Doing mission well: Pioneering

Howard Culbertson
Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Needed: Missionaries to pioneer where the Church is minimally present or does not yet exist.

ImageWe need missionaries who dream about “the regions beyond” (Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:16) and who push the Church to go there. Nazarenes Earl and Gladys Mosteller were that type of frontier missionary.

In 1946 the Mostellers went from the U.S.A. to Cape Verde, a group of Portuguese-speaking Atlantic Ocean islands now officially called Cabo Verde. The Church of the Nazarene had been planted in Cabo Verde 45 years prior to the Mostellers’ arrival. Their role was that of strengthening and enlarging an existing group of national churches.

After a dozen years, the Mostellers’ transitioned to pioneering in brand-new areas.  Over the next 30 years, they helped the Church of the Nazarene enter Brazil, Portugal and the Azores.

Earl Mosteller was well suited for initiating work in new areas. He and Gladys seemed happy plowing new ground. A big man with a huge handshake, Earl flourished out on the growing edge. Future national leaders seemed attracted to him and he to them. Fortunately, Nazarene Global Mission leaders recognized the pioneering abilities of Earl Mosteller and they kept him and Gladys in frontier assignments for the last three decades of their missionary career.

Each place where the Mostellers pioneered posed unique challenges. The three world areas did have one thing in common: All three are Portuguese-speaking.

Brazil, where the Mostellers spent 15 years, is the world’s fifth largest country.  When the Mostellers moved to Portugal, they left behind Brazil’s huge rain forests and its tremendous ethnic diversity. Portugal was much, much smaller and far more monocultural. The pervasive spiritism of Brazil was replaced by Portugal’s European post-Christian atmosphere.

As the church sank roots into Portugal and began flowering there, the Mostellers were asked to pioneer Nazarene work in the Azores. Having spent their rookie missionary years in one Atlantic Ocean island group, they were to spend the last seven years of their missionary career in another archipelago.

ImageIn those three world areas which the Mostellers pioneered, there are today a total of more than 125,000 members of the Church of the Nazarene. That’s more members than there were in all Nazarene mission fields outside of North America in 1958 when the Mostellers went to Brazil.

Around the globe, a large portion of the expatriate missionary force is resourcing and enlarging established national church organizations. Such ministry is vital to carrying out the Great Commission. Indeed, those missionaries are helping national churches move to full partnership in global outreach so that Christian missionaries will be going from all continents to all continents.

Earl and Gladys Mosteller, on the other hand, represent the frontier missionaries who are planting the Church where it is not yet present. Six thousand distinct people groups, many of them very large, have no viable church planting movement within them. To reach those groups we need more missionary pioneers like the Mostellers.

-- Howard Culbertson served as a missionary in Haiti and Italy for 15 years, and spent the past 25 years as a professor of mission at Southern Nazarene University.

Top photo courtesy Northwest Nazarene University. Bottom photo courtesy Canada Central District.