Billy Graham Center

Ralph Shannon interview excerpt

I think that general, the older missionaries tended to have more responsibility as far as the total running of the show. And they were a little more autocratic. They needed to be in the early days when the church wasn't yet born. It was a matter of people being brought into that faith and then taught and worked into positions of leadership. And I think that's where some of the criticism comes of the old missionaries and the way they did missions by some of the missionaries of my generation. And I think we need to be a little bit more careful in our criticisms and consider the situation in which they were working. Times have changed. I think that the way to do missions fifty years ago, thirty years ago is different than the way you do missions today. It still needs to be done, and there still is a lot to do. But now we're dealing with churches that are calling their own shots, have their own leaders, making their own decisions, and we're working together with them. So the role of the missionary is different now than it was when the church was just being planted and gathered.

...I think that there has been a mistake in lots of Protestant mission work in the emphasis that we've given toward indigenization. You know, "We've got to give it to them. We've got to turn it over to the local people." And we haven't taken into consideration the capability of taking over the work. You can have an organization, a program, an agricultural program...functioning very well, decide that it's time for the Zairians to run the show, so you turn it over to them, and the thing falls to pieces. ...But my feeling is here that we've destroyed a lot of programs. ...You destroy a lot of programs by turning things over too fast and the church wasn't ready to handle it. ...I mean, there's got to be a little bit more choosing and waiting for the right people at the right time, instead of the big push that we have. We want to get things done too fast. We have a Western mentality of a five year or a three year program. And during that time you train your counterpart and he's going to replace you. You forget that it takes a lot longer, at least in many areas, to find people that are efficient enough or know their work enough or are responsible enough or committed enough as people. It takes a while.

Excerpt from an oral history interview conducted by the Archives staff in 1986 with Ralph Shannon. Shannon spent part of his childhood in the Belgian Congo where his parents were missionaries; he studied at Wheaton College (graduated 1959); he joined the Presbyterian US Board of World Missions in 1964, which appointed him to work as a missionary doctor in Zaire, where he has worked since. To learn more about Shannon or review the guide describing his interview, click here.

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Last Revised: 8/8/00
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2005