Gringo Go Home!

Gringo, Go Home! The term ‘Gringo’ probably originates in the Mexican/American wars of the nineteenth century. The North American armies, who invaded Mexican territory, wore green uniforms. With their remedial English, the Mexicans would shout out, ‘Green, Go!’ They were calling for the Anglo-Saxon invaders to leave Latin American territory: ‘gringo’. This is a call that has been repeated many times historically.

In Edinburgh (1910) most missionary organisations working in Latin America were excluded from the World Missionary Conference because it was considered that, as a Roman Catholic continent, Latin America, was already evangelised. A large number felt that this was not correct and so formed a group who met in Panama (1916). For them, Latin America still needed missionaries; Protestant missionaries. The Roman Catholic Church was angry and the call ‘Gringo, Go Home!’ was heard again.

In the mid-nineteen seventies, this issue was discussed within the WCC. John Gatu, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in East Africa, said that their continuing sense of dependence on and domination by foreign church groups inhibits many churches in Asia, Africa and Latin America from development in response to God’s mission.

Our present problems can only be solved if all missionaries can be withdrawn in order to allow a period of not less than five years for each side to rethink and formulate what is going to be their future relationship. . . . The churches of the Third World must be allowed to find their own identity, and the continuation of the present missionary movement is a hindrance to this selfhood of the church.

An Eastern Orthodox priest from India added:

Today it is economic imperialism or neo-colonialism that is the pattern of missions. Relief agencies and mission boards control the younger churches through purse strings. Foreign finances, ideas and personnel still dominate the younger churches and stifle their spontaneous growth. . . . So now I say, The mission of the church is the greatest enemy of the gospel.

My hero, José Míguez Bonino from Argentina also added:

We in the younger churches have to learn the discipline of freedom to accept and to refuse, to place resources at the service of mission rather than to have mission patterned by resources. . . . We cannot for the love of our brethren or for the love of God let anybody or anything stand in the way of our taking on our own shoulders our responsibility. If, in order to do that, we must say to you, our friends, “Stay home,” we will do so because before God we have this grave responsibility of our integrity.

Today, the Protestant church is growing rapidly in Latin America. Some countries are talking of 5% evangelical Christians and others of up to 30%. In Argentina, the average is 7%, but among the poor, up to 22% of the population consider themselves to be ‘evangélicos!’ It is sometimes also felt that Latin America is an evangelised continent and therefore it is time for the Gringo missionaries to go home. The same could be said for Africa and parts of Asia.

The Evangelical church of Europe and North America—the USA and Canada—are suffering from church shrink, not church growth. The Majority World church is not only growing in numbers but also in maturity. The lively nature of World Christianity is a challenge to our, often, formal and dull expressions of the faith, to be found in the rich world. Should not the Gringo go home and sort his or her own house out first.

These are very emotive issues. This has to do, not only with strategy but also with our own self-identity and our call. But they are also important issues for us as Evangelical Christian missionaries in the first decade of the twenty-first century. So, what are the issues here?

  • Is there still a role for northern missionaries in contexts of church growth in the global south? If so what is it?
  • How does the increasing maturity of the church in the southern hemisphere affect the relationship?
  • What strategies are now inappropriate to this context?
  • What strategies/attitudes/understandings are now appropriate to the new context?
  • Is there a point when intercultural missionaries are no longer needed?

I hope this gives food for thought.