In talking to the staff of the U.S. Center for World Mission (now Frontier Ventures) about a book he had just received, Ralph Winter objected to the author's position that simply by crossing a political boundary a person could be called a missionary. He gave the example of Filipinos or Koreans going to the Middle East to work with other Filipinos or Koreans. He asked, "how is that different from calling pastors in the Philippines missionaries?" You can listen to a few excerpts from his talk here.
Suppose I go cross-culturally to a country where everyone is a believer. Is that missions? There is something else. It isn’t just “indigenous” or “tribal” or “cross-cultural.” It’s also “unreached.” There is no Gospel there.
There are two central questions:
1. One soul is not more important than another, but some souls are much more difficult to make sense to. Learning a foreign language is relatively simple compared to learning a foreign culture. Learning a foreign culture is essential to making the Gospel sensible in those places. That is a monumental problem It’s not a 2-week mission. It’s not even a 2-year mission. It’s a very complex thing. That’s what “contextualization” is all about.
2. If you’re going to a group without knowing there is already a Bible in that language, already a vibrant, indigenous, evangelizing church movement, what you’re doing could technically be called missionary work, but it’s very un-strategic.
We cannot demand a certain definition for the word, “missionary.” But for me at least it has been helpful to distinguish between evangelism of your own people, and missions to people who are not your own, where there is no Gospel. It is a serious problem to achieve a missiological breakthrough.