Reverse Missionaries (Watch it on BBC iPlayer) is a BBC documentary that traces the journey of British missionaries in Jamaica, Malawi and India. The first of a three part series was aired on Friday 16th of March between 9 00-10 00pm on BBC 2. In the first series a Baptist Minister from Jamaica, Rev Franklin Small came to Cotswold Gloustershire in England to do missions. This is very significant because his hero Thomas Burchell (1799-1846) came from this part of England. Thomas Burchell was an English missionary in Jamaica from around 1822 spending about 20 years in Jamaica doing missions. His mission was successful to the extent that Churches were built and lots of Jamaicans became Christians. Pastor Franklin, retracing the steps of this famous missionary came back to be surprised that the community of Cotswold was not interested at all in the Gospel as Burchell was. Saddened by the coldness towards Christianity and the lack of interest in it, Rev Franklin decided to do something about it.
He started visiting people in the community by going into their homes, pubs and any public space to meet them and to see whether he could interest them in Christianity. He soon realised that this was not going to be as easy as he had thought. He decided to be incarnational and meet people were they are by having a Church service in the pub, organise a football team and relate with people in general. His hard work and efforts soon paid off as few people started to show interest not necessary in Christianity, but in his genuineness and interest he had in people. The programme ended with some of the people considering Christianity while others did not want Rev Franklin to go back to Jamaica.
As someone who is engaged in Reverse Missions in Britain and has written a book about the subject (Reverse in Ministry and Missions: Africans in the Dark Continent of Europe, Authorhouse, 2010), I am impressed with the documentary on several points. Firstly, it traces the efforts of English missionary Thomas Burchell in the Caribbean. This is very significant if we are to understand reverse missions. It demonstrates that the sacrifices and labour of love of British missionaries in the Caribbean was not in vein. Secondly, it takes seriously the fact that Christianity is declining in these islands. This was evident in the documentary when Rev Franklin realises that Sunday is a day for many Brits to rest, relax, do sports, meet with friends or go shopping rather than go to Church to worship God. Britain now has a generation of people who have no idea about the Church or Christianity. In essence, Church is not seen as a relevant place to be or go. Thirdly, the documentary shows the efforts of Rev Franklin who have come from the former mission field to engage in missions in England. He did this not by Bible bashing the people but by demonstrating God’s love. He did this by caring for the people and by trying to understand where they are coming from. He took time to listen to the pains, frustrations and loneliness of the people in the community, the result was fresh expressions of Church!
Having commended the documentary, it must be mentioned that it was not however great that in tracing the mission of Thomas Burchell in Jamaica, Sam Sharpe was totally ignored. There was no mentioned of Sam Sharpe (1801-1832) who was one of the deacons of Thomas Burchell. Sam Sharpe was a native Jamaican who led a sit down strike in order to fight against the injustice of the slave trade. This act of liberation which was later coloured by the so called “rebellion” or Baptist War became one of the foremost resistances throughout West Indies and the Americas; it also contributed towards the abolition of slavery in 1833 across the British empire. Sam Sharpe definitely played a key role in the history of Christianity in Jamaica therefore it was surprising that he was not mentioned at all in the documentary.
My second critic of the documentary is that while it was good to bring someone from Jamaica to do missions for few weeks, why could the BBC not look for those who are actually living here and doing missions? This would have showed the efforts of many Caribbeans, Africans, Asians and South Americans who have come to live in this country and are engaging in missions. Nevertheless, it was still good to see someone coming from the outside to do missions in the British context. I look forward to the next episode to see what the African pastor will do!