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Experience Another World Without Leaving Yours

By Haydn Jensen

An Interview with James Kim, Executive Director of Pioneers Canada by Haydn Jensen

You could think of many good ways to begin exploring a career in missions work. However, getting shot in the chest likely is not one of them.

For James Kim, however, that was his experience. In April 1996, on of all days, Good Friday at around 3 pm, while working at his business in Baltimore Maryland, he was shot in the chest. Shortly afterwards on Easter Sunday morning, James found himself in his hospital bed thinking and making some connections—Good Friday, around 3 p.m—the same time we understand Jesus to have died on the cross. Early Sunday morning—when the empty tomb was discovered. Even the tube draining fluid from his gun-shot lung reminded him of the spear piercing Jesus' side while on the cross. While contemplating these coincidences, James read the beginning of Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ..." He says that as he read that he felt the burden of his sins and saw himself on the cross. In his words, "I found myself crying and asking for the Lord's forgiveness for putting his own son on the cross for my sins. Such conviction made the rest of Galatians 2:20 ever more meaningful; ' … and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me nd gave himself for me .'" This experience gave James a vivid picture of his own death and resurrection. After that, he felt as if he was off the cross, and that he had been resurrected. That led him to totally surrender his own desires and say, "Lord, what do you want to do with my life?" The bullet is still in him. James sees it as a reminder that his life is the Lord's and not his.

After recovering, James first connected with the Pioneers ministry at the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship's Urbana Missions Conference. Joining Pioneers in 1997 with the idea of going to the field, he ended up working at the Pioneers U.S. office in Orlando for 14 years, helping send about 1600 field staff between 1997 and 2011.

Sensing what James calls "a holy stirring for change", he eventually submitted his resignation without knowing where he was going next. That same day got a phone call asking if he would be interested in coming to Canada to lead the Pioneers ministry here. James took on the position of Executive Director of Pioneers Canada in January of 2012 and moved with his wife and three daughters to London.

Pioneers Canada was formed out of a merger with World Outreach Fellowship in 1993 Seeing its mission as mobilizing teams to "glorify God among unreached peoples by initiating church planting movements in partnership with local churches," the growth of the ministry has been steady ever since. In 2010, Pioneers and Arab World Ministries united to strengthen the work in the Middle East and North Africa. With its Canadian head office in Dorchester, ON, Pioneers has sent Canadians to serve in 22 different countries around the world, many requiring non-traditional and creative means of being in the country. As James Kim puts it, "We do one thing: church planting among the unreached. But, we do it in a thousand different ways."

The Pioneers ministry continues steadfast in its passion of sending missionaries to people groups with the greatest need and least opportunity to hear the gospel. Of the 16,000 people groups in the world today, 6,000 are still considered unreached. In spite of a noticeable decrease in North American missionaries sent in the past 100 years, Pioneers Canada has been growing every year, and just recently surpassed the 100 missionaries sent milestone for the Canadian office. The Pioneers ministry overall has about 2,600 missionaries from over 30 countries serving in about 100 countries. One thing still keeps James up at night: there are still people out there who are not being reached.

As we talked about the changing face of missions worldwide, James understands that being a "career missionary" no longer means your entire working life. He says, "Our approach to career has changed since the 70's and 80's. Today a career may be 5 years. There is more of a shift in the world about how we define 'career'. The Christian church has not caught up with the times." Missions work now involves building on the foundation that others have already laid. Presently, James finds that about 20-30% of short-term missionaries continue on to long term. Recently ministries like Pioneers find that missionaries spend time in one place, then move to another area. James explains that missions recruiters are sometimes asked to not use the word "missionary" when speaking with 20- and 30-somethings; the meaning of the term has now shifted.

I asked James about the growing issue of donor fatigue, with so many agencies asking for our support. It is challenging to know how to give, or even to avoid feeling overwhelmed with requests that we end up not giving at all. His advice: pray to the Lord and ask what are you passionate about. Then, get involved in supporting that. He adds, "If church planting to the unreached is your passion the Lord has given you, then Pioneers have some ideas for you!"

Just in case you thought Pioneers (and other missions agencies) are only interested in doing missions work "over there", think again. Pioneers offers In Canada Mission to our fastest growing population group—our "new neighbours" who have immigrated to Canada from a wide range of places including areas where missions access is very difficult. Canadians can now literally practice "missions on their doorstep." More than 40 workers from Pioneers Canada now work across Canada in evangelism, discipleship and church planting through a partnership with Pioneers and the local church.

Although James and the staff at Pioneers remain very concerned about the ongoing need for more missionaries, he shared with me what he has learned, and this helps frame his own vision for missions, for Pioneers Canada, and for Christians in general:

When I first came into the mission world, I used to say "after salvation we are put on this earth for the purpose of reaching others. If you are not doing missions you are disobedient." I later found this to be a half truth, though. I now see that all we are isn't about the task of redemption, it's about our relationship with Jesus—and His use for us. Our obedience and our citizenship in the Kingdom of God is about saying to the King, "Here I am."

For more information on Pioneers Canada:
Pioneers Canada: