'Reverse missionary' turns gospel back toward West_32105

Posted: 3/18/05

'Reverse missionary' turns
gospel back toward West

By Celeste Kennel-Shank

Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS)--For centuries, Western missionaries have tried to spread the gospel abroad. George Kovoor could be called a reverse missionary, because he is an Indian citizen evangelizing Western countries.

His style of missions also reverses traditional mission work.

Instead of fiery preaching and mass conversions, Kovoor, 47, shares his message through his roles as a priest, educator, leader in the Evangelical Fellow-ship in the Anglican Communion and chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II.

After centuries of Western missionaries spreading the gospel abroad, George Kovoor, 47, could be called a reverse missionary because he is an Indian citizen evangelizing Western countries.

He brings the news that Christians in Africa, Asia and Latin America are now the majority worldwide and can teach Westerners to be more mindful of spiritual riches.

"For the first time since the third century, the church of Jesus Christ is poor again," said Kovoor, on a recent trip to Washington. He wore a purple batik shirt with pink flowers given to him by one of his Nigerian students.

Kovoor, originally from Tiruvalla, India, has lived as a missionary in England 15 years, and chairs the board of directors of Kairos, an international mission agency governed by Christians from the Southern hemisphere.

In his work with Kairos, Kovoor promotes cultural exchange, spiritual practices and Christian entrepreneurship.

Western missionaries coming to the Southern Hemisphere offered preaching, schools and medical care, Kovoor said.

Kairos trains professionals from Southern continents in areas such as information technology, accounting and engineering and recruits them to work in Western countries.

Kovoor said the West needs aid, but in the form of skilled workers.

In his ministry, Kovoor also promotes spirituality through holistic medicine, meditation and "life coaching," he said.

"It is really the East coming to the West," Kovoor said. "One of India's great export items in the '60s and the '70s were our gurus. I recognize there is a huge need for Indian Christian spirituality in what I call 'the affluent West.'"

Kovoor has roots in the Mar Thoma and Syrian Orthodox churches established by the Apostle Thomas in A.D. 52 on the southwest coast of India.

"I don't see Christianity being a Western religion at all," he said.

Christians in the southern hemisphere, Kovoor said, can help dispel ethnic prejudice by traveling to meet people in the northern hemisphere, and by hosting them in their communities.

Western churches also must promote diversity, especially in their leadership, Kovoor said.

Even in international congregations in the United States and Europe, Kovoor said, clergy are usually male and white.

"It is my firm conviction that the biblical picture of the church is that it is multiethnic and universal."

In his work as a missionary in England, Kovoor also ministers to the royal family as chaplain to the queen, though he said he cannot talk about his work publicly.

However, he has been a public figure during his 10 years as president of Crowther Hall at the University of Birmingham Selly Oak campus, in England.

Kovoor focuses on theological education, he said, because often churches only provide brief sermons, inadequate for helping Christians grapple with questions of faith.

"So often what is communicated from pulpits for seven to 10 minutes are news highlights, some pious thoughts and really very little teaching and grounding about the nature and character of the Christian faith," he said.

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