The Church Mission Society recently held a meeting of 120 "Pioneers" in Oxford. Apparently it was a lively meeting.
The phrase "mission pioneers" was used several times in the report, based, I suppose in part on our following Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 2). It's a catchy evangelical sort of phrase - one which makes missionaries the front edge, leading us into the world, as well as making missionaries a kind of extension of the work of Jesus, who is pioneer, etc.
Still, given experiences this summer in South Dakota among the Lakota, and now in Haiti among a people who freed themselves from slavery and are aware of their continued slavery to the masters that still linger, willing to control them, "pioneer" is a word that means exploitation, struggle and death.
The pioneers were, it turned out, carriers of many diseases, some biological, killing off large numbers of people by just being there, some economic and social, some theological. The record of pioneer activity is a graveyard of tragic results for either the people who already lived on the lands the pioneers entered, or for the people they brought as chattel to work for them. Pioneers, viewed as noble and life giving in many tellings - settling the west, opening the new world, and so forth, are in the accounts of those who suffered their presence, awful pioneers of death.
CMS needs to rethink the use of this notion that the 120 enthusiastic and well intentioned attendees at this conference are "pioneers." Find another name. Better yet, find another reason for being in the world in Christ's name than bringing Christianity to the spiritually impoverished. Being hungry, having no hope, being without money, and being without faith, these are all conditions that are real and need to be met as real. Being poor is a condition often cast on people making them choice subjects for conquest, even conquest by care.
We can do better than send out "pioneers."