A reminder of the stark inequality between the dominant voices of the Western Churches and the hugely under-represented younger Churches can be found by looking at the first World Missionary Conference, held in Edinburgh in 2010. Among more than 1200 Western delegates were just 17 Asians, and even these were registered as representing British and American organisations, ignoring the fact that some of them, such as V. S. Azariah — consecrated the first Indian Anglican bishop just two years later — could have represented their own Churches or missionary societies.
That Asians were consulted at all was at the insistence of the YMCA’s John R. Mott, in the face of strong opposition. It was he who, knowing what he was letting the conference in for, encouraged the initially hesitant Azariah to speak freely and frankly on the sensitive issue of failures in the relationships between foreign and indigenous workers. So, “the first shot in the campaign against missionary imperialism”. as it came to be known, was fired
Taking heart, Azariah told the assembled conference: “We shall learn to walk only by walking — perchance only by falling and learning from our mistakes, but never by being kept in leading strings until we arrive at maturity.”
He called to mind the quality of the relationships that Christ had established with his disciples, and made the impassioned plea: “Give us friends!” It was the clarion call for a radically new relationship, based on equality, mutual respect, and mutual support.