

Cultural Anthropology    Introduction to Missions    Linguistics    Missions Strategies    Modern Missionary Movement (History of Missions)    Nazarene Missions    Church Growth and Christian Missions    Theology of Missions    Traditional Religions    World Religions
 
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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658
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