I was doing some research on short-term missions when I found a blog by Vinoth Ramachandra, a Christian writer in Sri Lanka. He has studied and traveled in Europe, done extensive ministry in South Asia, and he has written cogent criticism of Christianity as it is received in the non-Western world. He clearly and accurately writes things that the West needs to hear, both praising the good and condemning the bad. Incisively addressing everything from the War on Terror, whistleblowers in the US government, and US foreign policy to relations between Western and Eastern Christians, missionary work done badly, and the influence of media on relations in the Church worldwide, Ramachandra is an intelligent voice from the “other side” of world Christianity.
Right now I want to focus on some of the things that Ramachandra has to say about partnership between richer evangelical churches and the Church in the developing world, particularly in the areas of short-term missions and development and provision of educational resources. Because Ramachandra is a Christian in a country where Christians are a minority population, he has a unique perspective on what the various parts of the Church have to offer to one another.
On the subject of short-term missions, he is able to speak from the part of the world that receives short-term trips. In his post “Who Says ‘No’ to ‘Mission Trips’?” from May 7, 2010, he talks about the difficulties that short-term mission trips foist upon churches in the developing world. He details the imbalanced “partnership” between rich STM-sending churches and the poorer churches receiving them, demonstrating that STMs are often unnecessary, unhelpful, and unhealthy for the receiving churches. In the next post, he further clarifies that STMs, as they are done in evangelical circles, go away from dying to self and following Christ’s example in the Incarnation as he took on our sin and suffering. Speaking from the “other side”, he intelligently shows how STMs fail to serve the poor on the one hand and fail to serve the spiritual formation of the short-term missionaries on the other hand.
On the subject of educational resources, he talks about the influence of Western media and publishing companies in the education of the Church. In “Authentic Partnerships” from October 1, 2010, Ramachandra describes the pressure that Western literature exerts on the Church around the world. Christian literature from richer countries floods churches in poorer countries that have decent theologians, but Western publishers do not take up their writings. The poorer side winds up having to fit the richer side’s agenda. In “Reformed Amnesia?” from March 28, 2013, he even challenges the Gospel Coalition on their mission to provide resources to Christians around the world: he inquires just who it is who gets to decide what the rest of the world needs and what counts as good doctrine. Unless the West just wants to export their sectarian divides and theological controversies, he urges the West to receive from the “other side” of world Christianity, and he even holds up the Roman Catholic Church as a Christian tradition that has listened well to the rest of the churches in its communion. Achieving a Church-wide theological consensus is a must, not just teaching everyone what was decided in North America.
Theology from the global Church is not just a subset of theological foreign policy. Ramachandra outlines issues between the West and the rest of the Church that need serious consideration and careful action to resolve. While I would be punching above my weight to demand an ecumenical council to reach a theological consensus and sort out problems of Church discipline, I believe that we in the West could start by carefully studying and accepting what the likes of Vinoth Ramachandra have to say.